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Bill Maher, gullibility & the glass house

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Comedian Bill Maher, whose film “Religulous” released to DVD in mid-February, is on a crusade against organized religion. Maher believes that a supreme being of some sort exists but that it is nothing like what is being presented by the world religions.

During a recent interview, Mike Huckabee asked Maher if he thought any good had resulted from religion. At 2:18 into the interview, Maher answered, “Well, there’s no denying that some good has come about from religion.” He then provided as examples soup kitchens, charities and missionaries. But he hastened to add that “it comes at a terrible price,” considering evil committed in the name of religion such as suicide bombings, religious wars, the Crusades, burning witches and having sex with children.

One can quickly agree with Maher that religious people have done terrible things to others. But one can just as quickly note that even more vile things have been performed by the irreligious. Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao and Kim Jung-il were/are atheists and responsible for the greatest human slaughters and miseries in all of human history. While some atheists claim Hitler was a Christian, he, in fact, was quite hostile toward Christianity and used religious talk in the beginning of his political career only to obtain greater support from the German people. One need only read a few statements in his “Table Talk” to get the idea that Hitler was not at all a religious person.

For Maher to mention these, however, would be to point the finger back at the irreligious — and, therefore, at himself. Maher shouldn’t throw rocks when he lives in a glass house. But there is a more important principle Maher should consider: You cannot judge a philosophy by its abuse. Jesus would have condemned the Crusades, burning witches and having sex with children. Those who engage in these sorts of practices do so against the teachings of the One they claim to serve.

However, the same inconsistency of behavior cannot be said of atheists, since there is no objective foundation for morality on their part. I am not suggesting that atheists are immoral. I am claiming that they have no objective foundation on which to base their morality. Accordingly, while burning witches was inconsistent with Jesus’ teachings, Stalin’s slaughter of millions was not inconsistent with atheism.

Maher preaches that the religious are gullible. But a 2008 study by the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion revealed just the opposite. Americans were polled on whether they believe in Atlantis, UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, astrology, palm readers and psychics. The results reaffirmed a few earlier surveys: Those embracing traditional Christian beliefs were less likely to believe in Big Foot, palm readers, etc. “Traditional Christian religion greatly decreases credulity, as measured by beliefs in the occult and paranormal,” the study reports.

Maher appeared to detest gullibility when he said the following: “Crazy people who still think the government brought down the Twin Towers in a controlled explosion have to stop pretending that I’m the one who’s being naïve. How big a lunatic do you have to be to watch two giant airliners packed with jet fuel slam into buildings on live TV, igniting a massive inferno that burned for two hours, and then think, well, if you believe that was the cause…. Stop asking me to raise this ridiculous topic on the show and start asking your doctor if Paxil is right for you.”

Pretty funny! However, it is interesting to observe Maher speaking so confidently against the conspiracy theory that the U.S. was behind the 9/11 attacks while at the same time exhibiting amazing credulity in buying into another notion of similar nonsense: the notion that Jesus never existed. In Religulous, Maher interacts with churchgoers in Raleigh, N.C., and tells them there is no firm proof that Jesus Christ ever existed. Elsewhere in the film and without any support, he dismisses Jesus as being the Egyptian god Horus. These views are perpetrated on the Internet where the only qualification for presenting your view is that you have to be breathing. Had he read the writings of scholars, he would have learned that the position that Jesus never existed is intellectually bankrupt.

There are as many non-Christian sources who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life as there are who mention the Roman emperor contemporary with Jesus’ ministry within 150 years of his life. Those who propose that Jesus never existed must reasonably account for these sources. Those attempting to do so believe their arguments are reasonable. But they have failed to convince so much as a single widely respected scholar in the world. They remind us of early contestants on “American Idol” who sincerely believe they have singing talent while the judges look on with rolling eyes.

Paul Maier, the distinguished professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, writes: “[T]he total evidence [for the existence of Jesus] is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence. And yet this pathetic denial is still parroted by ‘the village atheist,’ bloggers on the Internet, or such organizations as the Freedom from Religion Foundation.”

Maher is unquestionably a quick-witted and talented comedian. But he often appears to jettison reasonable thinking when speaking on matters of religion. My advice to Maher: Stick to comedy.
Mike Licona is the apologetics coordinator at the North American Mission Board. For a better understanding of today’s world religions and for resources that will help you defend your faith, visit NAMB’s apologetics website at www.4truth.net.

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  • Mike Licona