Bill Maher: Bad Theologian, Worse Comedian
So Bill Maher thinks religion is ridiculous, or worthy of ridicule. Which is no doubt true of some religions -- e.g., Scientology, or Obama's insane Trinity United Church, or global warming -- and some religious followers.
But if I were so inclined, I could easily produce a documentary -- after all, I did attend film school -- in which I conduct man-on-the street interviews of Hollywood celebrities, MSM journalists, and tenured dullards, and make them look even more foolish (since they have so much further to fall, at least in their own eyes) by innocently quizzing them about the actual metaphysical principles embodied in authentic revelation.
For example, I might ask Bill Maher to explain his position on the ontological arguments for God, or I might ask a philosophical bonehead such as Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris to elaborate on the metacosmic significance of truth-bearing primates. But why bother? What would be the point, except to demonstrate that spiritually untutored people are cosmically stupid and that man's fallen nature is irrevocable in the absence of grace? That's not funny, it's just pathetic.
If you go to the official website for the film, it it prominently linked to a site called disbelief.net, which features hilariously subtle satire such as the following:
"Christianity began in the year 0001; coincidentally, the same year a carpenter’s wife named Mary had gotten mysteriously knocked up. Figuring that he could be worse off than taking sloppy seconds to the Creator, Joseph hung around until the birth of her baby, whom she named Jesus.
"Joseph seemingly raised Jesus as his own son, mostly for the baby shower gifts that were bestowed upon the family (you should never look gift frankincense in the mouth), and tried to teach him the family trade. While Jesus never showed much of an aptitude for nailing pieces of wood together, he eventually found that he was quite good other things, like healing the sick, walking on water, and changing water into wine –- all of which made for good back-up careers, and entertaining party tricks."
I give wide latitude to blasphemy, so long as it is actually funny. However, if you strike at a king you must kill him; and if you make a joke about God, it had better kill. The ultimate comedic challenge is to make God laugh, which is the inner meaning of the sacred "guffaw-ha!" experience of higher coonology. If instead God just kind of stares at you in stony silence, or gives you one of those awkward courtesy chuckles, you've missed the mark. Big time. You had better give up while you're ahead. Don't test his mercy, like Tom Arnold.
So God has no fundamental opposition to a film that ridicules bad religion. Why would he? For one thing, we only know about bad religion because good religion exists. Obviously God has a highly developed sense of humor. We know this because we are created in his image, and this is the source of our otherwise inexplicable sense of humor. Not for nothing are human and humor etymologically related, at least in my imagination. But in knowing this, we must maintain dantengly high standards for our divine comedy, for the same reason that, in knowing that beauty and truth flow from the Creator, we do our best to maintain some quality control over the realms they embody.
For example, the infamous Piss Christ is not merely blasphemous. Rather, even worse, it is just bad and heavy-handed art. It is a sin against beauty, which is what specifically constitutes its blasphemy. Nothing that ugly could be intrinsically true, just as nothing as substantially beautiful as Christianity could be essentially false. A gifted scientist will also implicitly realize the indivisible relationship between truth and beauty, for it is one of those things that simply "must be," given the conditions of existence.
Divine substance, spiritual essence, intrinsic truth -- these are the things that religion is here to convey. But so too is great art. It is not here to memorialize contingency and ugliness, since they can well take care of themselves, and have no need of artists to remind us that they exist. We don't need the art of Yoko Ono to remind us that her ass is a hideous thing to behold, any more than we need Bill Maher to remind us that the dreary architecture of his soul* makes Yoko's ass look like Grace Kelly. Rather, the artist specifically swims against that infrahuman tide, toward the metacosmic source of beauty, just as the true philosopher resists the pull of falsehood and the genuine comedian resists the temptation of facile mockery. (*TW: Becker & Fagen.)
Again, Bill Maher is mocking the ultimate principle. But in so doing, he is being intellectually -- and worse yet, comedically -- dishonest. If you're going to take on God, you don't do it by interviewing morons just to show us how smugly self-satisfied you are. We know that already. Bring us your A-game. Take on some spiritual adults. I'll debate Maher any time, any day, so long as it is in print. That way he will have to prove that he can even construct a philosophically coherent sentence before moving on to bigger things, let alone the Biggest Thing. In this regard, if you check out his writing at huffpo, you will see that it is nearly as appallingly stupid as their other religious expert, the apparently brain-damaged Deepak Chopra's.
Bill Maher would never take up this challenge, because his greatest fear is of looking like the idiot that he unconsciously knows himself to be. His entire persona seems to be a narcissistic false self erected to conceal something else. Generally speaking, in psychoanalytic terms, contempt binds one to an object one secretly idealizes and longs for, so that his contempt for God and religion may well be just the visible side of some sort of deep disappointment or resentment. Don't get me wrong -- there is such a thing a righteous contempt. But that is the province of righteous men, a category from which Maher is a priori excluded.
If I were going to joke about Mr. Jehoviality or kid the keter, I would want it to be appropriately hyperdimensional and holographic, in conformity to its object, certainly not Bill Maher's comedic equivalent of Carrot Top making fun of Gallagher. Perhaps something like this sein language:
Unknown origin prior to time and space, fount of all being, unborn thus undying, beginning and end of all impossibility, empty plenum and inexhaustible void. Who is? I AM. A wake. A lone. Hallow, noumena!
Or, In etherworlds: Once upon a timaeus, One's up in a timeless without a second to spore and noplace to bang anyway. The abbasolute first day, before eve or any other middling relativities. Only himsoph with nowhere to bewrong, hovering over the waters without a kenosis. Vishnu were here, but just His lux, God only knows only God, and frankly, ishvara monotheotonous -- no one beside him, no nous, same old shunyada yada yada.... 'Elo, him, what samadhi you? Stop deidreaming and gita life, bodhi! Make sefiromthing of yoursaleph! (I don't have time to provide links to what all these things mean. If in doubt, just check out the footnoetics.)
Etc. Look, it made me laugh, and I like to think it gave God a chuckle. But more importantly, my agent got the jokes -- and thereby became my agent -- which is probably the only reason you and I are here sharing this moment. Had that not happened, the Cosmos would never have come into being. Badda bing, badda BANG!
In this regard, I was obviously influenced by Joyce, whose Finnegans Wake is filled with clever jokes about God. But in order to make these kinds of transdimensional jokes, you really have to know what you're talking about, and Joyce was trained as a Jesuit. While he may have left the faith, it clearly never left him, and it always informed his thinking. Indeed, it is precisely why he could think so deeply about things. To paraphrase his alter-ego, Stephen Dedalus, why on earth would one leave a coherent absurdity for an incoherent one?
For example, Finnegans Wake is deeply informed by the recurring cycle of fall and rebirth, or death and resurrection, on nearly every page, presented in a linguistically hyperdense but bawdily humorous manner, such as Comeday morm and, O, you're vine! Sendday's eve and, ah, you're vinegar! Hahahaha, Mister Funn, you're going to be fined again! In this one line you have a hint of the humor to come (Comeday), with the sweet wine of youth turning to the sour vinegar of age, or fun turning to fall, or Eve being the agent of man's fall, or the circular O of the resurrection, in which once again you're vine.
That is how you make fun of religion, my friends, in such a way that to get the punch line is to understand God. Suffice it to say that Bill Maher has neither the comedic nor intellectual chops to pull that off.