Monday, September 29, 2008

Bill Maher: Bad Theologian, Worse Comedian

Seelambs! Is a prophet without honor in his own homily? Lesson! My yokes are easy, my words enlight.

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, 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.


Joan of Argghh! said...

It's why priests tell the best Catholic jokes, and Irishmen tell the best drunk jokes. And they're sometimes the same person.


For the same, but sadder reason, Cubans I met in the hinterlands of Cuba tell the best jokes about Castro.

It's because Maher has never lived in the place that he's mocking. Christians have all, at one time or another, been just as much of a self-regarding ass as Maher, but he has never been in that place of devastating self-truth, let alone Cosmic truth. Or ever imagined a world different from the one he has created.

But I'm sure he's read about it, so he's like some kinda friggin' expert/genius. Scott Adams says so!

Feh. Even the laughs he elicits from the mindless must ring hollow in his enormous ego.

walt said...

The bad news is ... well, him.

The good news is ... your publisher got your jokes, and now we get to get them too!

julie said...

When I had my little mOment back in January, one of the things that amazed me was the Humor (another one of those things I should expect by now, but I think so much of discussion about God is so serious. Understandably, give the shock and Awe factor of the big O, and the recorded events of Christ's life, but I think people really do forget, if they ever realize it in the first place, that of course God has a sense of humor. How could it not be so?). More explicitly, mixed up with all of that love is a very hearty amount of laughter, much the way people will laugh at the antics of their children (even though the kids often hate being found amusing). And of course, in the brain of a Maher, the idea that God might be laughing at us will immediately take on a connotation of cruelty. I can see it now:

"God's a funny guy? How about cancer? that's funny, right?"

I'm finally finishing up the last chapter of the Perry, another section that seems to have a lot of truth and Wisdom, but also veers a bit toward fascism and smug superiority, at least that's how it's coming across to me. I think the first paragraph sums it up best:

"The perfect sage is the perfect misanthrope. One might say, paradox permitting, that he hates men for the love of man. Because he carries men as stars in his bosom, he rues the day they have become stones. His love is the alchemy that despises the dross for the sake of the precious stone within; for the sake of the butterfly, he spurns the grub. But his love, whose possible outward harshness is but the converse of its inner sweetness, is misunderstood by men who, to follow in this metaphorical vein, are obdurate in believing they are stones and not stars, grubs and not butterflies."

In light of today's post, I think one thing Perry lacks, which would take the edge off and make this book really superb, is a good sense of humor. The perfect sage, by his definition, would be a real crank. But if the sage could laugh, he might enjoy people and life just a bit more, and be less likely to fall into the trap of pridefulness. So long as we can laugh at the nasty grub that is Bill Maher, instead of merely hating him for not being a butterfly, perhaps we can better hang on to a little of our own humility.

(I don't know if that makes any sense; it's one of those times where I know what I mean, but I don't know if I'm conveying it very well. What can you do? It's Monday.)

Gagdad Bob said...

I agree about Perry. Despite the abundant wisdom, too medieval for my taste.

julie said...

Indeed; I often find myself thinking "Yes! but Noooo!," all within the space of one (long) sentence. Often surrounded by no small amount of "uh? Hm, 'kay..."

Joan of Argghh! said...

"God's a funny guy? How about cancer? that's funny, right?"

Is it okay to laugh at a cancer patient if they fart during Last Rites?


I can see that I'm not gonna cooperate with the serious timbre of this discussion. Sigh. Guess I'll go get ready for surgery. Once I'm outta pain and back home, I'll have way too much time to haunt the comments here. You've been warned.

(--and yes, I'm a Catholic, my brother is a priest, and The Jolly Roger is English-Irish. He hates himself.)

Anonymous said...

Bob, whereas I cannot interpret Joyce very well, I do get your comedic philology loud and clear.

You explicate God's motive for creating the cosmos, which revolves around the amelioration of loneliness and boredom.

Apparently variety is the spice of God's life.

I find this a credible speculation. Why else, indeed?

The ramifications for our own small lives? Paradoxically, we must take life seriously in order to increase the enjoyment of God.

In other words, without our collusion, God could not enjoy the "play" he has created. If all of us actors went on "strike" and walked off the stage of life, there would nothing to enjoy.

I speculate this is why living organisms are imbued with a fierce will to keep on living. It is an implanted urge designed to keep the player in the game.

Because, the easiest thing in the world is to die. Why not die? It means the end to struggle and strife, and is simply more efficient. It takes less effort to not live than to live.

But death also seems the end to pleasure and enjoyment, or the hope of having same. So we keep on living for the reason God started this whole thing rolling--in the hopes of having a good time.

How can one despair or suffer, knowing this? Life literally is "all good." Negativity, paradoxically, is a construct designed to increase pleasure. It is impossible to wallow in negativity after understanding this, because ultimately negativity is proved to be artificial and phony. Who wants to be phony on purpose? That is not efficient.

Fortunately, less awake brothers and sisters keep playing the game in earnest, keeping things interesting. We who are awakened naturally want to wake everyone up, but I question at what rate this should be done.

Obviously, it is part of the game but the Master should be consulted for guidance as to how to disseminate the awakening knowledge.

It would only be prudent.

Gagdad Bob said...

"You explicate God's motive for creating the cosmos, which revolves around the amelioration of loneliness and boredom."

That's not exactly true. It is not a "lack," more to do with the radiance of love and adventure. But I'm off to work....

julie said...

Joan, I'll be praying for you. And depending on the circumstances, farting during last rites could be kinda funny...

julie said...

Anonymous, again with the questioning of pacing? Sometimes, you start off on the right track, but it's clear that you don't understand us even remotely as well as you'd like to think.

I'm baffled that you have latched on to this idea that we're out to convert the world to our point of view, preferably right now. Do you see us shouting this from the rooftops, or standing on street corners throwing our pearls before swine? Of course not. We do, in fact, realize that you can lead a fool to water, but you can't make him bathe in it, much less take a hearty swig.

Of course, if my suspicions are correct, you're the usual anonymous who advocates taking on initiates, mostly for pleasure, so it should be no surprise. You may as well just take a proper name; your words give you away often enough.

Robin Starfish said...

jester on the mount
crucifies the holy ho
a sin unto death

Ray Ingles said...

Nothing that ugly could be intrinsically true, just as nothing as substantially beautiful as Christianity could be essentially false.

Beautiful theories are slain by ugly facts all the time. Epicycles are beautiful, useful, accurate, and, well... essentially false.

julie said...

Funny bit of syncoonicity - Woodface recently found its way back into the car's cd player; "There Goes God" has a whole different meaning to me these days. But the picture of God in sexy pants and with sausage dog is still kind of amusing.

tanis said...

Patti says Ben has lost 20lbs. and asks for our continued prayers. ~qp

bob f. said...

The ha-ha experience is a subcategory of the ah-ha experience, another form of revelation (if we're lucky.)

River Cocytus said...

ray: if the Earth is the fixed point of reference, epicycles exist.


Ray Ingles said...

River - Sure, you can use epicycles to model and predict how the planets will move, but you can't use it for, say, sending a camera out of the solar system.

NoMo said...

Ahhh. As I bid a fond farewell to my 401k, I am once again reminded of what is really important in life - becoming more like Jesus.

That, and wishing I'd bought gold 5years ago.

Joan - God keep you.

Anonymous said...


Yes, you have me pegged correctly as the usual anon. Why don't I get a handle? Shame and guilt, I guess.

I press on the issue of evangelicism because Bob's blog is anti-materialist and sees as its "projekt" the spiritualization of mankind. He has said so explicitly, just a few posts ago.

Bob favors a rapid and complete conversion of all people to the spirit way and has implied such persistently. My job as a self-appointed "troll" is to call the goal into question, so it can be closely evaluated.

A well thought out rationale for Bob's projekt has not been articulated, but should be. This is a valid and useful tack for this blog and bears on the central issues at hand.

will said...

Joan, I've been there/done that. Came out of it more than all right, better than ever, actually.

And you're clearly a whole lot tougher than I am.

Prayers are with you.

Ray Ingles said...

(Oh, and River - don't think I'm unaware of the irony of having to point out the notion of incomplete models, only useful in a limited domain... seeing as that's what y'all accuse me of clinging to. :-> )

Ray Ingles said...

And, BTW, Joan - I know you don't read my stuff, but best wishes anyway.

Van said...

"For example, the famous 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."

It is a metaphysical self-portrait of not ony the 'artist', but of those who approve it.

Robin Starfish said...

Ben, when you wake up...and Joan, when the anesthesia wears off, the world will be sporting bright rainbows and will be full of bunnies.

They taste like chicken.

Get healthy soon...part of the prayer brigade.

Van said...

"...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..."

I am so glad there were no visual aids... nothing that thoroughly ugly should ever be seen. Thank god for baggy black clothes.

River Cocytus said...

Piss Christ is worse than that: like LARP'ing, it's LAME. That's the worst thing of all. Say whatever you like about the fuddy duddy music and art, whatever it is it was at its best never LAME. Transgressive art... it's lame. Raging against the machine daily... lame.

Lame, lame, lame!

Back to your regularly schedule'd flogging.

NoMo said...

Baraaack! Baraaack! Baraaack!

What the chickens say when they come home to roost. Or rabbits?

Van said...

What Robin said!

Ray Ingles said...

Actually, the way I heard it, "Piss Christ" was 'intended' as a protest against cheap, mass-produced religious iconography, which the 'artist' felt was an insult to faith or something. Like counterfeit money compared to the real thing.

Either way, it was certainly 'heavy-handed' and lame, though. (Like these protests, actually. Scroll down to the emails.)

will said...

Ray -

>>Beautiful theories are slain by ugly facts all the time<<

If a theory is disproved, it oouldn't have been all the beautiful to begin with. Seductively glamorous, perhaps, with a touch of beauty - much like Marxism has an element of egalitarian "beauty" about it, may even be workable within very narrow confines, but is mostly glamorous nonsense. Guaranteed to fail, of course, even if it takes 70 years to do so.

And a fact which slays a semi-beautiful theory could not be "ugly", particularly if it leads to a genuinely beautiful, workable theory.

Of course, if you mean to analogize genuine Christian spirituality with "theory" - well, for you perhaps, if you are lacking in spiritual perceptual capacity. Others, however, do have such capacity, and for them spirituality is experiential, not theoretical.

Dougman said...

Keter is so sublime, it is called in the Zohar "the most hidden of all hidden things", and is completely incomprehensible to man.-Wikipedia

Keter to the Sephirot is like electricity is to a song?

I'm not explaining myself very well. . .
Thinking of a great song either with all the electric instuments or the Unplugged version.
The unplugged being first because we just know that that's how it's done.

My left and right brain cells are seriously banging off of each other now.

julie said...

I'm confused, Ray. Are you calling the desecration of the Eucharist lame, or is it the response of Catholics who actually, honestly consider the Eucharist sacred (there's that word again)? Sure, some of the responses (such as calling for him to be fired) are probably a bit overwrought, but frankly, I don't blame them for being upset. At least they're not blowing up themselves or anyone else in protest or inciting riots. They're writing angry letters, because their faith actually means something to them, and it's the only thing they know to do to defend it. Or are you finally admitting that, since you're an atheist, the only meaning that matters is the meaning you personally create for yourself, and nobody else's holds value?

As a Catholic myself, I can only shake my head at the stupidity. Of course Myers isn't destroying God, he simply reveal himself to be an asshole. It's not only atheists who mock the Eucharist, by the way - plenty of Christians from other faiths find it amusing as well. Whatever. It's a free country, and the miracle of transubstantiation can't Truly be defiled by these bozos. Also, getting outraged just encourages them. But that doesn't mean the anger of the faithful isn't justified.

Honestly, how would you feel if something you valued highly, maybe even that which you cared about most in all the world, say your wife or your kids, were abused and denigrated in effigy for the amusement of the masses on the internet? Would your rightful anger be lame? Would you want the perpetrator to stop? Would you hope they'd be fired, if they did it while at their job?

If I'm reading you wrong, if it's just the desecration you consider lame, then I apologize, and will happily project the diatribe onto Myers. But since you point out the emails, I can only assume that's not the case. If I read you correctly, you've demonstrated yourself to be a truly classy guy today. Really. And so funny.

Joan of Argghh! said...

Oh, thanks all! (You too, Ray, and your little dog!)

I'm not battling the Big C, however. Didn't mean to give that impression. That fart joke was just because I'm a heartless ass. And just because farts don't give a good damn who you are or how grave your condition. I think this makes God a tremendous comedian.


...and Meercats. Way funny.

ximeze said...

Question is, do Lamerays also taste like chicken?

julie said...

"And just because farts don't give a good damn who you are or how grave your condition. I think this makes God a tremendous comedian."


That, and the platypus.

Anonymous said...

Limitlessness is itself limitation; therefore God limits Himself in creation.

Anonymous said...

Well, I looked at some pictures of Yoko, and I must confess...

I would do her.

Does that make me a bad person?

jwm said...

Best of luck, Joan. One way to gain an appreciation for modern medicine is to get some firsthand. (even if you have to buy it yourself) As one who is running on a couple of aftermarket parts, I'd say it's worth it at any price. For example, it's a way better deal than getting your upper body tattooed with tribal designs and pictures of hot rods and skulls and demons, and flowers, a bawdy poem in ancient Chinese over your appendix, and your name in Olde English across your throat. Way better, for sure. ;)
My prayers, too.


Ray Ingles said...

Will - Beauty and truth are related, but my point was that you can't always use your sense of beauty to decide what's true. Einstein (who had used his sense of beauty very successfully in physics before) was convinced that QM was too ugly to be true... but it turns out 'nature' had different idea of what's beautiful.

Julie - The 'desecration' was kinda lame, but the response was way overblown - which was the point. It's worth noting that he gave the same treatment to a Koran and 'The God Delusion' at the same time. And he didn't do it at his job, either. He said, explicitly, that nothing should be held sacred in the 'sacred cow' sense. And he was doing it in response to the incident where a student who had - at least, according to reports - merely taken a host to show a friend received death threats over it.

Just as Moslems don't get to keep people from making depictions of Mohammed, even insulting ones, Catholics don't get to threaten people with death (or, not so long ago, actually kill people) for blasphemy or heresy. Not in the West, anyway. But Meyers has received death threats from nice Christians nevertheless. I'm not sure the point needed to be made that way... though it's hard to make it any other way.

(Not that I think he's always rational or even likable - he went over the line this time. Nothing to rejoice about there.)

Your critique was more thoughtful than the letters (though you too don't appear to have bothered to find out what the circumstances were before you embarked on it, unfortunately). My point was not about the desecration (which can be validly criticized), but that bad criticism is not limited to the atheists.

Anonymous said...

Of course, I'd also do a snake if it would spread its legs.

julie said...

Ray, I didn't bother reading any of this guy's links; usually, I don't bother with yours, either. Frankly, I don't care - not who or what he desecrated, nor what sacred cows he feels the need to puncture. And obviously, you didn't read my comment very carefully, since I pointed out that other Christians (ya know, theists) have been known to mock the Eucharist as well.

I didn't take any of the e-mails, kooky as some of them were, to be actual death threats (I suppose the letter could be read that way, though it's vague - the handwriting is so bad I didn't read it the first time); obviously, that would be completely over the top, and to suggest that anyone in here has no problem with that kind of lunacy is ridiculous.

On the other hand, expressions of the belief that he will in all likelihood go to hell at such time as he dies shouldn't really be surprising from people who actually believe in hell, and further believe that he has committed a sacrilegious act. It's not something I personally would say to someone, nor is anybody's fate in the afterlife my judgment to make, but again, this means something to them. It's really not just about "crackers." I noticed there were also people praying for him. Are they over the top, too?

If your point is just that "bad criticism is not limited to the atheists," well, duh. People behaving abominably in the name of God is nothing new, and frankly I'm pretty sure that's what is really meant by "thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain." Whatever you meant, though, your point seems to be badly made.

Ray Ingles said...

Julie - I didn't say those were death threats, though he's certainly gotten some. Nor did I "suggest that anyone in here has no problem with that kind of lunacy". I was simply pointing out that they weren't any more sophisticated than Maher's rants. Dismissing, say, Catholicism based on those would be as bad as dismissing atheism because of Maher.

You apparently think that's not a point that needs to be made... and I guess we'll have to disagree on that.

will said...

Ray, I get your point, but again - and I believe this is what Bob was talking about - definition of "beauty" depends on the third eye of the beholder. On a purely material, aesthetic level, of course we can't determine the truth of something. A leprous hunchback might be a saint, but it would require a capacity for spiritual insight to apprehend the hunchback's sainthood.

I believe that Einstein - a guy with some mystical insight, obviously, but basically a physicist, not a mystic - was repelled by quantum mechanics on a material, aesthetic level. There are those, even physicists, who would find a spiritual beauty and truth in QM. (not that QM as it's understood today is definitive)

For anyone with inner eyes to see, Christianity, esoterically, even exoterically understood, is an infinite hologram with infinite capacity to transform lives for the better. Objectively/subjectively it is beautiful and true. Piss Christ was a one-dimensional snarkiness with, I suppose, a certain aesthetic that some flatlanders would find compelling. But it is essentially "false" - it is without any dimensional reach.

BTW, mod artists almost always use the "I'm poking holes in hypocrisy" excuse, that or "This is art that challenges what our concepts of art are", etc. I'm 99% sure that their real motivation is fashionable perversity.

Anyway, my point is that with a genuine spiritual insight, it really is pretty easy to distinguish the beautiful/true from the ugly/false.

will said...

I'm actually not sure is Maher is an atheist in the classical sense.

He certainly is an anti-religion zealot. However, I've heard him on several occasions profess a belief in reincarnation and karma.

The snag here is that by definition a religion is a shared spiritual belief. As there are those who share Maher's belief in reincarnation - and who are equally opposed to religion - Maher is in fact a member of a religion, whether it is an "official" one or not. To date, this has not occurred to him.

I don't judge all atheists on the basis of Maher's obnoxiousness. Obviously, some atheists are kind, loving, gracious people. Ditto some communists, probably even some nazis. I do reject atheism, communism, nazism on their own (lack of) merits.

Dougman said...

For anyone with inner eyes to see, Christianity, esoterically, even exoterically understood, is an infinite hologram with infinite capacity to transform lives for the better.

There you go again Will. Plucking those strings that resonate louder with the passage of time.
My head feels like it's going to explode!
There is this Johnny Rivers tune that I can't get out of my head,"Mountain of Love" I think the title is.

I wish someone could get inside of my subconscience and pull this, . . what is it?
I want to say parasite but it's not a negative thing that's sucking life from me. It feels more like something infusing life into me.
My own ego just gets in the way of being able to express it.
Bottled up with the pressure continuing to build.

And then the night comes, . . .without rest, and work to be done.

julie said...

One more thing, Ray - while I agree that the religious groups look foolish when they start demanding that YouTube remove offensive content (never minding for a moment that YouTube hasn't hesitated to remove a whole bunch of things that are far less offensive to other, more "special" or more actually potentially dangerous groups), apparently Myers actually asked someone to bring him a consecrated wafer, which he then put in the trash along with a Koran and a copy of Hitchens' book. The wafer, one would guess, would have to be acquired by duplicitous means (and Myers was apparently not courageous enough to try to acquire himself). A silly gesture, which again I really don't care about one way or another.

However. To many, it crosses a line; the books can be bought, and of themselves are less likely to be actually sacred to anyone (it's not like he asked someone to take someone else's Koran or Hitchens and send it in); the wafer is different. While it's not something with monetary value, it is a tangible item which has deep personal significance to rather a huge number of people. Again, it is literally sacred. It's not like he asked for and used a regular cracker with which to pantomime something. Frankly, I think his behavior goes beyond mere speech.

His argument:

"It's just a cracker! Get over it — as long as people aren't disrupting your services or pilfering chalices, there has been no interference with your religious freedom, and no harm done."

(and at this point I'd like to note that the consecrated wafer, while holding no monetary value, is of infinitely greater worth than the chalice)

is about as valid as if someone stole your kid's favorite but worthless toy, then ripped it up in front of him. Wouldn't you be just a wee bit angry? There wouldn't be anything you could do in the way of legal action in such a case, and obviously illegal action is out of bounds. What do you do? Give the kid a talking to? Tell his parents? (I know, a poor analogy, but since Ray doesn't recognize anything as literally sacred, I have to work with what I can.)

Myers crossed a line, from speech to action. Not a big action, unless you're Catholic, in which case it's tremendous. Is it any wonder at all that people are angry about it? Why should it be lame of them to be appalled at what he did?

As to Maher, while he certainly makes a case against atheism just by being himself, per my above distinction there really isn't a valid comparison between him and them. The Catholic e-mailers may look foolish, but their anger is neither unjustified nor unprovoked. Maher? Who knows what got him going?

julie said...

And yes, I realize I've been the ass today, for once again arguing with the foolish.

See, Joseph - it takes one to know one.

julie said...

You could even say I've been wearing my ass hat this evening. What? It's grey and furry, and has long donkey ears. I need to store it someplace away from my coonskin cap - obviously, sometimes I get them confused ;)

NoMo said...

Ray - Consider yourself
julienned...and lucky. Next comes the hot oil - and not in a good way.

J - I want my asshat back btw.

julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
julie said...

For the record, I decided that last comment was too asinine, even for the ass hat; maybe bordering on asshole, and I really don't want to go there. So I retracted it.

Anonymous said...

Could you take a picture of it and send it to me? ;*)

ge said...

In case some may not quite catch the ref to the Yoko [Aquariass] hiney: [not for the squeamish]

Ray Ingles said...

Will - Anyway, my point is that with a genuine spiritual insight, it really is pretty easy to distinguish the beautiful/true from the ugly/false.

On a "material, aesthetic level", one can test things, often pretty unambiguously. The testing on a "spiritual" level seems a lot less reliable, considering that a whole lot of contradictory spiritual insights have been common throughout history. How do you tell when spiritual insight is "genuine"? (How do you tell when you're right for the wrong reason?)

Ray Ingles said...

Will - Careful how you spread the definition of 'religion'. A word that means everything means nothing.

Ray Ingles said...

Julie - Part of the point of the whole 'desecration' was to show that, to some people, "illegal action" is not "out of bounds". Expressing anger is one thing, but threats of violence are something else. A lot of Catholics seem to have a case of "fatwa envy".

Besides which, Bob advises people to mock the ridiculous, at least around here. If Meyers finds the notion of transubstantiation ridiculous, let alone death threats over it...

And I didn't say it was lame for Catholics to be apalled by it. I said it was lame to not find out anything about the incident before complaining about it ("You wouldn't do that to a Koran! Oh, wait, he did... Well, you shouldn't have done it at your job! Oh, wait, he didn't...) and it was lame to threaten violence over it.

He wouldn't have done it if Catholics weren't threatening the original student with death or trying to get him expelled. That offended Meyers. (And me, too, actually.) Don't you think they "crossed a line" too? We're all "apalled" when Muslims do that kind of thing. Why aren't people apalled when Catholics do so?

Van said...

Ray... obtuse doesn't begin to describe it.

"On a "material, aesthetic level", one can test things, often pretty unambiguously. The testing on a "spiritual" level seems a lot less reliable, considering that a whole lot of contradictory spiritual insights have been common throughout history. How do you tell when spiritual insight is "genuine"? (How do you tell when you're right for the wrong reason?) "

Uh huh... lets apply it to the middle ground of Art. Place Michangelo's David, and Donatello's David side by side and compare. I look forward to your clear quantifications and unambigous evaluations. Note: If you begin with the density of the stone, you prove yourself in no need of wearing the ass-hat, it would be redundant. Now place any 'sculpture' by Picasso next to them. If you are unable to distinguish between the Art of the first two, and the ass of the third, with an unambigous "not even art!"... even though you may find yourself with a certain lack of quantified data to back it up... again, you have no need of the hat.

Jump that up a level, and we can examine the eucharist and non-eucharist Religions (in no placement order), and then place your 'new atheist' one (in the picasso position) and have a look see. Well... those of us who don't have their hat pulled down over their ears, that is.

Julie, Nomo, I wish you two would put the communal ass-hat back on the hat rack where it belongs, I had to hunt all over the den to find it this morning.


Susannah said...

Ray, I don't get your point. Christians can be sinful too? Two wrongs don't make a right? No duh. Kindergarten stuff.

Did I just borrow the ass-hat myself?

julie said...

Ray. No.

First, I never mentioned the Koran. Don't moan about me not reading things correctly if you can't even do it yourself.

The link you gave did not mention death threats, at least not that I saw after reading it several times. It did not mention illegal action. He started by saying he was worried that nuns would give him a "finger-wagging."

Oooh, harsh.

I didn't bother with any of his links, a: because they were apparently to videos about desecrating the Eucharist, and as I said before I just don't care, and b: because he came across as an asshole. Why should I care what he links?

So your point, as it was originally made, appeared to be that Catholics were lame for sending angry emails. If you wanted to make the point that they were lame for sending death threats, you should have said as much. Moving the goalposts mid-argument is a five-yard penalty.

Further - had his actions stopped at mocking the idea of the Eucharist, or even at mocking people for getting angry when other people desecrated the Eucharist, I would not think even angry letters were really justified; people do that all the time, and really it's a wasted effort anyway. What he actually did was no less offensive than if he had similarly mistreated a piece of the Torah.

Do I find it offensive that Catholics would make death threats over this? Of course. I would not respond, though by taking an object they hold sacred and defiling it. I'd hope for police action, and I might mock them, depending on the circumstances, but there's a difference between making fun and trashing people's stuff, just because it pisses them off.

And claiming that Catholics have "fatwa envy?" Please. Project much?

Thus brays the ass.

Ray Ingles said...

Van - A la Einstein, I don't like QM, but I accept that it's as true as anything else in science, because it can be demonstrated.

Like you, I'm not fond of Picasso, either... but even he may have his uses. The notion of Picasso is that - allegedly - he would see and paint/sculpt the abstract structures and shapes that we normally and automatically 'cohere' into faces and such. For something like 'Guernica', where chaos is the point, perhaps that even has some artistic value... a breakdown used to indicate a higher synthesis.

While we're talking about beauty, a whole lotta people find Finnegan's Wake to be unintelligible and pretentious nonsense...

I know what I find beautiful and what I want, but that doesn't mean I assume it's therefore true. I look for other ways to confirm truth or falsehood, because it's very easy to think that something's true because you want it to be true.

Susannah said...

"I know what I find beautiful and what I want, but that doesn't mean I assume it's therefore true. I look for other ways to confirm truth or falsehood, because it's very easy to think that something's true because you want it to be true."

This sort of nitpicking sounds like whistling in the dark to me.

Susannah said...

I just wanted to share something I read last night. These snippets are courtesy of an illiterate Yorkshire plumber (he worked in a woolen mill as a child instead of going to school) turned pentecostal preacher. (His wife taught him to read.)

"In the Word of God is the breath, the nature, and the power of the living God, and his power works in every person who dares to believe his Word. There is life through the power of it. And as we receive the Word in faith, we receive the nature of God himself. It is as we lay hold of God’s promises in simple faith that we become partakers of the divine nature in grace, a power that makes dead things live, and a power which is of God, which will be manifested in our flesh.

"This power has come forth with its glory to transform us by divine act into sons of God, to make us like unto the Son of God, by the Spirit of God who moves us on from grace to grace and from glory to glory as our faith rests in this living Word.

"...I was speaking like this one day and one man said, 'I have never heard anything like this before. How many months did it take you to get up that sermon?'

I answered, 'My brother, God pressed my wife from time to time to get me to preach, and I promised her I would preach. I used to labor hard for a week to get something up, then give out the test and sit down and say, ‘I am done.’ Oh , brother, I have given up getting things *up*. They all come *down.* And the sermons that come down stop down, then go back up, because the Word of God says his Word shall not return until him void. But if *I* get anything up, it will not stay up very long, and when it goes down, it will take me with it."

"What is faith? Faith is the very nature of God. It is the Word of God. It is the personal, inward flow of divine favor which moves in every fiber of our being until our whole nature is so quickened that we live by faith, we move by faith, and we are going to be caught up to glory in faith, for "faith is the victory!" Faith is the glorious knowledge of a personal presence within you, changing you from strength to strength, from glory to glory, until you get to the place where you walk with God, and where God thinks and speaks through you by the power of the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is grand, it is glorious!

God wants us to have far more than that which we can handle and see, and so he speaks of the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. But, with the eye of faith, we may see it in all its beauty and grandeur. God's Word is from everlasting to everlasting, and 'faith is the substance.'

Wish I could put this whole sermon on faith here; it blew my hair back!

He really did wait upon the Lord for every sermon, too. He was often given the text as he approached the podium.

Ray Ingles said...

Julie - Not you, but least two of the referenced letters mentioned the Koran, which is why I mentioned it. And I didn't originally think I needed to mention the death threats, seeing as they were the whole motivation for doing it and if you were upset about it you'd certainly research the context, right? That's not moving goalposts, that's assuming honesty on the part of the people you're conversing with.

Muslims flipped out and protested - and more violently than the Catholics so far - about 'Koran abuse' and cartoons of Mohammed. How would you go about mocking that? Should cartoonists refrain from depicting Mohammed in all cases, even though they themselves may have no respect for him or Islam? Are you obligated to treat the Koran with respect? Are these guys?

The way I figure it, if you ask nicely and it's not a real inconvenience (or even a health threat), I'll accommodate you. I wouldn't order pork when dining out with a Muslim or Jew, for example. But if you're not polite about it, let alone threatening, well, all bets are off.

There are legitimate and serious questions about how much respect we have to show for opposing beliefs. Those letters ain't it. My original point was that the existence of invalid criticism (like those letters, or Maher) doesn't mean valid criticism is impossible.

Susannah said...

Re: Maher and such...

I guess my feeling is, who am I to judge the world? Apart from God, darkness is defacto. It's his jobo to judge that stuff.

"Judgment begins with the house of God."

I totally understand the feelings of Catholics over this, because his action was, from a simply civil point of view, disgusting and disrespectful, and from their point of view, profane.

But does it actually hurt God any? No. The mocker reaps what he sows, anyway, and God is not mocked in the end.

NoMo said...

Wow, Susannah, me too (what little hair I have, that is).


Ray Ingles said...

Susannah - Maher's criticism is lowbrow and lame; that's one of the subjects of Bob's post. If that's worthy of pointing out, then I don't see why it's not worthy of pointing out that theistic criticism of atheism is similarly lowbrow and lame from time to time as well. That's all.

Susannah said...

"Theistic criticism of atheism," or (understandable) emotional gut response to unprovoked jerk attack?

Whatever wrongness the letters may contain, they are not "criticism" as much as outcry. Correct?

Maher's on the other hand is a calculated, childish attempt to poke God in the eye. Lame and silly.

julie said...

Well see, ray, there's your problem. The example you gave is not simply "theistic criticism of atheism." It is ire provoked by a specific action. And that is why your example was a bad one.

I'm officially removing the ass hat now. Since my regular ears are rather smaller by comparison, it's unlikely that I'll be able to hear what you're saying for the rest of the day. Also, my throat's getting sore from all the braying.

Ray Ingles said...

Susannah & Julie - There's criticism in those letters, too - it's just bad enough that maybe you're not registering it. It's on the same order as Maher's 'Gee, these people believe weird things', without tackling "authentic revelation", to use Bob's words. They are saying, 'I don't like this and you should fire him' without even understanding what he did and where he did it.

(Anyone want to answer if Team Infidel was just as bad as Meyers?)

And Susannah, I think your preconceptions are getting in the way a little. Meyers doesn't believe in God. The act was calculated, and may have been childish, but he was poking believers in the eye, not God. (It really is possible to not believe.)

Anonymous said...


Epicycles are not more beautiful than Kepler's Laws.


Susannah said...

Nope, Ray. :) *If* God exists (and he does, that's a fact) that's what it boils down to. Kinda like running down a bunch of bunny trails to avoid having to submit to the main point.

Anonymous said...


Seriously, you've gotta dump that epicycles-were-beautiful line. They were hideous, and only a small fixture of a larger, more hideous looking ore-Keplarian astronomy. Inner and outer planets moving in different directions, epicycles upon epicycles, nothing at the ceter of the world-system (which didn't have a real name, since no one could figure out how it could be one thing), Copernicus invoking oval-orbits (what's an oval, mathematically?) An indifference to epicycle accounts and world-off-center accounts, the absurdity of the size required for the epicycle of Venus...

All this is simpler, more clear, and more elegant and more radiant than Kepler's three laws? Even the dullest aesthetic sense could see the ugliness of Ptolomy when put next to Kepler. I'd argue that beauty is an infallible guide to truth, or at least the best we have, but that's for another time.

Van said...

In reluctant defense of Ray... or rather, in defense of the epicycles analogy (which I was using, though in a different context, before Ray happened along). Prior to Ptolemy, the situation was essentially "WTF?!", in comparison, epicycles were a far more elegant, and functional, explanation than what came before, and of course Kepler was orders of magnitude more elegant than that - in reverse order, sort of like Grace Kelly in a gown as compared to Brittany Spears in sweats (you know the rehearsal video) as compared to yoko in (shudder) the raw.

Ray Ingles said...

Thomism - But epicycles use circles, the most beautiful and perfect shape. Everything up there in the heavens is perfect, don'cha know? That's why epicycles held on so long - aesthetic sense driving the models despite the data.

Ray Ingles said...

Susannah - As I said, your preconceptions are getting in the way. I happen to know from personal experience that it's possible to just not believe. I'm told many times that others have data points available to them that that don't fit my model; well, I have the converse. :-/

Van said...

And btw, though I've got nothing but my personal inkling to go on, I imagine that Quantum Mechanics is nothing but the subatomic equivalent of epicycles – it’s a functional explanation which aides our navigation of physics, and is the best we are capable of at this point, prior to our grasping some huge ‘quantum’ leap of understanding we are still clueless about being ignorant of.

One day teachers will say to their giggling students “Oh, if you think the epicycles explanations for planets going backwards in the sky was silly, wait until I tell you how people used to explain [insert impressive sounding name here] Law… they called it ‘Quantum Mechanics’, and they used this really goofy idea of Schrödinger’s Cat being alive AND dead based on your choice to illustrate it!”

(the school kids bust out in laughter)

Susannah said...

Of *course* it's possible to not believe. But the "data points" (?) are freely available to all. Freedom does make it possible to refuse the gift of faith. It is a gift of God, you know.

It's hard for me, a lifelong believer, to understand why some spend their entire lives hanging back and essentially asking why God doesn't force them to believe.

But then there are a whole lot of emotional and spiritual forces at play.

Emotional forces resulting from experience, that obscure a clear vision of the glory of God by essentially anthropomorphizing him.

Spiritual forces that actively seek to steal, kill, and destroy--that want you to believe a lie.

And probably more than that.

It seems to me that there must be at base a willingness to assent to God's Word. Each man must "choose this day": Trust God, or his own puny intellect? Serve God, or self?

More Smith, for Ray:

"'Have faith.'" It isn't saying you must stir up faith. Faith is God in the human vessel, in the one who *believes in his heart.* It is a grasping of the eternal God. 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, *even* our faith" (1 John 5:4b). He who believes overcomes the world. 'Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17). He who believes in his heart! Can you imagine anything easier than that? He who believes in his heart!

"What is the process by which this comes to pass? Death! No, one can remain alive who believes in his heart. He dies to everything worldly. He who loves the world is not of God. You can measure the whole thing and examine yourself to see if you have faith. Faith is a life. Faith enables you to lay hold of that which is [spiritual death] and get it out of the way for God to bring in something that is not [eternal life]."

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for. Someone said to me one day, 'I would not believe in anything I could not handle and see.' Everything you can handle and see is temporary and will perish with the using. But the things not seen are eternal and will not fade away. Are you dealing with tangible things or with the things which are eternal, the things that are facts, that are made real by faith?

Thank God that through the knowledge of the truth of the Son of God, I have within me a greater power, a mightier working, an inward impact of life, of power, of vision, and of truth more real than anyone can know who lives in the realm of the tangible. God manifests himself to the person who dares to believe."

Ray Ingles said...

Susannah - But if it's possible not to believe, then it's entirely possible for Meyers to 'desecrate the host' and not intend it "to poke God in the eye".

Belief can change people - but even false belief, too. Islam boasts many tales of it curing alcoholism. Belief doesn't change external reality though.

Nietzsche was a jerk, and not nearly as good a thinker as he's oft reputed, but he was pithy at times. As he noted, "A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything." In other words, just about anything can manifest itself to the person who 'dares to believe' first.

Anonymous said...

Try watching the movie again, whilst detaching yourself from the bundle of nerves this film has the potential to dance on. If you can do this, you might grasp the point of the film. This was not intended to be a comedy, it was intended to be a critical analysis.

You claim that you would have liked this 'blasphemy' if it were funnier, but blasphemy isn't based in humor, nor is it intrinsically untrue.

To put things into perspective, the 'substantial beauty of Christianity (or Catholicism or Islam)' you speak of is invisible to many due to it's overtly violent, historic significance as well as it's modern attachment to a wide array of bigotry.

Why is Scientology worthy of criticism but not Christianity, Catholicism, or Islam? The latter three have undeniably caused thousands (if not millions) more deaths and obliteration of ancient cultures and history, amongst other things.

Gagdad Bob said...

You've got it backward. Were Maher intellectually and spiritually capable of understanding my book, he would never have made the film. The film is purely a monument to his own spiritual autism.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but think that 'spiritual autism' is most truly expressed by those who think their religion and spiritual beliefs are right and everyone who doesn't agree is wrong. What book have you written that discusses the, real, cultural and historic effects of religion, in such a clearly positive way, that religion should not be questioned?

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, at least we agree that you can't help it.

Anonymous said...

Great! We both agree that I'm not in the business of misusing language in an irrelevant and antagonistic manner. I'm glad that we have, obviously, come to an agreement on the meaning of the term 'spiritual autism,' based upon the comparable aspects of autism and closed-minded spirituality.

I would like to compliment you on your persistent habit of dodging any statement holding significance. I will warn you though, your arguments lack every element of pith, and your shallow intellect shines through. Ignorance is obviously an abode to you, so I will not ask you to leave your home.

Your choice to remain in the dark will surely serve as an example for anyone willing to think.

P.S. Your book must really suck if you're unwilling to use an obvious, and requested, chance to market it.

Gagdad Bob said...

Perhaps. But I specifically discourage the spiritually unqualified from reading it, despite the financial consequences. In fact, I make no effort to publicize my work at all. After all, you sought me out, not vice versa. I have no control over the fact that I am not what you had hoped, but in the end, there is virtually nothing that a man like me could offer a man like you. Bygones.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the book is so bad that you won't let anyone who doesn't already agree read it?!

I'm glad I don't possess the churchonomicron degree, high-horse riders license, or holier-than-thou tenure that would make me eligible to know the title of this book in which I have completely lost interest. Play spiritual judge and God will surely thank you for relieving him of tough work.

I stumbled across this blog while browsing for more information about the religious extremist/terrorist that sent the death threat to Bill Maher (I guess you're not the only one who missed the point). I commented in hopes that this film would be mentally revisited for its intent instead of its potential to offend.

The only reason I inquired about your book is because of your vague reference to it. You initially spoke of it as if were something of significance and in some way related to an explanation of the point (or anti-point) of Religulous, stating, "Were Maher intellectually and spiritually capable of understanding my book, he would never have made the film." Now, I can't help but wonder, was reading your book even an option for the (by degree of Gagdad, Spritual Judge and Jury) lesser spiritual being, also known as Bill Maher?

Gagdad Bob said...

Practically speaking, no. I said "if he were qualified," which he admits to -- and is indeed proud of -- not being. There are obviously places for someone of his stature to begin a religious practice, but it would not be here.

Van said...

Wow... too stupid to find and follow a link to Amazon from the main page eh?

(uh-oh... did I give away the secret? Somehow, I feel sure it's still safe from the ninny though)

Anonymous said...

There are 22 book links in the right margin of this blog, Van.

It's strange that the 'religiously, intellectually and spiritually awakened' are so keen to name calling. I've not made a single statement disclosing my spiritual beliefs and I still can't get a single thought-out response. Way to be a shining examples.

Van said...

aninnymouse said "There are 22 book links in the right margin of this blog, Van."

Yeah... pretty tough to guess that the first one might have something to do with the owner of the blog... oh, wait, 'Gagdad Bob' might not be his real name, the first book says 'Robert Godwin'... hmmm what to do... that link in the 'Profile' that also links to the same book is just so darn confusing....

Like I said, it's still safe.

"I've not made a single statement disclosing my spiritual beliefs..."

Wrong. You just know too little about yourself to realize it.

"... I still can't get a single thought-out response."

Well as they say, recognizing you have a problem is the first step towards recovery, good luck with that.

"Way to be a shining examples."

Yeah. It's a Raccoon thing.

Anonymous said...

22 books doesn't mean his wasn't found, it means the column looks like a giant ad. The point isn't that the book is at the top of said ad, it is that friendly, full fledged conversation is made impossible by a clinical psychologist. You too are certainly putting a friendly foot forward now that it's been mentioned.

Enjoy your stagnant conversational circle.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should have studied philosophy in film school. Descartes ontological argument for God has long been successfully refuted, beautiful as it may be (as an argument). See Locke as a starting point.

Or perhaps you should leave philosophy to the philosophers, as you don't seem to have the mind for it. Or at least educate yourself on what's already been said about the ontological argument before discussing it.

God said...

Successfully refuted? This is news to me.

Bill Maher said...

I am bitter, therefore I am.

Van said...

aninnymouse said "Descartes ontological argument for God has long been successfully refuted, beautiful as it may be (as an argument). See Locke as a starting point."

I think there are no ontological arguments but Descartes, therefore nothing exists.

(Locke would say that you don't know what you are talking about)