In this new comedy… comedian and TV host Bill Maher takes a pilgrimage across the globe on a mind-opening journey into the ultimate taboo: questioning religion. Meeting the high and low from different religions, Maher simply asks questions, like “Why is faith good?” “Why doesn’t an all-powerful God speak to us directly?” and “How can otherwise rational people believe in a talking snake?” For anyone who’s even a little spiritually curious, this divine entertainment will deepen your faith…in comedy!
Let’s just say that even from the jacket, it is obvious that there are quite a disparity of opinions being expressed in this “documentary” that comes in the spirit of a Michael Moore film. Bill Maher has quite the abrasive personality that is also darkly engaging. This seems to be at least at some level a personal journey for him. The film starts with a conversation with his mother and is salted with his own experiences in being 50% Catholic and 50% Christian.
With any media like this that takes a variety of shots and pot-shots at faith and religion, it is easy to get defensive and say that the film-makers are biased and prejudiced. Yet, we have to remember that these are not characters in a book or roles in a fantasy film. The film-makers are real people and something has driven a passion to put something like this together and ask these kind of questions. I take the time to listen to these comments with compassion and empathy, trying not only to hear the actual questions but to understand the life that they represent and the motivation for that passion. Please keep that in mind as you consider my comments and observations. If you are missing the good questions and becoming offended by Maher’s observations, it may be appropriate to check yourself. This may be for you a bit of a personal experiment to assess your tolerance level for hearing tough questions that need to be answered if we want to be relevant to people that Jesus has charged us to reach (Mark 13:9-11).
A major theme in the film is really a good question: how can perfectly normal people believe in talking animals and the sun standing still? It is not an unusual question, but it makes a fair observation of the fact that there are so many things that most people would never really believe, except that it is written in the Bible. Embedded within this question is also an observation: if people believe this book without question, how can they really know that what they believe is true?
Why do you believe that the Bible is true? Remember in school how you were not allowed to use the word you are defining in its definition? It goes the same in this case: no fair using part of Scripture to prove that it is true. The reason we need to ask these questions is it says a lot about how difficult it is to share our faith when part of being a Christian means that people have to believe “ridiculous” stories to become part of the faith. It may be worthwhile to read the book Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner.
Corrupted and Off Message
Have you noticed how many TV preachers have gold rings, bracelets, and tie tacks? How about all the multi-million dollar church buildings with big-screen televisions? What about the pope who lives in a palace? Do any of these images match with a man who had no home of his own and warned against being rich?
Not only do many pastors have a lot, but they also work very hard to say that it is all biblical. Pastors of the “prosperity gospel” preach that if you give then you will be equally blessed, which to them means wealth, health, and fine-living. The Bible does challenge us to test God with our giving, but it never says that we will be millionaires if we do. I completely respect people who handle money like Rick Warren who says publicly that he “reverse tithes” meaning that he and his family only live on 10% of the family’s income and give the rest away.
How can people feel confident in becoming a part of a group of people who live so defensively contrary to the message that they share?
Genesis and the Beginning
Has there been enough said about this issue? This is such a fundamental issue for this reason: if Christians do not believe something with evidence, then how can any of their other ideas be legitimate? Folks, this is history rhyming with itself. Galileo said that the earth was not the center of the universe, which was the truth, but his “belief” was rejected by the church who attacked his “theory” with a series of Scripture passages. They said that if these passages were not true, then the entire book could not be trusted. That is exactly what Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum, said in this film. His final defense against Maher’s questions: “Are you God?”
Please do not hear this as being “anti-creation” or “pro-evolution,” but here are a few observations. First, the film featured Father George Coyne, PhD (Vatican Observatory) who pointed out that the age of science is separated from the biblical period by a span of time no less than several hundred years. We think very differently than the writers of the Bible and so his conclusion is that the Bible cannot be read as a science book.
Secondly, even though the Bible is usually published with one singular cover, it is a library of 66 books. If one story in one of those 66 is proven incorrect, it does not mean that the other 65 books are false. It is nothing but foolish to think that the first story has to be defended for fear that the greatest story loses. We believe that it is the Word of God and as the Word of God will it not stand against such claims?
If somehow we can set aside this issue, can you imagine how much stronger our message can be? Instead of spending so much time collecting proof of our beginning and putting that time into spreading the news of our new beginning, perhaps we will have a more common ground where we can challenge one another with open dialogue. And perhaps many more people can meet God in the process.
There was much more in this film about Christianity, and it also talked about Scientology, Islam, Mormonism, and others. Bill Maher had no more trouble with Christianity than with the others on the same question that kept coming up over and over: how could otherwise normal people believe such things? We could easily dismiss these observations, but he represents a person that we believe Jesus included when he suffered and died (remember John 3:16?). Bill Maher and people who think like him are not demons, they are human beings. Let us take the time to listen with compassion and empathy and address their concerns. Let us be willing to put down our torches and stop protesting about secondary issues and remember our mission: to preach Christ and him crucified.