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Why Is There Bill Maher?

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:14

Interesting follow-up to my last post: I received a thoughtful Facebook message that pointed out that if a credible non-Mormon conservative candidate – Mitch Daniels, say – were running against Mormon Democrat Harry Reid, who would most Mormons, including me, end up voting for? Daniels in a walk. So tribalism is important, but it isn’t everything.

However, watching my religious tribe come under fire this election season becomes increasingly painful as Mitt gains more and more momentum. On Facebook, I posted this link to Bill Maher’s wretched “unbaptism” of Mitt Romney’s father-in-law, which is as mean spirited, sneering, and ignorant a demonstration of contempt for my faith as I’ve ever seen.

Caution: it has bad words in it, particularly when he starts condemning the “Mormon spirits” who are supposedly harassing Ann Romney’s dad. Indeed, I recommend not watching it.  Life is short, and, if Bill Maher is right, this life is all there is, so why would you want to waste any of it on Bill Maher?

Indeed, Maher’s unbaptism is just the punchline, however, to a lengthy, contemptuous diatribe launched against all people of faith. He’s upset, apparently, that anyone would claim that atheism is somehow a religion.

There is a growing trend in this country that needs to be called out, and that is to label any evidence-based belief a religion… We are not two sides of the same coin, and you don’t get to put your unreason up on the same shelf as my reason. Your stuff has to go over there, on the shelf with Zeus and Thor and the Kraken, with the stuff that is not evidence-based, stuff that religious people never change their mind about, no matter what happens. I’m open to anything for which there’s evidence. Show me a god, and I will believe in him.

The first thing that strikes me upon hearing language like this is how Maher and other Korihors like him so fundamentally misunderstand the nature of faith. Specifically, they believe all faith is blind faith, exercised in things for which there is no evidence, and that all faith is confined to things religious. This is wholly rubbish.

Do you believe that you’re going to get a paycheck if you put in your hours at work? If that belief is enough to get you to go to the office instead of lying in bed, then you’re exercising faith. Do you believe that if you give Domino’s your credit card number that someone will show up at your doorstep with a pizza within the next half hour? That’s exercising faith. Why do you put your money in a reputable bank instead of Little Daisy’s Backyard Lemonade Stand/Savings and Loan? Because you have faith in one institution, and you don’t have faith in another.

I’ve addressed this idea repeatedly on this blog – see here and here and here and here and, notably, here. In fact, having reread that last one, I just discovered that I already made the point I want to make now in my post  back then, so I’ve got to find a way to make this post newly relevant. If I fail, just reread the posts from that last link. Perhaps I should just quit writing now, but I’m already over 400 words into this thing, so I’m already in too deep.

So, anyway, Maher insists that all faith is unreasonable, and that he, as a man of profound reason, is just happy to go wherever the evidence leads him. “Show me a god, and I’ll believe in him,” he says.  He goes further.

If Jesus Christ comes down from the sky during the halftime show of this Sunday’s Super Bowl and turns all the nachos into loaves and fishes, well, I’ll think two things: first, how dare he interrupt Madonna! She is gonna be pissed! And two: oh, look at that. I was wrong. There he is. My bad. Praise the Lord. But that’s not going to happen.

Notice, please, that the last sentence of the preceding quote is a statement of faith. Faith is confidence or trust in something happening, and, contrary to Maher’s malevolent snark, it is almost always based on evidence, even in the religious realm. Religious people reach out to God, and when God responds, he provides evidence that He is there, thereby strengthening faith.

But suppose a man actually did come down from the sky in the middle of Madonna’s performance and nachos turned to bread and seafood. Knowing Maher, I think it’s highly doubtful that “Praise the Lord” would be one of the first things out of his mouth. Would levitation and transformed nachos would be enough to convince him that the person descending created the universe and died for his sins?

That would be true only if Maher truly had no faith in his “evidence-based” account for universal existence. As is far more likely, his first instinct would be to process the events through his own lens of faith.

“I, Bill Maher, have lived my entire life based on the premise that there is no God. Since there is no God, this guy has to be something else. So is this some kind of publicity stunt? Is this guy a spokesman for a bread and/or fish company? There must be some reasonable scientific explanation for how these nachos are now pumpernickel and red snapper.”

Indeed, I’m not sure what amount of evidence would be necessary to convince a confirmed atheist like Maher. I think he would cling to his own preconceived assumptions just as surely as the hicks he mocks for their “stuff that is not evidence-based, stuff that religious people never change their mind about, no matter what happens.”  Scriptural precedent would suggest that those who militantly refuse to believe can never be given sufficient evidence to change their minds. So how are they different from religious people?

Sorry, Bill. They’re not. Any answers to life’s greatest questions always require faith.

Maher and company insist, then, that the only question worth asking is a yes-or-no proposition: “Is there a God?”

Well, that is a good question, but it’s not the only question.

I offer, then, a different question, one which would require Maher to exercise faith in order to answer:

“Why is there stuff?”

Think about it. You’re alive; you’re here; other stuff is here; the universe exists. Lamentably, even Bill Maher exists. Why?

Any answer other than “I don’t know” requires faith.

Maher repeatedly defines himself as an atheist, not an agnostic, which is an important distinction. An agnostic is happy to settle for “I don’t know;” he/she is content not to bother asking the “why is there stuff” question. Maher claims this is essentially where he is, but his aggressive stance against any answer that includes divinity suggests otherwise. He has enough faith in the random processes of the universe that they somehow produced him, his world, and any other stuff that he is willing to aggressively rule out God as the answer. And the minute he definitively rules out God as a possibility, he’s exercising faith.

Alas, I’ve said all this before. I think my earlier posts on this subject were better. The only new thing I have to add is this: I have evidence-based faith in the fact that Bill Maher sucks.

Tribal Politics
The Parable of the Vegan Café

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  1. I’ve never really understood what Bill Maher gets paid for. If making incendiary remarks is of value then I should be a millionaire.

    Still, at least the dolt has enough good sense to trash the mangy Occupado filth, and I guess that’s something.

  2. You’re wrong. I hate to be blunt on this, because it sounds dismissive, but the fact of the matter is you’re simply incorrect.

    One of the things I really don’t like about Maher is that he almost invariably makes poor arguments for his positions, even if his positions are correct. I realize that you feel hurt by his silly un-baptism stunt, and that makes it difficult to look at the issue purely logically, but if you separate your feelings about his insulting of your religion from the mix and just look at the facts, it’s actually quite easy to demonstrate why atheism is not a religious/ faith-based belief system.

    The key is to realize that atheism is not a belief system at all. The lack of a belief is not a belief. Presumably, you reject Thor and Ra and Zeus and hundreds of other gods that humankind has conjured up over the millennia, but that isn’t part of your belief system. There is literally an infinity of things that you don’t believe in, the list is as vast as mankind’s imaginations can make it. That doesn’t mean that those non-beliefs are part of your belief. As Maher said (I think rather brilliantly): Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.

    The fact is that, upon hearing that I am an atheist, you have learned absolutely nothing about what I do believe. Nor do you know at all what it would take to convince me that I’m wrong about my position on deity. You could, of course, lump me in with your idea of what an atheist looks like, but that would be no more fair than for me to decide upon hearing that you’re a Mormon that you surely have terrible taste in shoes.

    The fact is that I’ve been both. I was a devout Mormon, and now I’m an atheist. Notice that I don’t say a devout atheist, because there’s nothing to be devout about. I see no compelling reason to believe in a god so I don’t. If a compelling reason arose, I would. One doesn’t say that they are a “devout” believer in the idea that there is not a second moon orbiting the Earth. We simply see no compelling reason to believe in a second moon. If someone suddenly pointed at the sky and said “holy crap- where has THAT been hiding”, we’d all be willing to consider changing our position. It really is that simple.

    • But whether you choose intercourse or abstinence, you’ve made a clear sexual choice.

      Putting the God of Abraham over on the shelf with Thor, Ra, and Zeus doesn’t mean you have navigated a faith-free course through understanding the universe. Where did the universe come from? How did life began? Why does stuff exist? Since neither you nor I nor anyone else have a factual, concrete answer to any of those questions, any possible answer requires faith.

      To say, as many atheists do, that all of existence is the product of random happenstance is a statement of faith in the idea that happenstance is capable of producing life. The mathematical evidence on that, incidentally, is firmly against atheism, as the odds of life appearing spontaneously are so remote as to be almost nonexistent.

      • Again, I must disagree. I feel that there’s a semantic problem here, so let’s be clear: faith is NOT the same thing as belief. Faith, at least in my dictionary is defined first as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something” and second as “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”. Belief is defined as “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists”. There is a very large distinction to be made between complete trust or confidence in something and an acceptance of a statement. Very large. If you don’t acknowledge that, then I don’t think there is anything more to say.

        I do not have a complete trust that there is no god. I merely examine what data I have at my disposal, and the claims made by those around me (most of whom are Christians), and I synthesize that data with my own understanding of the universe, and see what happens. I tested the theories as well as I could– as a Mormon, I fasted, prayed, read scripture incessantly… all with no results– and I came to the best conclusion I could come to. Does that mean I claim to know for sure that there is no god? No. Just that I don’t BELIEVE that there is no god. No faith involved.

        As for the formation of the Universe, I don’t believe anybody knows how that happened. One of the most beautiful things about hitching your wagon to science as opposed to religion, is that you’re free to say “I don’t know”. We have some theories that seem to do a decent job explaining things, but whether the “big bang” makes sense to you or not is irrelevant.

        The fact is that good thinkers (regardless of god-belief) take the best information available, and draw as good a conclusion as can be drawn with the given information. Does that mean faith? HARDLY! We may find certain evidence convincing, and establish a belief, but, given new information, that belief is totally subject to change. That’s a FAR CRY from faith.

        As a Mormon, you should find this an especially keen distinction. All you have to do is sit in on one testimony meeting to hear the phrase “I *KNOW* this church is true” repeated a dozen times. “Know”. Not “believe”. That’s what Mr. Maher is referring to. He’s talking of faith, not belief.

        • I google the word “faith” and the first definition that comes up is “confidence or trust in a person or thing,” omitting the word “complete.” Adding that word alters the definition significantly, and it precludes the possibility that faith can exist in varying levels or degrees. There is complete faith; there is weak faith, and there is everything in between. “[F]aith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” – Alma 32:21

          You are correct in asserting that faith is not mere belief or passive intellectual assent. Faith spurs action; if one has faith, one is willing to act according to that belief. While you lack “complete” confidence that we live in a god-free universe, you are confident enough that you’re willing to live your life without fear of offending a deity. Your belief spurs you to action, making it more than just intellectual assent – it becomes a degree of faith.

          Religious people, incidentally, are just as free to say “I don’t know” as non-religious people, and they are also free to consider new ideas and change old ones. If I find a truer church, I’ll be more than willing to join it. Faith does not require the stifling if intellectual inquiry, nor is it exclusively the province of the supernatural.

  3. There is something about this distinction between belief and faith that bothers me. I can’t put my finger on it just yet. You could certainly say that I have faith in some things, but it’s not the same, in my mind, as religious faith. I have faith that gravity will continue to function, but I have a lot of evidence to support it. I can show you the evidence. Faith that you will get paid at the end of the week is not the same as faith in the power of prayer. You have to have faith that your God is the one true god and that it’s not Zeus. This can’t possibly be based on evidence. I dunno. There is a gap there thats bugging me. I need to think about this more.

    Mostly I wanted to reply to your question “Why is there stuff?”. It’s a great question, but I don’t understand how God or religion in any way answer this question. If the answer is “Because god made it all”, then who made God? It seems to me that you are just passing the buck. Instead of admitting that we don’t know, religion creates this complex imaginary bureaucracy to buffer themselves from the unanswerable question. This is a deeply unsatisfying answer in my opinion. Why not just embrace the question and do away with the bureaucracy?


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