Jewish Journal

Bill Maher and religion: lost in transition

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 1, 2008 | 2:11 pm

Don’t tell my wife, but I do often make mistakes, and occasionally they end up in print. This happened last week with my feature on Bill Maher’s “Religulous.” The inaccuracy in the article didn’t reflect poorly on Maher, but on me, because I was the person I misrepresented.

In the editing process, my editor wisely removed a pro-religion rant that I had added to connect elements of the movie with a closing quote from Maher. The info, though relevant, was distracting and the tone incongruent with the article. But what I didn’t notice until after the story published Thursday was that I neglected to put any kind of transition back in between this paragraph:

But quickly my feelings of guilt faded into an understanding that the film is a guilty pleasure. “Religulous” is hilarious and poignant because it pokes fun not just at things that bother Maher, but that bother countless among the faithful: violence in God’s name, seeing science as a religious bogeyman, End Times theology.

And this closing quote from the film:

“The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not arrogant certitude, but doubt,” Maher says in the film’s closing five-minute monologue, which shifts the tone to dead serious.

“The plain fact is, religion must die for man to live,” he says

To be sure, I do not think that religion must die if man is to live. Here is what I originally wrote to bridge those two quotes from Maher. The first of which I agree with, because doubt and faith are not mutually exclusive, and the second, its own form of dogma:

True. I haven’t seen God and neither have you, and until we do, well, doubt will have to be an element of our belief – or unbelief. This is the perspective Maher comes from, and it’s one to be appreciated. Skepticism is as much a part of Judaism as persecution. Christians too have valued those whose doubt turned to faith (think St. Thomas).

But doubt does not mean disregard or disapproval. Religion provides hope and purpose and meaning; it creates community; it gives answer. It is not a panacea, though it can be a crutch because, in the end, religion is what you want it to be.

And if we didn’t fight wars over disagreements between our gods or our understanding of God, we’d fight wars over logic and reasoning, as the prophetic “South Park” indicated in true “comedy gold” two years ago.

I don’t think what I originally wrote was better, but I did want to clarify: I believe that believing in God is a beautiful thing (long as you don’t use that belief to persecute others).

To see Maher’s appearance last night on “The Daily Show,” watch the video above. Part two is after the jump.

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