Jewish Journal

Even Bill Maher can be irrational

by Brad A. Greenberg

September 24, 2008 | 6:30 pm

Photo: Tim Palen

My feature/review of Bill Maher’s new film, “Religulous,” is off to the printer and will appear in tomorrow’s Jewish Journal. It’s a decent piece and, if nothing else, includes the pretty cool, ultra-pious photo seen here (now my desktop background). In short, I liked the movie because it was entertaining but, as I’ve said before, didn’t find myself spending long dark nights wrestling with the irrationality of what I believe.

Speaking of irrational, my friend Mollie at GeReligion had an excellent op-ed Friday in the Wall Street Journal, in which she identified the danger with the New Atheist movement—it should be noted that Maher considers himself an antecedent to Sam Harris et al and prefers the designation of “ethicist”—and points out that even Bill Maher, who preaches the “doctrine of I-don’t-know,” is prone to irrational behavior.

Take it away, Mollie:

“You can’t be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you’re drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god,” comedian and atheist Bill Maher said earlier this year on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”

... But it turns out that the late-night comic is no icon of rationality himself. In fact, he is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O’Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman—a quintuple bypass survivor—to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn’t accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: “I don’t believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory.” He has told CNN’s Larry King that he won’t take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn’t even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.

Anti-religionists such as Mr. Maher bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can’t see things as they are.”

You can read the rest of the column, which also discusses Richard Dawkins and Matt Damon’s dissing of Sarah Palin, here.

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