Comedian Bill Maher has long made it known that he pretty much hates religions of all kinds but especially Christianity. Now Maher and Larry Charles, the director of Borat, have traveled around the world filming a documentary that mocks religion. My problem with Maher and others like him isn't that he doesn't believe the way I believe; it's that he thinks he's smarter and better than me because he doesn't believe what I believe.
I am well aware that religions of all kinds attract their share of wackadoos and loudmouths. Plus, the religious spokespeople who make it on TV news reports tend to be the types who generate attention, not necessarily make intelligent, rational arguments. But I'm firmly convinced that the majority of people of faith are decent and loving. They are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters who are trying to build a good life for themselves and their families. They demonstrate their love for God through personal prayer & practices, and are motivated to leave the world a little better than they found it. But Bill Maher ignores these people. His documentary, being a comedy, will of course focus on the freaks and present them as average, ordinary and typical.
I think people of faith need to be prepared to counter some of the negative publicity that will come with this film's release in 2008. It doesn't require screaming and boycotts because that will just prove Maher's point about how ridiculous and irrational religious people are. Instead, collect three stories about people whose faith has motivated them to do something positive for the world around them, who relied on God to help through difficult times, whose faith stories are worth sharing. Then when local newspapers start covering the film, send them your stories and request equal time. If they get inundated with these requests, attention will be paid. So give it some thought. You have months to prepare.
In the meantime, here's a piece reacting to Bill Maher's appearance on Larry King by Fox News commentator Father Jonathan.
If Judaism or Christianity actually taught even a fraction of the absurdities Bill Maher apparently thinks they teach, I would send him my resume and petition him to bring me on as a co-producer of his upcoming documentary, “The Absurdity of Religion” (title still indefinite), as announced last night on "Larry King Live." I, too, would want to reveal the fraud.
I suspect we would make perfect business partners — a publicist’s dream team. My work as an adviser on the set of Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” my role as an analyst for the FOX News Channel and the fact my home/workplace is a stone's throw from the Vatican might partially offset Mr. Maher’s reputation as being somewhat biased toward things religious. Together, we would laugh our way all the way to the box office and perhaps liberate a few paltry-minded believers along the way.
But there’s one problem: Not a fraction of Bill Maher’s statements about Christian and Jewish beliefs coincide with what, in fact, Christianity and Judaism say of themselves.
Unlike in Bill Maher’s world of comedy (where he truly excels), in theology, truth is not optional, opportunistic or malleable. Things are, or they aren’t, but they can’t be both.
Because Mr. Maher has decided to step out of his field of expertise and into mine, in a genuine spirit of dialogue, I would like to clarify a few things here that he has managed to jumble. You will notice that I am assuming the best — that Mr. Maher simply doesn’t know what Christianity really teaches.
• If Christianity really taught that God took out a pen, wrote a book for us, called it the Bible and dropped it from the clouds, I, too, would doubt. But Mr. Maher, Christianity doesn’t teach that. As history shows, human beings wrote the Bible and, according to Christian belief, their writing was divinely inspired. Christians don’t suggest they can prove such inspiration with material evidence (the only kind skeptics would accept), but they consider faith (the assent of the heart) capable of grasping some immaterial, spiritual realities — like this one. On another note, from a purely historical standpoint, I think you would agree that 2,000 years of continual belief should be given some weight. In all this time, nobody has proven the Bible is NOT inspired, and therefore, by the same standard of material evidence, we should all agree that nobody can say Christians are definitely wrong about inspiration.
• If Christianity really taught that the man in the jungle who has never heard the name of Jesus is going to be damned forever to hell, I, too, would doubt. But Mr. Maher, Christianity doesn’t teach that. We are responsible to God in as much as God reveals himself to us. Christianity teaches that the saving grace of Jesus Christ is bigger than our date or place of birth. Christians believe God gives all of his children, in ways often unknowable to our little brains, the opportunity to accept or reject his love.
• If Christianity really taught that God created cancer, child abusers and earthquakes to torture his own children, I, too, would doubt. But Mr. Maher, Christianity doesn’t teach that. The evil in this world is not willed by God. Christianity teaches both physical and moral evil is a result of a world that is out of wack as a result of the misuse of our own human freedom. Like a good parent, God allows us to make mistakes and to live with the consequences. And even so, he doesn’t abandon us. He promises to bring forth a greater good out of every instance of evil. Ask someone with faith who has suffered great pain or loss and they will surely tell you how God has made good on his promise.
• If Christianity really taught that God sometimes commands us to kill the innocent in his name, I too would doubt. But Mr. Maher, Christianity doesn’t teach that. This would go against the very nature of God as all-loving and all-just. I am equally as scandalized as you are when I see religious people, in our checkered past and present, mistake their own pride and ignorance for the voice of God and march off to holy war. As Pope John Paul II said, “War is always a failure of humanity.”
• If Christianity really taught that people with homosexual tendencies are all going to hell, or that somehow they are not God’s children, I, too, would doubt. But Mr. Maher, Christianity doesn’t teach that.
And the explanations about what Christianity says about itself, and how this differs from Bill Maher’s subjective understanding, could go on and on. I only hope that when he travels, as promised, to the Holy Land and to the Vatican with his team of investigative journalists to do “research” for his new documentary about the absurdity of religious belief (to be released, of course, in the Easter season), he stops by my place, or the place of any of the more than two billion Christians and Jews who will explain why his vision of their religion, is, well … rather absurd.
God bless, Father Jonathan
P.S. A personal note to Bill Maher: I spend quite a bit of time in New York City. In the case it doesn’t work out for us to meet up at the Vatican during your travels, let me know and we can work out something on your side of the Atlantic.