Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Religious Tolerance

Bill Maher stars in HBO’s Real Time and he brings us the movie “Religulous.” I like Bill Maher, he’s our best ambassador for the blue states. Half Jewish, half Catholic, his early quips about the confessional are hilarious, “Bless me father for I have sinned. I think you have met my lawyer, Mr. Cohen.”

I am sure that he regards the Catholic Church as the First Church of the Perpetual Second Chance, Mormons as purveyors of bullet-proof underwear, Protestants as snake charmers, and other forms of religion as delusional. Bill, in the name of rationality you are a bit extreme. It seems to me that this is a little like the Pyrrhic skeptic who says, “I can know nothing,” and when asked “How do you know?” he replies “I don’t.”

It is for the foregoing sentiments that I didn’t like “Religulous.” Too many straw men and it seemed too easy. Goldwater said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” I suspect Goldwater’s motives. Bill, I am sure you are pure of heart, but extremism in the defense of doubt is a vice because it is another form of intolerance.

I am reminded of the joke about the patient who goes to the doctor and is told that he is overweight. The patient says “I’d like a second opinion” and the doctor says ok, “You’re an idiot.”

I admit I may have my doubts about the talking snake, Jonah and the whale, and Noah and the flood. In fact I may be best described as an agnostic with foxhole reservations (there are no atheists in foxholes). Still I don’t think that agnosticism and certitude, even about doubt, make a good platform. It’s like saying, I am not sure and you can’t be sure so you’re wrong.

Shoot down the zealots to your heart’s content but give a little credit to Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer. You can call them self-deluded do-gooders but they still did a lot of good.

P.S. Bill, I still like you. For more on intolerance see