Last Friday, after one one of our community‘s weekday gatherings, we watched Religulous by Bill Maher.

Some friends from our community wanted to see if he brought up any legitimate concerns about Christian faith, and to see if these were the same kinds of questions their friends might have.  The short answer: no, he didn’t really bring up anything new and no, it’s hard to imagine friends being as hostile and derisive as he was throughout the film.

Without trying to pop-analyze Bill Maher, it did seem that much of his distaste for organized religion — the Catholocism of his youth, in particular — came from a place of personal hurt.  I think many of us, unfortuantely, can relate to the hurt, frustration and anger of wrongs done in the name of Jesus or His people.

I do have to say, though, any salinet points he made were overwhelmed by his unwillingness to listen to others (he was constantly cutting people off), his shrill ranting and constant mugging for the camera.  One of the opening sequences shows Maher at a “trucker’s chapel,” undoubtedly to throw his intellectual weight around against those country rubes who still believe in good ol’ Jesus.  At one point, he begins cursing from their pulpit.  Now, I’m not one to get all offended by rough language — but it’s just flat-out rude to go to someone’s place and purposefully offend them, just to get a rise out of them.  It’s somewhat akin to going to a foreign culture, taking your travel guide’s advice about local customs and ettiquette, and then willfully do the opposite.

Some of Maher’s key attacks against Christianity seemed to center around:

  • Hypocrisy — huge cathedrals and television preachers demanding money seem antithetical to the life & message of Jesus
  • A “Jenga” approach to reading the Bible — that is, if you pull out one of the pieces, then the whole thing crumbles
  • Escapist eschatology — emphasizing the after-life to the point of rendering life as we know it as just sitting around, waiting to die

In a bit of serendipitous timeliness, earlier in the evening we had studied together The Big Story by James Choung, which shifts our thinking about the Good News in a couple of very important ways (and actually addresses some of the concerns Maher raises):

  • From individual to communal
  • From decision to transformation
  • From after-life to mission-life

May we become the good we hope to see in the world, experiencing, embodying and proclaiming the good news of Jesus wherever we find ourselves.