Religulous

Many of you by now know that Bill Maher’s new documentary “Religulous” opened up today. At the start, Bill Maher describes himself as a seeker and gives an interesting look at his family history as being one who went to church with a Catholic father and a Jewish mother. Religion was never an integral part of his life. 

Apparently, he never progressed past that stage in his understanding of religion.

It’s really a shame too. As I watched this film, I was deeply troubled. By the “arguments?” No. Not at all. This was a childish level of argumentation. What saddens me is that the Christians he interviewed could not answer his questions. I find it deeply troubling that in the 19th century, B.B. Warfield places apologetics high up on a list of areas Christians are to be knowledgable in. Today, most of us don’t even know what it is.

Now as I say that, I realize that there are limitations. Many of you are students in your own fields and aren’t going to be able to spend most of your time studying your faith. I realize that. If you are a lawyer, for instance, you will need a good study in law. If you are a journalist, you will be studying the stories you write on. However, just as you can know the statistics of your favorite sports team or the plot of your favorite TV series, you can know some serious truths about the religion you hold.

Sadly, too many don’t.

For instance, on his travels, Bill Maher stops at a Trucker’s Chapel. Now I think it’s great that truckers are meeting together and having chapel. The problem is that none of them could really answer his claims. One of them got right up and walked out. Maher asked them why they believe so many things that aren’t taught in their Bibles such as the immaculate conception.

Apparently, Maher has this idea that Protestants believe in that….

And sadly, that wasn’t caught either.

He also asked about faith and described it as believing in something without evidence. This is the common straw man version of faith and the one that I have to deal with on a regular basis. True faith is not believing in something without evidence, (Sorry Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.) but in trusting that which has shown itself to be reliable.

One of the truckers instead gives his personal testimony. Friends. This is a problem in the church today. We think our personal testimony alone counts as an argument. It doesn’t. It only feeds the mindset of delusion in the mind of the skeptics and makes them think that religion is all about what it does for the holder of the position.

I’m not saying though to throw personal testimonies out entirely. I’ve used them before when dealing with Mormons especially as they place so much emphasis on them. When they give their testimony, I have mine in play also. I prefer the advice of C.S. Lewis though. When you go out and witness, let your arguers go forward first. They will demolish the arguments the people you’re witnessing to are holding to. Then, when that is done, the people with the testimonies can come forward. Testimonies are fine provided they’re not in isolation. I have no problem with saying “Here’s all the reasons why I believe in Jesus, and I can also tell you what a difference following him has made in my life.”

Much of what Maher goes after in this movie is also Pop Christianity. If he wants to go after people that think a voice in their head is God talking to them always, go ahead. If he wants to go after people who think believing something without evidence is a virtue, go ahead. (Note I don’t think that that is what Christianity is but if someone thinks that is the case, then please demolish that idea. Such a view only hurts the rest of us and the cause in the long run.)

Also, the ideas of Christianity shown are often those like the Word of Faith teachers. The only intellectual in the Christian field I respect that I saw interviewed was Francis Collins. Collins is a scientist though. I say that because what kind of questions did Maher ask him? He asked him historical questions. Maher would have been better off to have gone to someone like Ben Witherington III to ask questions about history. Likewise, if he had wanted science questions, he should not go to Witherington, but to Collins.

Maher seems to assume all Christians come from the same stock as well. The belief is that we are all YEC creationists and we are all futurists. This just isn’t so. There are many different beliefs that fall within orthodoxy. There are also good and solid intellectual Christians who will defend each of these views.

When Maher goes to the doctrine of the Trinity, it is hideous. As he is driving in his car talking, someone brings up how the story is that God impregnates Mary who ends up giving birth to him and he dies on a cross for himself. Now I haven’t phrased it exactly, but that is the gist of what was said and all of my readers out there who know the Trinity doctrine are groaning. Indeed, they’re groaning more when Maher points out that that is a good point.

Unfortunately, the only person who answers him on this, is the guy who plays Jesus at the Holy Land experience and he gives a terrible answer of saying that the Trinity is like water. It can be ice, steam, or liquid. I know about the Triple point of water idea, but that is not what most of us have in mind and the problem is this man was giving the idea of Modalism instead and Bill Maher laughs at that view all the while holding to a Modalist interpretation. Both of them had a wrong understanding of the Trinity.

Think about it though friend. When was the last time you were in a church service and the topic under discussion was the doctrine of the Trinity?

The last time for me was probably the last time I preached on the Trinity.

No no no. It’s more important to hear the stuff that relates to what’s going on in your personal life. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to hear how Christianity works on the practical level, but it should be practiced on that level because of truths that come from a foundational level. Why do we hold to the sacredness of marriage? Well, because we’re Christians. Sorry. That answer won’t cut it. Maybe we should consider what marriage is and what the nature of it really is? (Maybe this would also help us for the same-sex marriage debate?)

Maher’s arguments relating to miracles are also built on a naturalistic worldview. It is amazing that people that approach him don’t question his presuppositions. Did anyone consider asking “Excuse me. Why should I believe miracles can’t take place?” Could Maher have been capable of defending a presupposition of naturalism?

Naturally, he has a view that science and religion contradict. Those sitting next to us at the theater I think found it odd that there was an astronomer at the Vatican. It’s quite natural though. The Vatican had an observatory at the time of Galileo. Science was always important to them. The Galileo debate was more about politics than anything else. Also, Galileo was involved in a number of debates in his life. Most were not with the church. Most were with the secularists of the day who brought the church into it since they could bring about greater punishments. Galileo was messing with Aristotle after all and disrupting the Aristotlean worldview.

Was man at the center of the universe then? Yep. It was also not the place to be. In Aristotle’s system, the outer circles was where God dwelt. If you were in the center, you were away from God. Today, we think it a good thing to be at the center of the universe and we read such an idea back into the medievals. They would not have thought the same.

Bill Maher is also a Christ-myther who tells us how the story of Jesus was also the story of Mithra, Horus, and Krishna.

Sources cited?

Well, he mentions the Egyptian Book of the Dead but says nothing of where in it the story of Horus is found. He also points out how he was crucified as well while saying the book was written in 1280 B.C. Crucifixion though was a punishment of the Phoenicians and it was not around at the time the Book of the Dead was written.

But hey, most of the audience I’m sure will eat it up and accept it. They’re great people of faith after all.

Friends. Bill Maher holds a Christ-myth position and that isn’t even answered by anyone he meets? This should sadden us greatly simply because the Christ myth belief is on the far fringe of scholarship. If you want to be taken seriously in the area of the history of Christianity, you don’t say that you’re a Christ-myther.

Maher also asks about the grand religious buildings and asks if these are the kind of things Jesus would have in mind. In reality, when the Medievals built them, they wanted the worshipper to realize that he was entering a place that was meant to be seen as a place of worship of God. They were designed with great beauty and awe to reflect the image of the one that the people were coming to worship.

Maher also speaks of the idea of judging. He asks if Christ taught us to not judge. Not at all! John 7:24 has him even commanding us to judge. Jesus in Matthew 7:1 is talking about hypocritical judging. Why aren’t people answering this?

The homophobia aspect is also interesting as Maher points to Fred Phelps immediately. One can only twinge as he interviews a girl with a “God hates fags” sign and she says “I don’t hate them, but God does.” (Never mind also that if I heard God hated something and I didn’t, that I’d want to change my stance quickly.) Of course, the Bible doesn’t say that. I don’t hate homosexuals at all. Homosexuality is another matter.

Maher also interviews a Jew and speaks about the things that you could be put to death for in the OT that were violations of the Sabbath. Never mind that this was a society meant to take the holiness of God seriously as a nation that was to reflect him. Why is a man put to death for picking up sticks? This isn’t a simple slip. This is a case of someone who would know the law and was living in defiance of it. If one defied a king in an earthly society, they would face judgment for it. The same in this case. 

Overall though, I think this movie should be seen as a wake-up call to the church. Why was Maher able to make a movie like this? Because much of it sadly represents the true Christian mindset today. Most of our Christians just aren’t equipped. They easily feed ideas that Dawkins and others have about religion and make skeptics out of everyone else. I don’t blame a number of people for being atheists when I see the way Christians are today.

There are people out there like Maher that need to be answered. I realize we can’t all specialize in everything. For instance, interent apologist J.P. Holding and myself work together on a number of projects. We both specialize in different areas and we both realize we can turn to the other when those areas come up. If you don’t know everything in some field, (And who does?) that’s fine. I would hope you would at least be able to point out some flaws in someone’s thinking, recommend a good resource for them, or be able to say something like “That’s a good question. Let me do some research and see what I can find out.”

The future of the church and the future of numerous souls depend on it. Maher’s charge to us is serious. Are we going to accept it or wave the flag of surrender?

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12 Responses to “Religulous”

  1. Devin Says:

    Hey Nick, I always enjoy your insight. God has really blessed you with a sharp mind and its awesome to see your boldness to publicly defend Gods word.

    You are a great ambassador for Christ

  2. Eric Says:

    I saw the trailer and was fuming at the lack of reason behind his questions; i thought surely no one would have any difficulty in answering them, and didn’t bother to see the movie.

  3. robert austell Says:

    Nick, good to meet you yesterday. I figure the best way to get to know you is to interact with you here a bit.

    I agree with what you say regarding apologetics and testimonies above in terms of relative truth value, but I think one must also recognize the practical communication value of argument vs. testimony. While arguing with another arguer might prove effective, most folks under 40 that I’ve run into are so steeped in a post-modern mindset that the most cogent argument just gets a shrug and a “whatever.”

    Within the value set for post-moderns (rightly or wrongly), testimony or sharing of one’s story and values and the willingness to listen, carries great weight in terms of opening the door for further interaction. I certainly don’t see testimony as a be-all and end-all to communicating the Gospel, but in today’s culture and value-system, it does seem like a very effective way to open the door to more logical and rational debate.

  4. CLS Says:

    I wish you could somehow get this to Maher. Ugh… This is so wrong… We are to be workman unashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. I will never see this movie. I honestly couldn’t take it. Thank you for bearing through it.

  5. Todd Boatwright Says:

    Enjoyed reading your critique on Maher’s new film. I found this after clicking on a link at Tecktonics (sp) websight.
    I’m a television news journalist, and I suppose that old adage that everyone in a newsroom is left-wing and anti-Christian is at least true in some degree where I work.
    Sometimes I feel like the odd-ball out in the control room. Just today I heard a friend of mine talking about a Discovery channel documentary he saw stating how the Garden of Eden is parallelled in another source, including Adam and Eve..and how the folks in the control room all agreed that its another case of religion borrowing from religion…Yet, I couldn’t answer the charge..I wasn’t familiar with the Eden “borrow”. …I could go on and on…but thanks again for you article!

    Todd

  6. Semi Says:

    I saw the movie today. I’ve been in his situation. Not making a movie but asking the same questions – I even learned to do it without contempt. I have found that most religious people I’ve talkied to are like those he interviewed. Most people don’t read their favorite scripture back and forth so they can’t answer me correctly. The clergy would just tell me to go to church. That doesn’t help.

    I’ve had this conundrum since I was 15. No matter the denomination I was sent to, none had a straight answer. But I wonder that if someone could come up with a more thoroughly explained Book of God, how long would it be before the current religions are cast aside as ancient myths? Like the gods of Asgaard.

    I did find myself wanting to know more about our founding fathers and their quotes. And Jefferson’s “Moral Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth” sound like more interesting reads than the new testament itself.

  7. apologianick Says:

    Semi. I hope you’ll check DeeperWaters again very soon. That’s an interesting query that will receive a reply.

  8. Spilman Says:

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