Comedian and talk-show host Bill Maher has released a documentary called "Religulous." The title — a combination of the words religious and ridiculous — tells you what kind of worldview we're dealing with. This movie is a showcase for Maher's contempt for religious believers of all kinds, from Christians to Jews to Muslims to Mormons. Maher interviews representatives of many of these faiths; then he lumps all the religions together and deems them forces for evil that "must die" in order for humanity to thrive. These scary words are accompanied by apocalyptic images of nuclear attacks.
Like another well-known documentarian, Michael Moore, Bill Maher tries to make his point basically by claiming that he's right and editing out almost everyone and everything that might show that he's wrong. Boiled down, the idea of the film is that if you're religious, you're an idiot.
There are any number of ways that we could take issue with the film and its premise. But I want to focus on one scene that, to my mind, exposes the sad and empty heart of Maher's worldview.
In this scene, Maher—himself a former Catholic who admits that he used to try to "bargain" with God—interviews a group of men at a trucker's chapel. Like many other scenes in the film, this one is carefully set up to make us marvel at the brilliance of Bill Maher and the inferiority of everyone around him. (It's hard for a viewer to avoid the conclusion that the only higher power in Maher's universe is his own ego.)
But Maher at least pretends to flatter the truckers and their chaplain. He reminds them that guys in prisons and foxholes hang on to religion because they have nothing else. And then he says, "But you guys aren't dumb." In other words, Maher's point is that the truckers should know better than to believe in God—unlike all those dumb prisoners and soldiers out there who don't know any better.
Having been in prison myself, let me speak for those prisoners. Recognizing your need for God isn't a question of "smart or stupid." It's a matter of recognizing who you are; your own insufficiency, the sin in your own heart—and prisoners get that. And then you have to recognize your desperate need for a Savior.
But whether you're a prisoner or a doctor or a lawyer or a comedian, you don't have to have a gigantic I.Q. to see that it's necessary because you cannot rescue yourself from your own mortality or sinfulness—that is, you are not God. In fact, realizing your own spiritual need is probably the wisest thing anyone can do.
I think that's what Christ meant when he talked about God using the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, or those that most people think of as wise. Sadly, Bill Maher doesn't seem to have come to that place in his life where he's willing to risk that kind of foolishness.
I hope and pray that one day he will.
But don't be dismayed by the wave of films and books that mock your faith. Get used to it. People today are desperate and angry with the economy. They're looking for a secular savior. In my mind, the culture will only get more hostile as time goes by.
All the more must we learn to make a winsome defense of our faith.