Religulous is Ridiculous


Bill Maher recently came out with a new movie called “Religulous.”  It’s basically a “documentary” attacking religion and a belief in God.

Unfortunately, it’s another example of how many modern atheists simply, totally and utterly miss the point.  And I’m not just saying that because I disagree with them.  It’s because they make all of these arguments that defeat what they perceive religion and the case for God to be.  Meanwhile, anybody who has studied philosophy or theology in the slightest sits back, listens, and at the end are left thinking…so what?  They never even touch the real questions.  They just set up these juvenile straw men and then convincingly knock them down in front of their own cameras.  Very impressive.  All the while they reveal their total misunderstanding of the theists case.

Richard Dawkins does the same thing in his book, “The God Delusion.”  It’s a waste of time for anyone that wants to seriously debate the real issues.  Trust me – I’ve read it.  Don’t waste your time unless you just need to further convince yourself that these atheists are basically just stubborn thinkers who refuse to graduate from the 1st grade.  And God bless’em – I don’t say that out of arrogance.  Or because I have all the answers – I don’t.  I say that because the arguments they present to “disprove” God and religion are infantile in the scope of human thought.  That’s not to say they aren’t smart enough.  Many of them are extremely smart.  They are just extremely close minded.

The most unfortunate thing is that many people who often don’t understand the rationale behind God and religion are somehow swayed by these disastrously simple minded and distracting atheistic arguments against God and religion.

I was recently perusing and came across this great video (below) by Fr. Barron (I shared something from him a few weeks ago here).  It is a response to the movie “Religulous” and articulates the point I’m trying to make much better than I can.  He also has some great insights into religion vs. science and what it means to have faith.  It’s excellent and well worth a watch.

32 comments Add comment

Dave Ryan March 12, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Smart, smart, smart! Father Barron really knows what he’s talking about, and gives plenty of good information to be used in apologetics.
This demonstrates why Maher didn’t put people like this in his movie – he depended on targets who were not prepared to defend their faith.

Catholic Nerd March 12, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Yeah I saw Religulous. Bill Maher was just being a jerk and mean to all the believers. It was obvious that he was not looking for answers, but to merely ridicule them. He also went out of his way to find the “wackos” or people who weren’t well spoken or versed in their faith.

anna March 12, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Thats funny as I was reading the top part of your blog I was thinking of that video by Fr. Barron too then there it is :) I really liked the way he broke things down , without being insulting , just honest and well thought out. Great blog Mathew and God Bless.

GM Roper March 12, 2009 at 8:26 pm

First things first! Matthew, thanks for the follow on twitter, and I’ve reciprocated. Having said that, let me weigh in on your topic.

A little history first. I come from a long line of preachers, dating back to the American Revolution with a couple of skipped generations, a couple of generations who have gone from Methodist to Baptist to this to that. That I knew, my maternal Grandfather and my younger brother are both Methodist Preachers (though Grandad was raised as a Lutheran. I attended St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, a Marianist school. Catholic students were required to take 12 hours of religion, non-Catholic 12 hours of philosophy (always taught by Marianist brothers or Priests). I enjoyed those classes far more than almost any other classes and I’ve very much tried to keep my head above water – so to speak – in matters religious or philosophical.

To me, the late Father James Young, a dear friend of many students, and of me in particular always had the best argument. I’ve forgotten his exact words, but the effect was: “When you and the athiest die, he has a big disappointment coming, and you will have the fulfilment of the promise. He will look back with regret, you will look forward to an eternity of grace. He will pay the price of his folly, you have already had the price paid for you.” That seems to put an end to the argument.

I’ve added your blog to my blog roll.

JoeStrummerr March 12, 2009 at 10:36 pm

The best arguments for Atheism have come from believers…He who has never doubted…
has not yet believed…Doubt can be the first stepping stones to a deeper faith…..However this implies an honest assesment of the facts..a humble search for truth…..Bill Mahr is not standing on the shoulders of David Hume…..He’s just laying in the gutter.

Andy March 13, 2009 at 8:46 am

Father Barron is a great find, Matthew ! He definately has a flair for explaining the Faith in terms of it’s history and context so that people who tend to be literalists on the Bible, can understand it’s applicability to the Truth even today. I also enjoyed his “Opiate of the Masses” reflection on the new atheism. Sharp guy !

Nancy March 13, 2009 at 10:42 am

I had a discussion with someone recently about whether a “rational” person could believe in God.

I said that to me it all came down to two things: how did it all start, and why?

The only “rational” answer to both of those questions, at least as far as we can fathom at this point in time, is God.

pinko March 13, 2009 at 10:58 am

Hey we can agree there – Religulous was a terrible movie.

Interestingly, the only part worth watching was when Maher has an honest conversation with a researcher at the Vatican. The second he stopped trying to make fun of people and actually listened to the answers he kept pretending to want to hear, it got good. For two minutes.

Maher is about to go on a debate tour with Ann Coulter. Let’s hope they fall in love and retire together.

Fr. Nicholas Zientarski March 13, 2009 at 11:18 am

I have not seen this movie nor do I care to. I’ve tried watching his show on HBO and after five minutes I’m screaming out loud. The man should not be taken seriously by anyone. Any intelligent person who wants to debate about philosophy and theology must be respectful, and Maher is anything but respectful. Indeed, he is “anti-Catholic media terrorist.”

Greg March 14, 2009 at 8:07 pm

I’m an atheist and I haven’t seen Religulous, but I plan to. Is Maher attacking Catholicism directly, or is he attacking the fundamentalists who DO believe every word of the bible literally? Those people do deserve ridicule, IMO.

Fr. Barron is clearly a much more intelligent person than fundamentalists, and the Catholic position is much stronger than the literalists because it does not take science on directly and isn’t, therefore, provably wrong.

However, the Catholic position is much weaker in terms of *why* you should believe in a god. There are no absolutes as in the literalist position, there is instead a very complex philosophical argument, as stated very eloquently by Fr. Barron, that probably few Catholics understand. I believe that argument degenerates to something like “trust us, it feels good to have faith, therefore you should.”

Honestly, I really have no problem with people that buy that argument. I think they take the best out of religion. My problem is that the people who don’t grasp the intricacies don’t know what to take literally and what not to. Further, they can be easily swayed into intolerance by the vague and contradictory language of the bible. Ultimately, I believe you can come up with a much more concise and understandable philosophy without religion involved than with it. I could say a lot more, but I’m out of space!


Lew Lesk March 14, 2009 at 8:31 pm

I’m an atheist. Listened to the Father. I used to be a Catholic and still like them in spite of the shameful history of repression of science in the name of God. Sorry father. I ain’t buying it. Wonder and awe don’t require a god. If there is a God, he followed some very rigid and discoverable rules in creating the universe and we humans are not special and there is no evidence he is keeping track of anything or that we will be rewarded or punished anywhere but in this natural life that we know. If prayer really works, give me one example of where someone who lost a limb prayed to have it grow back and it heppened.

Nancy March 16, 2009 at 7:20 am

Seems to me that many who say they are “atheists” are really “anti-theists.” There’s a difference between not believing something exists, and being invested in proving (especially to believers) that there is none. Or if there is, that he/she/it’s a jerk.

Miles March 16, 2009 at 5:50 pm

I came away from Religulous feeling unsatisfied. Maher’s unbalanced kick-em-while-they’re-down style perpetrates the same shutdown of dialogue that he observes and mocks on the other side of the fence.

However, Fr. Barron’s response falls flat for me as well. Fortunately it’s for a less petty reason than Maher’s failure. Rather than offering no olive branch or civilized concession of points for those who would disagree, as Maher does, Barron speaks of the ‘self evident.’ There’s no way into his logic unless you subdue a little bit of logic, which he admits when he speaks of love as a comparison. I’d have a hard time describing this disconnect further, so I’ll move on to what I saw as a larger problem in Barron’s response….

That is the idea that there are some things within the Bible that can be taken literally, and some that cannot. There are many people who would consider that as undermining the entire thing, or at least calls a serious chunk of religious life into question. And who is it that decides which is the correct lens with which to view a certain piece?

It makes me wonder what I should take literally today, yet, in say 20 years from now when some theory of whatever is proven in science, should simply take as a figurative proverb. It appears from the outside like a logic loop maintained by periodically shifting interpretations in order to make sure faith is constantly out-of-reach of rationality. This is what Barron perpetrates to my eyes.

Trev March 19, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Your just angry because deep down inside of you that little voice of yours knows Bill was right.

Matthew Warner March 19, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Miles – you are treating Fr. Barron’s response as a case for God and then picking it a part. But that’s not at all what it is. He is simply pointing out that Bill Maher’s attacks entirely miss the point. Which they do.

And you raise some good points as to “who is it that decides which is the correct lens with which to view” it. But to answer that you have to step back and look at the bigger picture. I talk about it a bit in this post here if you’re interested – and more about the Church here.

There are good answers.

Miles March 21, 2009 at 1:53 am

Trev – Well, I am (and have been) pretty thoroughly agnostic. Were I a christian though, I doubt that his mockumentary would’ve had that effect; Religulous is an example in how NOT to reach out to people. And it’s a shame, because that’s the disguised purpose of the movie: to change peoples’ minds. It really is. He has an agenda which he feels strongly about, and I acutely understand why, but he sabotages it with his own browbeating. It really disappoints me.

On the other hand, Matthew, wow, great post. You laid out the relationship between the Catholic church and scripture very well, and it makes a lot more sense now. I doubt I understand it fully (I had to read a lot of it twice), perhaps that would require faith, but now I feel like I’ve got a good window in.
And it’s a lot better than being left with “open your heart”-style nonsense comments I’m used to. Throwing random wads of piety at me has yet change my mind.
Logic, however…

And I appreciate and applaud your diplomatic capacity, that’s a gift I hope you continue to share. It’s something I feel is growing more vital in the world by the day. Your commenter, Peter, gives a *perfect* contrast to illustrate the invaluable effectiveness of empathy, logical clarity and restraint(like what you’d shown). Moreso than devotion or knowledge, it is those things which not only avoid conflict, but finds the greater commonalities.

Maher’s movie would’ve been very different with more of your style of communication.

Miles March 21, 2009 at 1:57 am

Oh yeah…. And you said Maher (and myself) were missing the point. Since I’m not sure what you’re getting at, it’s obviously true! What am I missing here?

Cory March 21, 2009 at 2:01 am

If they are missing the point, then what is the point exactly?

Matthew Warner March 21, 2009 at 10:11 am

Miles, thanks for your dialogue and honest pursuit of the truth. If we all had that then we would all come to learn a lot more from each other about the truth in the first place.

When I say Bill Maher misses the point, I am referring to the fact that he doesn’t even begin to answer or engage the real questions of God’s existence.

Here’s an example: Bill Maher (as well as other anti-theists) make silly arguments against God like…”It’s silly to believe in God because there is no way he could hear billions of people’s prayers at once.” This is such a small minded point. Here we are talking about a being that created everything that exists…that created time itself. And here Maher is wasting time with a distraction about whether or not God can possibly do a certain amount of work (that would be impossible for a human being) within a certain time constraint. And then he says therefore God can’t exist.

Another example: Maher says things like “Look at how many bad people there have been and these horrible things they have done in the name of religion…therefore God can’t exist.” Any rational person recognizes these as totally fallacious logical arguments. They are all distractions. They are all designed to confuse people and they entirely miss the point.

Matthew Warner March 21, 2009 at 10:26 am

Anyone who has read anything serious about the existence of God is left baffled at Maher’s ignorance of the real arguments.

The existence of God is a philosophical argument. If he wants to seriously engage in it he should start with some basic philosophy that has been rationally laid out by great minds over the past few thousand years.

He never mentions once any of the most convincing philosophical arguments like the “moral argument”, the “anthropic argument”, “cosmological argument” (first cause), the “ontological argument” or others. But real philosophy doesn’t mix well with Maher’s biased propaganda.

But if any of you are truly interested in delving into the real questions of God’s existence…I would suggest engaging some of these arguments in depth (Read some Plato, Aquinas, etc. or Peter Kreeft, or Scott Hahn’s “Reasons to Believe”).

When we use our reason and combine it with our first hand experiential knowledge of our participation in creation (being a human ourselves) we can arrive at a certainty about the existence of God (even without a particular religion). We just have to overcome these garbage distractions that people like Maher poison the discussion with. And if you keep searching honestly you will come to know God’s existence as well.

We can’t see the forest for the trees. God’s existence is staring us so plainly in the face that we (myself included) often miss the point on a daily basis. God bless ya.

Andreas March 24, 2009 at 1:36 pm


What exactly *is* the point. Can anyone please tell me?

Anyway: I liked what the Pastor said, but I don’t agree with the “it depends on which section of the bible you read” argument. Nobody would care if religious people wouldn’t use the bible to push their world view (no abortion, no gay marriage, no stem cell research) down everybody’s throat.

Bill Maher had a wide array of people in his film, because this strange belief in god(s) and the literal intepretation of the holy scripture is so widespread.

I think it is a lot of straw men to push over: in America polls show again and again that almost two thirds of Americans believe the bible to be the literal word of god. And when it comes to Republicans or evangelical christians it’s even more. So I don’t buy the talk about a few crazy guys.

Plus I think you missed a point of Maher movie: he showed that believing in crap like scientology is in no way better or worse than believing in any of the other gods. It’s the principle that’s bad. If somebody tells you about the afterlife, he should not be able to point at an old book and tell me “that’s how I know what will happen after we die”.

To sum it up: if it was only theologians and philosophers arguing about this over a cup of coffee, I would not mind at all. But there are many, many people who want to put the belief in their locally popular deity in to law for everyone.

And I think this is a point that needs to be fought by moderate christians as well as atheists.

Andreas March 24, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Oh, and Matthew, about “first learn something about the philosophy behind it”…

If I would tell you that I believe in invisible elves living in my basement, and you would tell me that you don’t believe that… how would you like my advice to first read a lot of books on the invisible elf philosophy, before you dare to point out that this might, in fact, made up.

Plus, when it comes to the “anthropic argument”, “cosmological argument” or the “ontological argument”, you will find a lot of material written by atheist on the subject pointing to flaws in the philosophical argument and the special pleading involved (e.g. the first cause argument: EVERYTHING needs a cause, except of course god himself, because that would defeat our argument. But everything else does, no exceptions…)

I think generally Maher talks more about the everyday consequences of people believing in their variety of deity – war, oppression of women, the pope speaking against contraception in AIDS-riddled Africa and so forth.

And I think these are valid points, and he is right to make them, because moderate religious people are suspiciously silent about these things.

Here on the other hand the discussion is about philosophical ramifications, and that’s a little bit like discussing the exact color of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

I am happy for all intellectual discourse – but don’t be mad at Maher for the wrong reasons.

By the way: I thought some of the interviewees were jerks too and deserved it!

Miles March 27, 2009 at 12:29 am

Regarding the Invisible Elves comparison: Yeah, it’s irritating being faced with the idea that something wont make sense until you really really really learn about it. Or to rephrase, that the ‘quick & dirty’ of a concept will never be a sufficiently acceptable introduction. But I’m pretty sure there are examples of a few things in science that suffer from the exact same unfortunate problem. Some things simply work that way, faith-related issues aside. Thus, I gotta pick that particular argument out; It’s no good.

Regarding the everyday consequences you list as example – Boy do I agree that they’re points that should be made. But look at how he presents them. He’s not going to change anyone’s mind, not even the silent moderates. Why? Because he leaves them with no middle-ground. His stances, agenda, and presentation leave things in a black-and-white dichotomy. People don’t just take off their faith like a coat. He’s cheer leading for those who agree completely, and bullying everyone else.
That’s BS, and it undermines any meaningful discussion on these important topics. I think I’m unhappy with Maher for a pretty good reason.
But at least he’s sorta funny.

Perhaps if he instead made a movie about the separation of church and state we’d see more effect. At least then it doesn’t actively alienate so many people.

Nancy March 27, 2009 at 6:51 am

Miles, Of course you know that the so-called “separation of church and state” “doctrine” was invented, and that the actual third article of the Bill of Rights reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” So… if we are clear that this article gives us the right to speak freely, have a free press, assemble… it is, indeed, giving us the right to worship freely. If we can assemble in public spaces, we can worship in public spaces. If we have a press that can speak/write freely, then we can freely (as in, praying before a soccer game, for example) pray.

This freedom has been turned on its head, and as many before me have said – the article never gave freedom from religion, but of it.

I continue to be amazed at the number of people who still think that there is some mention of “separation of church and state” in the Constitution. It’s frightening.

Andreas March 27, 2009 at 9:03 am

I agree, you should be allowed to practice your religion wherever you want. But since there shall not be passed regarding this, I bet you wouldn’t mind to have a muezzin sing a few verses from the Qu’ran and then an public prayer to Zeus before a football game, right? You wouldn’t mind me proselytizing to your children about the blessingsof witchcraft in school, would you?

I continue to be amazed at the number of people who still think that there is some mention of “a Christian Nation” in the Constitution. It’s frightening.

What if I don’t want my children exposed to Christianity in public?

Or to quote Richard Lederer: “There once was a time when all people believed in God and the church ruled. This time was called the Dark Ages.”

And when I look at the religious pushback against science and social liberties at the moment, I think he is right.

And I just would like to mention that such trifles “separation of powers”, “interstate commerce” and “right to privacy” do not appear in the Constitution either. So… away with them?

@Miles: my point about reading up on stuff is this: have you really really studied the Qu’ran? How can you be sure that *that* isn’t the right belief? Or what about the Torah? How can you disregard these holy works (accepted by millions and millions of fervent believers). How do you come to the conclusion that they are wrong? By studying them all as much as the bible? Or by saying “I have the true faith, so they *must* be wrong?”

Andreas March 27, 2009 at 9:05 am

I liked this little article, some of you might know it:

Nancy March 27, 2009 at 10:00 am

I think you miss the point. Nobody is saying another amendment cannot be passed outlawing public prayer and other signs of belief – if that is the will of the people. What we can’t do is ban such actions by fiat, which is pretty much what the ACLU and others are attempting to do; worse, by deliberately mis-interpreting the freedom guaranteed by the Constitution.

The point is, deal with the truth of what was intended, understand what is being given up, and then let people decide for themselves what social contract they wish to ratify.

And I think there is a legitimate case to be made that children ARE being proselytized for humanism in schools. There should be no proselytizing of any kind, excepting in private, religion and/or philosophy based schools.

Miles March 27, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Nancy, that’s an excellent point.
Perhaps there is some manner of unintentional (or intentional?) proselytization happening, alike to the example you give. This highlights a problem inherent to the discussion though: How shall we decide what is truly neutral? Perhaps that’s impossible…

It also brings another factor to mind for me, an aspect of human nature I’ve observed. I’ll illustrate using myself as an example. Since I am basically humanist in philosophy, the prospect of humanist proselytization does not bother me very much, emotionally. However I realize this in spite of the knowledge that this imbalance is unjust. In a manner, it fits the precise criteria that I’d otherwise be concerned with if the philosophy in question were Muslim, Jewish, Christian, etc. This is obviously hypocritical.

And in the same vein, I have a hard time imagining that a Christian majority would do much to address this imbalance if the dominant philosophy taught were Christian.

As for the Constitution, my (perhaps shoddy) memory tells me that it’s wide open to interpretation one way or the other. Obviously I should go and re-read it after this post. But don’t pin us with deliberately mis-interpreting. It is possible that we’re being honest, not insidious. ;)

@Andreas, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. My original point was that some things will not make sense without thorough knowledge, both faith related and otherwise. We who aren’t of faith should bare that in mind.

Miles March 27, 2009 at 11:39 pm

Turns out I had some details in mind that were incorrect, such as the ‘location’ of this idea. Nancy’s correct, it’s not specifically in the Constitution. The meat of the topic lies elsewhere –

It is most certainly a debatable topic, but in the end is probably tangential to this particular thread. But please don’t misunderstand me – I do not espouse freedom from religion, as you put it. I’m just wary of injustices upon minorities.

Nancy March 28, 2009 at 5:32 am

Thanks, Miles – I was feeling bad about hijacking the thread… one last idea – my high school history teacher (a prize I never appreciated then) made us read many of the other writings of the founders. Their intentions in guaranteeing a right to “bear arms” and “pursuit of happiness” and even writing “our Creator” rather than “God” became abundantly clear. These things weren’t interpretable unless you deliberately chose to ignore the other things they wrote.

But getting back to the topic – I kind of think that same idea is in part what is being expressed here: a cursory look at Faith may leave you unmoved and shaking your head at people’s gullibility. The behavior of some people who call themselves faithful may turn you off (as a modern man would be suspicious that a slave-holding Jefferson could know anything about freedom).

A deeper dive (as in, reading the other writings of the framers)brings faith into a new light. Oddly, prayer itself can often do that – going through the motions. It may still not be for you, but it might give you a better understanding.

James July 5, 2009 at 11:08 pm

I need some serious dialogue because none of you that I can see so far have even touched on the glaring points of the film that made me feel like I was being duped by history.

1. There were other god-like messiahs that was crucified, walked on water, healed sick, had Lazarus, etc? Plus they were Egyptian and seeing how the Jews were not on the best terms with them while they were obviously influenced by them during their imprisonment , I can see them adopting some of the mythos. When we talk about what is real (historically cross documented from unrelated sources and paradigms) and what is candy coating to sweeten the story or hard truth, my thoughts nor discovery have ever been that the crucifixion is adopted. Dec 25th? Yeah ok that is made up, the story of Jonah, sure. Adam and Eve, completely adopted (even before there was cuneiform) absolutely. But the crucifixion and Lazarus? I dont care so much about walking on water because rumor rumblings gain speed and size through ear canals, but hold the flipping phone for a second! Without the crucifixion having the meaning and truth of my sins being weighed and measured+without the resurrection, then this is a complete farce and Deepak Chopra in his book, The Third Jesus was right. That this is just an existential higher truth leading to a God principle that can be found through one path yet under many names. In addition, Lazarus’ story is in-depth. The running down the hill, “where were you!” the “Jesus wept”

John September 28, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Bill Maher went to the vatican and tried to talk to anybody that was willing to talk to him and plus in an interview he says that the movie is more of a comedy, and to the video with father Barron, Bill Maher just asks people if they believe in a talking snake to really show that no matter how crazy the could be as long as its in the bible people see it as truth.

Previous post:

Next post: