Building a Home for Religion-Hating in Non-Belief

Tuesday night, Bill Maher was on Larry King Live, where he discussed his upcoming movie about religion (transcript of clip is below):

Okay, first of all, when I hear "Religulous," I don't think "religion + ridiculous" at all, but "Caligula + ridiculous"—which, admittedly, makes it pretty appropriate for a Bill Maher project, but doesn't have much to do with his stated topic. Secondly, Mr. It's-Certainly-the-Doubter's-View-of-Religion, don't try to do atheists any favors. If you're all about the "I don't know," you're an agnostic, not an atheist.

Frankly, it seems to me that, more than anything else, Maher is just a hater of religion, which is a point of view wholly separate from belief, or lack thereof, in god(s). It is possible, in fact, to fervently believe in a god while passionately loathing organized religion. And just as there are believers who despise religion, there are non-believers who don't, who regard it as simply one of many social/cultural phenomena in which they don't participate, like bowling leagues or pet shows, perhaps.

Clearly, I'm no stranger to the need to stand steadfast against the legislation of religion (or a specific morality which extends therewith), but—just ask anyone who believes in the separation of church and state for the benefit of the church as well as the state—that's a separate issue from the hatred of religion altogether.

Anti-religiosity is its own little belief unto itself, but some of its proponents, like Maher, tend to want attach it to atheism, a contrivance that strikes me as patently silly, depending as it does on attaching a belief system to a lack of belief. Hatred of religion is not a tenet of atheism or agnosticism; they don't have tenets—there's no guidebook to which we're meant to adhere. That's kind of the point.

Seems to me if you hate religion, just say you hate religion; don't try to dress it up in atheism or wev. That's about as intellectually honest as hatin' the gays and cloaking it in religion. Maybe less so, given that the holy texts of the major religions at least give that position a toehold, if a dubious one.

All that said, maybe I'm just being persnickety because I quite genuinely don't understand the compulsion to evangelize a lack of belief. If someone who minds his or her own political business finds life easier because they believe in a god, I don't really care. MREWYB. Wev.

KING: Not bad. OK. Tell us about the upcoming documentary on religion. Does it have a title, because you once said religion is stupid. That's not the title, is it?

MAHER: No, no, I was kidding. I think the title is requesting to be "Religulous."

KING: "Religulous."

MAHER: That's ridiculous.

KING: "Borat" guy director.

MAHER: That's right. Larry Charles, the brilliant Larry Charles who directed "Borat," he's the director.

KING: What's the concept? When does it come out?

MAHER: It should come out at Easter. I would like it out as soon as the time people are celebrating the space man's flying up to heaven.

KING: (inaudible)

MAHER: Oh yes. Absolutely. Lion's Gate is releasing it. I think it's going to unleash a great torrent of energy in support of this proposition.

KING: This is the atheist view of religion.

MAHER: Well, yes. It's certainly the doubter's view. How much of an atheist a person is, even I, who I'm not a believer, say, look I can't know. My main proposition is I don't know, and, therefore, if some other human being tells me or anybody else what happens when you die, my answer to them I don't know what happens when you die so how do you know? The answer is you don't know, so to purport to present yourself as someone who can tell in such great detail, and the detail is amazing, isn't it, about what happens when you die you?

We have to get away from a system of faith. Mitt Romney always says we need a person of faith in the White House. They all would say the same thing who are running for president. No, we need a person of doubt in the White House. Stop with the faith and start with the doubt.

KING: Where do you -- give me what I will see. Do you talk to religious leaders?

MAHER: Oh, we talk to everybody. We went everywhere. We went to every place where there's religion. We went to Vatican City and we went to Jerusalem and we went to Salt Lake City and, you know, I think I've insulted everybody, you know. It's across the board, and we got amazing access. I mean, we were ...

KING: Really?

MAHER: We were at the dome -- we were standing right next to the rock, the Dome of the Rock where Mohammed flew up to heaven. We were -- we were in that mosque, places they never filmed before. The Wailing Wall you're not allowed to have cameras, inside the Vatican. We just found out that even though the sign says you're not allowed to enter here there's so many tourists with cameras and such and nowadays when you make a documentary like this it's kind of guerrilla shooting. You don't need a big crew. You just pretend you're tourists and you're shooting and then can you make a movie.

KING: Is this like Michael Moore in a sense?

MAHER: I would never compare myself to Michael more because, first of all, he's a genius. He does what he does incredibly well, but I think ...

KING: This isn't that type?

MAHER: This is -- You know, I hope that people laugh -- we've shown 10 minutes. That's all we have so far. We're still cutting it together. But the 10 minutes that we've shown I've seen it shown to audiences twice. They laugh so hard because the topic of religion is just so inherently funny. I mean, politicians are funny because they promise things that they can never deliver on, and the gap between what they promise and what they deliver is great fodder for humor, as people from Mark Twain up into our own day have demonstrated but what religious people have promised, your own planet, come on, that's a little beyond Social Security.

[Full transcript here.]

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