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Peter T Chattaway

Religulous

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opus   

I just caught the tail-end of an interview with Maher on CNN's "American Morning". After some negative comments about Bush's "faith-based presidency", he was asked what he then thought of Obama and McCain, since both of them have also declared themselves to be Christians. His response was that he wasn't worried because they're lying, and fake piety doesn't bother him. Palin, on the other hand, does scare him because she really believes this stuff.

Unfortunately, the host didn't ask him why he thought Obama and McCain were lying, or for any proof that they were lying.

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FWIW, the film does include a brief clip of John McCain saying that the Founding Fathers had set up the United States as a Christian nation -- which, as Maher argues, is patently false, given some of the attitudes towards religion expressed by Thomas Jefferson and the like. There are no clips of Obama or his "spiritual advisor".

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With $3.5 million on 502 screens this weekend, Religulous now has the third-highest opening weekend of any documentary, ever. Well, of any documentary that is not a concert movie or a reality-TV movie or an IMAX movie, at any rate. (The top two spots are taken by Fahrenheit 9/11, 2004, $23.9 million and Tupac: Resurrection, 2003, $4.6 million.)

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SDG   
All that said, I do have one question: Does anybody here have any insights into Maher's claim that 16% of the American public -- a bigger chunk of the population than Jews, blacks, gays, or NRA members -- is non-religious? Does that simply mean that 16% of the population is unaffiliated with any particular religion (which would leave open the possibility that they are still spiritual or even religious in a non-affiliated way)? Or does it mean that 16% of the population actively reject belief in God etc.? I ask because Maher tells this 16% of the population to shed its "timidity", and to speak up the way all those other, smaller segments of the population do -- and I am wondering if this 16% is really as solid a bloc as he implies it is.

No.

The presumptive source is the recent, massive study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which found that 16 percent of the population has no religious affiliation -- not no religious belief.

The same study found that Americans are nearly unanimous (92 percent) in saying they believe in God. Only about four percent of Americans self-identify as "atheist" or "agnostic."

Wait, it gets better. According to the study, over half of self-identified "agnostics" and over a fifth of "atheists" say that they believe in God or a universal spirit. "Atheists" and "agnostics" in double digits also believe in heaven and hell, pray at least weekly, believe that abortion should be illegal in most cases -- and believe that "values are threatened by Hollywood."

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SDG   
FWIW, the film does include a brief clip of John McCain saying that the Founding Fathers had set up the United States as a Christian nation -- which, as Maher argues, is patently false, given some of the attitudes towards religion expressed by Thomas Jefferson and the like.

Maher's work is shoddy here also.

The film offers three frequently quoted (or misquoted) lines attributed to founding fathers:

"Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man." -- Thomas Jefferson

"This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it." -- John Adams

"Lighthouses are more useful than churches." -- Benjamin Franklin

Jefferson and Franklin were deists (not agnostics or atheists) who praised Jesus as a moral teacher but were critical of Christian doctrine. Adams, though, was much more positive about Christianity and religion, and his line has been ripped bleeding out of context.

Taken from an 1817 letter to Jefferson, the line represents a sentiment with which Adams rhetorically expressed some sympathy -- but explicitly rejected:

Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, "this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!" But in this exclamation I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly [figures from Adams's youth mentioned earlier in the letter]. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite society, I mean hell.

FWIW, in an earlier letter to Jefferson, Adams specifically affirmed what Maher quotes him to debunk, that the founding fathers of the United States were united by "the general Principles of Christianity":

The general Principles, on which the Fathers Atchieved Independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite, and these Principles only could be intended by them in their Address, or by me in my Answer. And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all those Sects were united: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young Men United, and which had United all Parties in America, in Majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence.

Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System.

Even the Jefferson line is also somewhat inaccurate, having been conflated to omit positive language about "Christian philosophy," which Jefferson describes as "the most sublime and benevolent, but the most perverted system that ever shone upon man." (FWIW, this line was later cross-examined by Adams in another letter to Jefferson, in which Adams wrote: "That it is the most sublime and benevolent, I agree. But whether it has been more perverted than that of Moses, of Confucius, of Zoroaster

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SDG   

Also, would you be amazed to learn that Maher's claims about parallels between the Gospels and Egyptian mythology are wildly inaccurate? :)

Again credulously accepting hoary old anti-Christian chestnuts, Religulous makes a number of claims that AFAICT have no basis in Egyptian mythology, among them:

  • Horus was born of a virgin. (In the actual myth of Horus's birth, or one of them, Horus was born of Isis, who was a widow, not a virgin, and conceived Horus through intercourse with the magically reconstituted body of her dead husband Osiris. The story, in some versions, apparently specifically describes her constructing the phallus and mentions the seed.)
  • Horus was born on December 25 [does Maher say in a cave/stable?]. (Horus was born in a swamp, apparently on the last day of the month of Khoiak, which falls in mid-November. Not to mention of course that December 25 as the date of Christ's birth is such a late tradition that it can hardly be supposed that Christians were at that point still referring back to the supposed source material.)
  • Horus was baptized in a river by "Anup the baptizer," who was later beheaded. (There is apparently no story of Horus undergoing any ablution ceremony, in a river or otherwise. The closest parallel seems to be Osiris's dismembered body being cast into a river and later recovered. Anubis, the embalmer god, was not called "the baptizer," and there is apparently no story of his being beheaded.)
  • Horus had twelve disciples. (Accounts mention four follower demi-gods as well as sixteen human followers; there does not seem to be twelve of anything connected with Horus. Some have apparently tried to link him to the twelve signs of the zodiac, but this seems to be baseless.)
  • Horus raised Osiris, whose name is equivalent to Lazarus. (Horus avenged his father Osiris; I have not been able to find clear evidence that he raised him again. Lazarus is a historical first-century Jewish name that has nothing to do with Osiris.)
  • Horus was crucified and resurrected on the third day. (Crucifixion was a Roman practice unknown in ancient Egypt. There are apparently no stories of Horus dying, except variants in which he is conflated with other gods such as Osiris and Re. Such accounts may involve dismembering, but nothing like crucifixion. Resurrection, i.e., raising to a bodily, this-worldly, transfigured life, is a Hebrew belief alien to the Egyptian worldview; mythological figures might be bodily translated to heaven, restored to a near-life condition, or perhaps even resuscitated after death, but I don't know of any resurrection stories in the Hebrew sense. Osiris's rebirth is connected with the "fifth day"; there seems to be no relevant mention of a "third day.")
  • Horus was acclaimed as the "savior of the world." (Not so far as I can determine.)
Perhaps someone needs to make a documentary called Irreligulous. :) Edited by SDG

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SDG   
Will you be publishing a review, SDG?

Definitely an article. Dunno about a formal review.

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mrmando   

The stuff about Horus comes mostly from 19th-century self-taught Egyptologist Gerald Massey. Did Maher bother to cite him? The same claims appear in the Internet-only 'Zeitgeist' film.

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SDG   
The stuff about Horus comes mostly from 19th-century self-taught Egyptologist Gerald Massey. Did Maher bother to cite him? The same claims appear in the Internet-only 'Zeitgeist' film.

Right-o, and no, he didn't. He probably has no idea where it comes from -- just like the founding father quotations, he just pulled the stuff out of the anti-religious playbook. The "parallels" are thrown up on the screen like a PowerPoint presentation, one, two three, and on to the next subject. It's not like a sustained debunking of the Christian story -- it's just one more thing Maher throws out there, like "Who really believes in talking snakes?" and "If the Messiah can raise the dead on the Mount of Olives, do the Muslims think a fence at the gate is really going to stop him?" Honestly, he gives more serious thought to the Modalist analogy of the Trinity as the three forms of water.

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SDG wrote:

: Jefferson and Franklin were deists (not agnostics or atheists) who praised Jesus as a moral teacher but were critical of Christian doctrine. Adams, though, was much more positive about Christianity and religion, and his line has been ripped bleeding out of context.

I have long been familiar with Thomas Jefferson's de-supernaturalized version of the gospels, but I was unfamiliar with the Franklin and Adams quotes prior to seeing this film. As it happens, I learned about Maher's abuse of the Adams quote just today, when I came across this post at Steven Waldman's Beliefnet blog.

Waldman also has a post on the bait-and-switch that Maher pulled with Francis Collins (which I also mention in my own review). Collins is a world-famous geneticist, and he thought he was being interviewed about the relationship between science and faith (including the question of how an evangelical such as Collins can believe in evolution). Instead, Maher peppered him with questions about the historicity of the gospels -- a topic you MIGHT think would be better suited to an historian than a biologist. So, just as Maher hits everyday Joes with "gotcha" questions that a proper philosopher or theologian would have been better equipped to deal with, so too he hits professional academics with "gotcha" questions that are completely outside their field of expertise.

: Also, would you be amazed to learn that Maher's claims about parallels between the Gospels and Egyptian mythology are wildly inaccurate? :)

Yeah, I linked to a critic who pointed that out earlier in this thread, back in August, and I linked to that in my own review last week, as well.

: Perhaps someone needs to make a documentary called Irreligulous. :)

Heh.

Incidentally, while the film was #10 in "North America" this week, it was #6 in Canada (which is a subset of "North America"). Part of that can be explained by the fact that Fireproof and An American Carol, the #8 and #9 films in "North America", weren't even released up here. But that fact alone would only move the film up two spots, rather than four.

Incidentally, Beverly Hills Chihuahua was #1 in "North America" with nearly double the figure of Eagle Eye, which was #2 in "North America". But in Canada, Eagle Eye was still #1. Interesting. I'm not sure how much of that is because the Hispanic subculture is nowhere near as big here as it is in the States, and how much of that is because family-oriented talking-animal movies just don't tend to do all that well up here.

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FWIW, Podhoretz's slam of the film has been made available to all readers:

Maher's boorish conduct on his own shows is nothing, however, next to the behavior on display in Religulous. His method in Religulous is to interview people who are far poorer, far less sophisticated, and vastly better mannered than he, and as he does so, to laugh at them, tell them that their deepest beliefs are the sort of nonsense he gave up when he was 11 years old, and then press ahead with another question intended only to expose their idiocy.

As he does this, his interlocutors freeze, slack-jawed with disbelief, and then gamely attempt to go on because (a) that's what their mothers taught them, and (B) there is a camera in their faces and they've figured out that if they let Maher have it, he is just going to make them look worse.

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All that said, I do have one question: Does anybody here have any insights into Maher's claim that 16% of the American public -- a bigger chunk of the population than Jews, blacks, gays, or NRA members -- is non-religious? Does that simply mean that 16% of the population is unaffiliated with any particular religion (which would leave open the possibility that they are still spiritual or even religious in a non-affiliated way)? Or does it mean that 16% of the population actively reject belief in God etc.? I ask because Maher tells this 16% of the population to shed its "timidity", and to speak up the way all those other, smaller segments of the population do -- and I am wondering if this 16% is really as solid a bloc as he implies it is.

No.

The presumptive source is the recent, massive study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which found that 16 percent of the population has no religious affiliation -- not no religious belief.

The same study found that Americans are nearly unanimous (92 percent) in saying they believe in God. Only about four percent of Americans self-identify as "atheist" or "agnostic."

Wait, it gets better. According to the study, over half of self-identified "agnostics" and over a fifth of "atheists" say that they believe in God or a universal spirit. "Atheists" and "agnostics" in double digits also believe in heaven and hell, pray at least weekly, believe that abortion should be illegal in most cases -- and believe that "values are threatened by Hollywood."

Still, I think that the most important message to come out of Religulous isn't that spirituality is dangerous and irrational, it's that dogmatically following an organized religion is dangerous and irrational. These people without a religious affiliation, spiritual as they may be, are not the ones causing all the religiously fueled conflict, animostiy, intolerance, and misunderstanding that we're faced with today. So in that regard, I would argue that this 16% is a solid and meaningful statistic.

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mrmando   
These people without a religious affiliation, spiritual as they may be, are not the ones causing all the religiously fueled conflict, animostiy, intolerance, and misunderstanding that we're faced with today.

Unless they happen to be named Bill Maher, you mean? Maybe not "religiously fueled conflict" (depending on what you mean by that), but surely he's as guilty of causing animosity, intolerance, and misunderstanding as anyone else is.

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Persona   

Wow , I hated this film

#1 Pleasantville, #2 Jesus Camp, and now #3 Religulous.

First off, Mahr has no understanding of the Bible. Moses brought in circumcision?

Homosexuality was only talked about in the Old Testament?

The dude doesn't know his scriptures.

And the (southern, backward) people he interviewed were all modernist Christian retards.

So there. I disliked everyone (save the Catholic astronomer and the Catholic nut outside the vatican, give me points, SDG) including Marh and all his interviewees.

What a stupid "documentary".

I actually walked out and smoked during one-third of the DVD.

STUPID.

Edited by stef

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Persona   
If it were a doll, where would you stab it?

Matt

In the Eye.

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Orlando-based evangelist says Bill Maher movie ruined his life

For the past decade, Jeremiah Cummings says, he has made a modest living as an Orlando-based evangelist who traveled the globe to encourage people to deepen their faith.

Then, he said, he was tricked into appearing in front of a movie camera with political comedian Bill Maher and was falsely portrayed in Maher's comedy documentary Religulous as a flashy, gold-loving evangelist.

Orlando Sentinel, September 23

- - -

FWIW, here's the clip. The editorial intrusions are so obvious that I would hope no one reads too much into the clip (and in fairness, re: the question of whether Jesus dressed well, I have heard that the seamless garment was something of an "asset"; the Roman soldiers did cast lots for it, after all), but you never know.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YkVtgD2R8M

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FWIW, here's the clip. The editorial intrusions are so obvious that I would hope no one reads too much into the clip (and in fairness, re: the question of whether Jesus dressed well, I have heard that the seamless garment was something of an "asset"; the Roman soldiers did cast lots for it, after all), but you never know.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YkVtgD2R8M

Of course, he also claims he did not say things he clearly says-such as claiming he never called himself Dr, when he did. The guy's claims are just as suspect.

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