I have a fundamental distrust of organized religions for a rather simple and straightforward reason: Every one of them promotes absolute certainty amid the acknowledgement of its own mysteries. That is contradictory, and it cheapens their case.
My wife and I finally saw “Religulous” on Sunday. Despite Bill Maher’s often-condescending approach, the film is both fascinating for its revelations about the brasher wing of the religious, and fulfilling for how it hose-whips blind faith. And while I agreed with almost everything in it — particularly Maher’s journalistic approach to disproving common tenets of the world’s major religions and his pushing interviewees to more fully define their faith in concrete terms — there also is a rather obvious blind spot: Maher presents all religious people as incapable, and in this he confuses his contempt for the infusion of organized religion into American government with his intellectual quest to out-doubt believers.
Doubt is the work of the scientist, the conspicuous human, and Maher employs it prodigiously in arguing with believers — many are caricatures, like the guy who plays Jesus at The Holy Land Experience, a Christian amusement park in Orlando, or the owner of a Christian kitsch store who believes he can tap God to make it rain.
But we’re back to Maher’s blind spot: Not all religious people are this ridiculous, even if all religion is. The majority of my extended family subscribes to some variation of the Christian doctrine. Many of these people are deep thinkers who are perhaps attempting to confront their doubt with one explanation. Most also are Christ-like — they actually practice dated concepts like caring for the poor, meek and humble, working for human equality and showing actual compassion toward those less fortunate. This is perhaps the most important takeaway a society can hope for from Christianity’s social dominance.
This behavior is mostly absent from the political movements representing the world’s major religions, particularly their American incarnations, and particularly the Christian ones. This also is where the urge to belittle and condemn religious people arrives — because some of this twaddle spewing from George W. Bush/Sarah Palin about American wars being fought for God is just plain crazy, utterly transcendent pandering to the religious right, which is little more than a loud, arrogant minority being serviced politically for a brief period of history. By its careful design, our system of government does not handle this extreme business for long. Regardless, its presence is offensive, makes lots of people angry, makes them want to belittle and condemn these blind-faithers forcing their righteousness upon us in an unrighteous way.
A recent study — referred to in “Religulous” — by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed 16 percent of the American populace is non-religious. That’s more than the amount of Americans who are black. Yet, as Maher also laments, this group has almost zero representation in government, whereas religious people — especially Christians and Jews — are everywhere, making decisions in God’s name to the exclusion of non-believers.
Pew did some pre-election polling about where religion would figure into Tuesday’s vote. It found that 68 percent of white evangelical Protestants supported McCain, 23 percent Obama. For white mainstream Protestants, the candidates were tied at 44 percent. Black Protestants favored Obama 92-4 percent. In other words, the fringe parts stayed fringe, while the mainstream basically balanced.
Perhaps most interestingly, Pew found that registered voters unaffiliated with any organized religion favored Obama 65-25 percent.
So in elections, why does a minority of self-identified Christians overwhelmingly support lying, cheating, stealing, the abuse of humans, the cutting off of the poor and the promotion of government-as-death-machine when doing so directly contradicts the spirit of their religion?
If you believe blind faith is irrational, you shouldn’t be surprised.