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Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Case Against Beliefnet: Bill Maher's Fundamentalism

I started a series on Religulous posts starting with a criticism of the quotes Maher uses in the film. I discovered Steven Waldman over at Beliefnet started a Case Against Religulous series, beginning with his own criticism of the quotes. I posted a criticism on his criticism of the quotes, as he tried to blow them out of proportion as Maher's "thesis." Until now I couldn't continue following Waldman's blog as I could not access it (for whatever reason).

Waldman writes a short entry on Maher's "fundamentalism":

Maher declares at the outset that he's just a reasonable man who seeks to raise the status of "doubt." While religion sells a silly/dangerous "invisible product," he says, "my product is doubt."

But by the end he declares, with fervor that would make Jimmy Swaggert proud, "Religion must die if mankind is to live." There is no doubt, no shades of gray. There are no examples of religion ever doing anything good, ever. He casts his opponents as not merely mistaken but grotesque and dangerous to your very existence.

Maher's product is not doubt. [...]

What an amazing fallacy. I saw Religulous on October 3 when it first came out; I can't help but wonder what film Waldman saw when I read his reviews and statements. I did not see a film about how there are certainly no gods. In fact, I didn't hear any arguments against the existence of gods in general (perhaps because Bill Maher is not an atheist and indeed believes there is a God).

The fallacy in Mr. Waldman's post is a straw man. He starts off discussing Maher's doubt concerning the nature of God, the afterlife, etc, and then shifts this into a statement of how there are "no examples of religion ever doing anything good, ever." He shifts Maher's statement concerning the doubt of the nature of God to Maher's non-doubt concerning religion. Religion and theism are not the same thing.

The point of the film was not that religion does no good. In fact, I never heard that mentioned at all. The point of the film was the silliness of religion and its negative impact on rational thought and society.

Waldman ends the post on a rather bizarre note:

Maher's product is not doubt. It's certainty -- a black-and-white world view that demonizes religion in the same way that some religious fundamentalists demonize those who differ from them.

Maher is a secular fundamentalist.
Again, Maher wasn't discussing his doubt about the effects of religion; he was discussing his doubt concerning the nature of God. The oddness of the concluding note, though, is his labeling of Maher as a secular fundamentalist. What exactly is secular fundamentalism? What dogma and tenets does Maher take fundamentally? Religious fundamentalists take their holy texts to be infallible in morals and faith and take them literally.

Secularism means without religion or not connected to anything religious. How exactly do you go about being fundamental about that?

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