I thought I would venture out a little with some coverage of Bill Maher, in light of his new film (as I have already done here and here). Firstly, Bill Maher is my favorite comedian. I only agree with maybe half of what he discusses, but that has nothing to do with his comedy. I laugh just as much when he criticizes what I believe -- to be fair, though, he's much funnier as a stand-up than a talk show host.
With the release of Religulous, he has been the subject of critical discussion from Christian, atheist, and skeptic forums alike.
For Christians, he has brought criticism of religion under the spotlight yet again with a feature-length film of him visiting various places simply asking questions. Personally, I found nothing in the film as controversial as many of the things he has said on Real Time (especially regarding Catholicism).
For atheists, he has argued the straw man of how "atheism" has the same certainty you find in religion that God doesn't exist. Adrian Hayter suggests writing him an open letter clarifying what atheism is. While I like the idea since it will be publicly available as a source of clarification for Maher supporters and detractors alike on the film, I'm doubtful it will have any effect on Maher himself. I don't think Maher is interested in anything further than criticizing religion.
For skeptics, he serves as an interesting example of how skeptical thought can be so hit-and-miss. Maher has excellent criticisms of religion in terms of the lack of skeptical thinking by believers. He also addresses other irrational claims such as 9/11 Truth and many conspiracy theories. He doesn't seem to arrive at these positions through skepticism, though, as he himself partakes in many conspiracy theories, most notably Big Pharma and the anti-vaccinationist crowd.
From most of the discussions I have heard, most recently on SGU #166, Maher is usually described as an atheist. I don't think he is, though. He has described himself as an agnostic and an apatheist -- the former regarding knowledge and the latter regarding interest. I have heard him several times mention something about a higher power, such as 2002 interview with The AV Club: (Question: Is there a God?)
I think there is. We did a show last night about God and religion with Dave Foley, who I love, and we were arguing against this one woman who had a book called I Like Being Catholic. Someone said, "Oh, boy, a lot of atheists on this panel." I said, "I'm not an atheist. There's a really big difference between an atheist and someone who just doesn't believe in religion. Religion to me is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don't need. But I'm not an atheist, no." I believe there's some force. If you want to call it God... I don't believe God is a single parent who writes books. I think that the people who think God wrote a book called The Bible are just childish. Religion is so childish. What they're fighting about in the Middle East, it's so childish. These myths, these silly little stories that they believe in fundamentally, that they take over this little space in Jerusalem where one guy flew up to heaven—no, no, this guy performed a sacrifice here a thousand million years ago. It's like, "Who cares? What does that have to do with spirituality, where you're really trying to get, as a human being and as a soul moving in the universe?" But I do believe in a God, yes.He firmly rejects any sort of personal god as well as attributes of god. He is very anti-religious, but it seems he simply rejects that any sort of religion has answers regarding the god question.
Does this make me appreciate Maher any less? No. As I have stated a few times before, my concern is also with religion itself, not with the general existence of a god. I think his statement above of there being a really big difference between an atheist and someone who just doesn't believe in religion was very well put.