Contact DisComforting Ignorance

Have thoughts, comments, criticisms, requests, or proselytization? Email

No prayers. (Why not?)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Quotes in Religulous: A Criticism

There have been two occasions I have counted on Real Time With Bill Maher where Maher has used a popular, misattributed quote (probably unintentionally). One occasion was quoting Einstein as saying something about bees disappearing resulting in the collapse of society and the other I cannot recall.

At one point in Religulous, he quotes three of the Founders as having scorn for Christianity. One such quote came from Thomas Jefferson:
Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.
I suspected this wasn't the first time I had seen this quote, but, nonetheless, I knew it must be falsely attributed to Jefferson. This quote which appeared in Religulous is a bogus quote. It has not, to date, been found in any of his writings.

Jefferson had quite the affinity for the teachings of Christ (minus all the bogus supernatural and miraculous claims). As such, he edited the New Testament to glean such ludicrousies out; which Religulous correctly explained. So, when Jefferson speaks on being a Christian or Christianity, he often doesn't refer to the church or its teachings as "Christianity," unless he explicitly states it. Otherwise, it would be confused with the teachings of Christ, which he did not despise.

Jefferson confirms this in a letter:
No doctrines of [Jesus] lead to schism. It is the speculations of crazy theologists which have made a Babel of a religion the most moral and sublime ever preached to man, and calculated to heal, and not to create differences. These religious animosities I impute to those who call themselves his ministers, and who engraft their casuistries on the stock of his simple precepts. I am sometimes more angry with them than is authorised by the blessed charities which he preached.
It's clear his gripe is with Christians and not with Christ. The Jefferson Encyclopedia cites the following as the possible basis of this misattributed quote:
[A] short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish religion before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, & perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in church & state: that the purest system of morals ever before preached to man has been adulterated & sophisticated, by artificial constructions, into a mere contrivance to filch wealth & power to themselves, that rational men not being able to swallow their impious heresies, in order to force them down their throats, they raise the hue & cry of infidelity, while themselves are the greatest obstacles to the advancement of the real doctrines of Jesus, and do in fact constitute the real Anti-Christ.
Don't let his affinity for Christ mislead you into thinking he's a believer of the New Testament and simply rejects the Church's teachings (such as the Jehovah's Witnesses). He liked the teachings attributed to Christ, but did not like all the fantastic supernatural, divine content (which is why The Jefferson Bible came about). Many Christians like to quote mine Jefferson where he speaks highly of Christ and his teachings as evidence he was a Christian. In fact, in one passage Jefferson actually calls himself a Christian:
I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of d blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature.
You can actually search for "'i am a real christian' jefferson" and you'll find many Christian sites quote mine this. He is speaking on his revision of the New Testament, though, and is clearly indicating that. If one is to claim Jefferson is a real Christian and we are to define "Christian" as what Jefferson believed, then everyone alive today who calls themselves a Christian are false Christians. They are as close to Jefferson's version of a Christian as I am to Ray's version of a Christian.

This post went off on a bit of a tangent, but I think his use of the Founders' quotes is going to be heavily attacked by critics of the film. There were much better quotes to use and from many different Founders. I found the quotes that he did use from all three were poor selections and misleading.

To conclude on a poignant quote:
Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. -- Jefferson
Oh, wait a minute. That doesn't sound quite as I remember it...

EDIT -- 4/06/2009
Before commenting about what a dumb Christian I am, you should do yourself the favor of reading my subsequent posts on Religulous/Bill Maher and realize that you can constructively criticize that which you side with. Hold nothing sacred.

The Case Against the Case Against Religulous
Is Bill Maher an Atheist? No.
The Case Against Beliefnet: Bill Maher's Fundamentalism


royals11 said...

The quote was paraphrased from the following excerpt, and I cannot remember if in the movie it had actual quotes around it or not, but the gist of it is the same: "...those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy, the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man ..." - Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, Washington, 21 March 1801

Ksweaz said...

So you're trying to prove the quote is false and misleading by writing an essay about how Jefferson believed in Christ, but disapproved of modern Christianity...


Also, Bill Maher says in the movie himself that he's not trying to disprove there is a god. He only thinks religion with all the mythology and stories to be taken literally is ridiculous...sort of like how you just illustrated Jerffeson.

DisComforting Ignorance said...

Hey Ksweaz,

No, I was not arguing that Jefferson believed in Christ and just disapproved of modern Christianity, as that was not the case. Jefferson had a great affinity for the teachings and character of Christ, but he disapproved of much in the Bible and he rejected Christianity (including the divinity of Christ).

Let me make an analogy to clarify. Consider Jefferson, one of my personal heroes. He wrote prolifically about the rights of man and the necessity of self-government. He penned the Declaration of Independence, one of the greatest documents in history. His writings contained great wisdom and he did many great things in his life.

Now, imagine that there is a religion today called Jeffersonianism. Jeffersonianists believe that Jefferson was God in the form of a man. They believe he was born of a virgin, had supernatural powers, raised the dead, and many other things. They even have a Bible composed of Jefferson's writings, but included in those writings are accounts of how he was the son of God and had supernatural powers.

Now, I admire Jefferson greatly. If I read their Bible, I would be inspired by many parts of it; however, I would disbelieve those parts which claim he was God or had supernatural powers. Even though I don't believe he was God, I still admire and respect the man deeply.

Such is Jefferson's view of Jesus Christ. He did not believe Christ was God, the son of God, had any supernatural power, was born of the virgin, or was resurrected. He disbelieved all these things. He appreciated Jesus Christ as the man he was and his teachings.

As far as the intent of Religulous, it was most definitely not a film to disprove that a god exists (especially since Bill Maher believes in a god). It wasn't even a film about how taking religious teachings literal is ridiculous. It's about how religious superstition is ridiculous and everything that comes along with it, including notions of a personal God.

Anonymous said...

You make me giggle.
Religion is pointless. & none of it makes sense.
Don't bother replying, I really don't care what you have to say.

SeaN said... those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy, the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man, endeavored to crush your well earnt, & well deserved fame." - Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, Washington, 21 March 1801

Anonymous said...

He may not havre said that quote but he supposedly said the following. "I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature."
Same slant.

Anonymous said...

first of all in your first paragraph you say that there have been two occasions where maher has used a popular misattributed quote- yet you can only recall one. for an opening statement you sure made yourself sound full of it.
then you go on to say that jefferson had an affinity(relationship by marriage?) for the teachings of christ...minus what YOU believe could be "bogus". your arguement in the 3rd paragraph make absolutely no sense.
not only that but your only response to the entire movie is about jefferson??
then you go on to tell us to basically google, "jeffersons views on religion", but "i am i a real christian, jefferson". and rational person knows that if you google WHAT YOU WANT TO FIND, you will find it.

You also go on saying..."yeah well i went off on a tangent"...yeah. because you had nothing else.

its also funny to me that this country was founded on the idea of free religion and your pushing your beliefs and ideas on us.

i think bill maher makes numerous valid points. and not once could any religious leader come up with a logical rebuttal. apreciate the film for what it is and take the time to really think about what your seeing.

and finally, heres a quote for you sir.

"I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

MCSojka said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MCSojka said...

There you go :)

Anonymous said...

Once man realizes organized religion was created for power and control maybe we will realize we are all equal and take some steps towards equality and help one another. Religion segregates everyone except those within your cult.

"God" said...

Religious people are just stupid plain and simple. It took Google .23 seconds to find the quote that supposedly "doesn't exist in any of Jefferson's writing's" which is,

"...those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy, the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man, endeavored to crush your well earnt, & well deserved fame." - Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, Washington, 21 March 1801

The Maher quote that sums up everything about religion and its followers, is "Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking," None of these fools use the brain that their "Gods" have given them, and they are going to criticize people who disagree with them even though its their scripture that preaches,"Turn the other Cheek." You actually think criticizing people is going to convert people back to Christianity? I don't try to convert anyone over to to being a non-0believe because I accept the fact some people are just too slow and simple to understand that things in this universe happen at random.
Religious people show no respect for people who disagree with them, hence why I show no respect for them. They're hypocrites that can't argue a single valid point and have absolutely no evidence to support their fallacies. Quote all the scripture at me you like, it wont make the slightest difference as I've been listening to all your religious nonsense ever since its been crammed down my throat at the age of 4. The church has had over 22 years to convince me and not one person has come even close.

I agree with Ben Franklin. "Lighthouses are more helpful than churches."

And most of all, Thomas Paine-
"Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man." &

"The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion." &

"That God cannot lie, is no advantage to your argument, because it is no proof that priests can not, or that the Bible does not."

There, those are my "gospels."

I'm sure if the Bible told people in order to go to heaven, you must eat your own feces; religious people would eat it every night with a big brown smile.

Go in peace my children. XP

Anonymous said...

you can do a search for the quotes on google books and find some good matches that show where some of the quotes are from or derived from. although the blog post says that this one quote could not be substantiated, it's easy to find on google books a reference to the original source and it's meaning.