Friday, October 30, 2009

Bill Maher and Religulous

Last night we watched a documentary called Religulous by Bill Maher. I think I have seen this guy before, but didn't really know what his shtick is. I guess I was hoping someone would mount a real argument against the tenets of faith and see if they could knock them down. I left before it ended.

I was disappointed. Maher himself is more interested in listening to himself feel superior. He interviewed all variety of goofballs and then actually Frances Collins, who is the originator of the Human Genome Project, but edited the interview so ferociously that it basically was just Maher talking. Then on to the goofballs and a bunch of clips of snake oil salespeople (who have existed for all of eternity, but now we can see over and over thanks to TV), disgraced televangelists and movie shorts.

But in no way can I improve on what Frank Shaeffer wrote about Religulous and Bill Maher. Found here, and worth a read because it is also funny.

Here's some Schaeffer asserting the well known tenet that Maher's form of Atheism is not only akin, but ostensibly equal to fundametalist thinking.

The New Atheists' books provided a context for Bill Maher's movie Religulous, the most blunt instrument imaginable. Maher's documentary expands what Harris started in his book The End of Faith. Harris begins his book with a scene of a young Islamic terrorist in Jerusalem smiling as he commits suicide while blowing up a bus full of innocent people. In Religulous, Maher gleefully includes many more images of look-how-crazy-God-makes-everyone, religion-inspired violence. The Harris/Maher message is as clear: the world would be better off without religion.

There is another message in the Maher/New Atheist oeuvre: everyone must think in categories stripped of allegory. Forget the idea that perhaps one may hold two contradictory ideas at the same time, say that none of the stories in the Bible happened as written, but that they are true in more subtle ways than mere historicity, or that we're nothing but jumped up chimps, but are also connecting to a deeper reality when we say, "the Lord is my shepherd" and hope that he is.

The New Atheists don't seem to "get" grown up allegory any more than the fundamentalists of the Religious Right do, let alone literary imagination. And both the Religious right and the New Atheists also seems oblivious to serious religious thinkers from Confucius to the Sufi poets, from Reinhold Niebur to one of Reinhold Niebuhr's biggest fans; President elect Obama.

Maher's world contains no Pastor Deitrick Bonhoffer (martyred for trying to assassinate Hitler, and who defined the intellectual and theological terms for resistance to state tyranny based on Christian ethics), or the intellectual man of letters and convert from atheism to the Roman Catholic Church, Malcolm Muggeridge, let alone an awareness of the prayers written by the "atheist" W.E.B. Du Bois for his students, a poignant demonstration that faith is not so easily abandoned.

Read more at:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Surprised by life

A poem I found from Pam Ferguson, who is what I hope to be when I grow up.

A link to her here.

(Confessions of middle age)

I have been surprised by life.

I never thought I would reach middle age
and in the blink of an eye I’m 55.
I still catch glimpses of myself as a 16 year old,
a 20 year old, or a 40 year old.
I see where I came from, where I have been,
people from my past and sometimes
I see my life through their eyes.

And I am surprised.

What an amazing amount of experiences I’ve had in my 55 years,
some good and some bad.

I’ve seen the pygmies dance.
I swam in the Indian Ocean.
I gathered seashells on Zanzibar Island.
I’ve been to the source of the Nile.
I’ve seen the whirling dervishes in Khartoum
and a riot in the middle of Kampala.

I walked where Paul and Silas broke free from prison and I stood at the Acropolis where Paul told the Greeks about “the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and doesn’t live in temples built by hands”.

I’ve eaten grasshoppers and termites,
rattlesnakes and crocodile.
I’ve smelled the blossoms of a coffee orchard,
incense from sandalwood, frankincense and myrrh
....and open sewers, burning trash, rotting flesh,
drying fish and camel dung.

I’ve awakened to the Muslim call to prayer,
applauded communion with Catholics in Africa,
worshipped in opulence with Greek Orthodox,
and in silence with Quakers on three continents.

I’ve heard the explosions of land mines and
gunshots fired in celebration, in fear,
in anger and in rebellion.
An AK 47 was aimed at me as thieves stole our car
and I was held hostage in my home by an escaped prisoner.

In spite of the good and the bad and the many surprises of life,
I discovered an unexpected peace in middle age.

Of course there are regrets.

I never experienced the joy of childbirth.
I spent too much time in sin and selfishness.
I’ve ignored my creator too many times in too many ways.
And I know there is much in life that I have not experienced
nor that I have lived as fully as I was capable,
loved as much as I could or forgave as much as I know God intended.

I am surprised those regrets aren’t the focus of life now.

Middle age always brings questions of

“who am I?”
“What have I given my life to?”
and “for what (and my whom) will I be remembered?”

I’ve yet to discover many of the answers.
But I am surprised I no longer fear the questions.

I’ve confessed that I never thought I would reach middle age.
I think I’ve always thought I would die before I got this “old”.
Now I am catching glimpses of the rest of my life.

What a joy to realize I’ve learned
material possessions matter less than relationships;
obedience is more satisfying than success;
and the highest calling in life is
to make a difference in the world for Christ.

Middle age is a wake up call to use
the time I have left to love unconditionally,
give unselfishly, make right what I’ve wronged,
cherish what time I have with the man I love,
and to use every waking moment to live and walk with God
and to grow in my love for God with each passing day.

Middle age is a gift. I am surprised.