Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another Goldilocks Snuffles Over Religulous

Damon Linker was really, truly hoping for a better film than Religulous. He was, like, so totally prepared to accept something better along the same lines, but Bill Maher's clowning and blindness to nuance got in the way:

Maher harbors so much contempt for religion that he would rather score easy points than explore the messy reality of humanity’s complicated--often sordid, but sometimes noble--religious impulses and experiences. That’s why Maher takes on simpletons and extremists instead of seeking out theologians and other thoughtful believers to explain and defend their beliefs. That’s also why moderate believers simply don’t exist in Maher’s America ...
Please mentally bookmark that thought: Maher seeks out simpletons and extremists and proceeds to make fun of them. He proceeds, says Linker, as though thoughtful believers do not exist. Doesn't that imply that Maher does not ridicule theologians and thoughtful believers, but confines his ridicule to simpletons and extremists? Damon Linker wants satirists to leave simpletons and extremists to their simplistic and fanatical ideas? Does he want simplistic and fanatical ideas and their proponents to remain free of ridicule across the board -- in economics, politics, history, race relations, history, philosophy, literature, science, etc. -- or just in religion? Why does he want that?

Continuing his confused scolding of Maher and expanding it to encompass Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, Linker avers that in order to make a better case,
Maher and his allies would have to abandon their haughty condescension in favor of generosity of spirit. They would have to commit themselves to persuasion and restrain the urge to entertain. But most of all, they would have to concede that what America needs now is not faithlessness. It is intelligent faith.
Ah yes. No doubt Linker would have been cheering in the aisles if Maher had drop-kicked the funny in favor of a couple of hours of sober philosophical disputation aimed at instilling religious skepticism. Notice that the sober philosophical disputation offered by Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens is, somehow, subject to this same criticism -- they were too little interested in persuasion and too unrestrained with the urge to entertain in those books?

One wonders if Linker actually watched Maher's film because "intelligent faith" rather than "faithlessness" is a very serviceable approximation of precisely what Maher promotes throughout Religulous. Maher goes out of his way to reject the label of atheist because, he says, it implies the same phony certainty he sees in committed religious believers. Maher uses the word doubt for the sort of "intelligent faith" he is promoting -- one might label it a faith in honest doubt.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Good post. Dialogue between religious folk and atheists can get so muddled and frustrating.

I really want to see this film, though.