Just saw Bill Maher’s new film Religulous and wanted to offer some comments on it. In general I thought it was quite brilliant. Maher’s conclusions were, of course, forgone knowing his attitude about religion, but the way the film was directed and edited by Larry Charles made it compelling and worth seeing.
Maher is an atheist whose Catholic upbringing came to a halt when he was 13, just as he was learning about his Jewish roots by way of his Mother who apparently had never discussed them with him.
He approaches the subject of religion as I have always done–it is based upon a human interpretation of metaphysical reality. Many believers have shed their rational mind when they choose to believe in the tenet’s of their own religion, they usually dismiss or despise those of another belief. There is tremendous hypocrisy in the behavior of many of its adherents and religious leaders.
Maher reasonably challenges the ‘certainty’ of religious fundamentalists as opposed to his own willingness to admit ‘I just don’t have all the answers’.
Maher has an easy time of demonstrating all of the above as he examines the world’s three monotheistic religions and their most fanatical adherents. In doing so he ignores the vast number of religious people who are actually practicing spiritual values as well–kindness, charity and compassion. He chooses to regard all religious individuals as fools. By painting in such broad strokes, Maher misses the value of religion for many decent human beings.
He also ignores the role religion plays in assisting individuals through life’s difficult passages–birth, initiation, marriage and death and mourning. Poverty, sickness, sadness, adversity are all made easier to tolerate when a religious community is available to offer emotional support.
Atheists must find their own way during such processes–being quite rich and influential [as is Maher] can ease the pain of life’s difficulties.
In the process Maher also dismisses spirituality as well. It is here that I most strongly part ways with his thesis. I have found supporting evidence to convince me that there is a spiritual dimension to reality. My book and blogs outline such evidence and they do not come from religion but from the personal experience of ordinary individuals of high credibility.
Many of my more ‘intellectual’ sources are scientists who have uncovered evidence for their belief in the survival of the soul. Such individuals include Stephen Braude, PhD, Robert Almeder, PhD, David Cantana, PhD, Ian Stevenson, MD, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD and a host of others. None of these individuals base their beliefs on religious authority but on the evidence obtained from their studies of such phenomena in otherwise sane and credible human beings.
It is interesting that one of the characters in his movie is Andrew Newberg, a neuroradiologist whose book Why God Won’t Go Away [with Eugene D’Aquili–Ballantine Books, NY, 2001] analyzes the findings of "neurotheology" of deeply meditating/praying religious monks an nuns. Maher leads Newberg into stating that just because someone believes something to be true, it may still be a fantasy–implying that Newberg is as atheistic as Maher.
In fact Newberg and D’Aquili describe the state of meditative connection with "Absolute Unitary Being" as being as likely to be as real as the material world. [p 172]. They base this notion on what may be described as ‘comparative states of reality’.
When comparing a drug induced hallucination or dream [which may seem ‘real’ during the episode] with awake reality–the average individual recognizes that our everyday awake reality is more ‘real’ than the what they previously experienced.
However, those who have reached a higher, deeper meditative state, upon returning to ordinary reality, declare that the meditative state was the higher, more ‘true’ reality. This subjective comparison is enormously compelling to Newberg and D’Aquili.
In summary–see the film and judge for yourself. In fact I am a strong advocate for taking personal responsibility for our own beliefs. This is the ultimate expression of human free will. Do not believe in metaphysical pronouncements on something as significant as the existence of God, the soul, survival after physical death based on the brain-washing of organized religion. If there is a God who has imbued human beings with a mind and with free will, then exercise it. I believe that we have an inherent understanding of how we should behave.
Live that life. Follow the ‘Golden Rule’. We ‘know’ how to behave even when we don’t do it. Watch out for religious fundamentalists and don’t worry about the rest. Enjoy the journey.