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Craig Hazen's review of Bill Maher's film, Religulous

My good friend, Craig J. Hazen (Professor of Comparative Religion and Apologetics, Biola University), just published a nice review of Bill Maher's mocumentary, Religulous. Here's an excerpt:

It was pretty clear that the few folks attracted to the movie were already fans of Bill Maher and his open hostility to all things religious. Why, then, so little laughter from them? I think it’s obvious. Anyone who fits that strange “I’m smarter than Blaise Pascal, John Milton, C.S. Lewis, Maimonidies, and Averroes put together” mold has already had his laughs. After all, anyone who is able to work a TV remote control has immediate and never-ending access to some of the strangest displays of human religiosity imaginable on global network broadcasts. Those who get affirmed in their irreligion by watching such things have already tuned into the craziness many times to reassure themselves that believers are some fully evolved species of super kook. They do not need Bill Maher to replay it with a new soundtrack. The movie audience seemed pretty bored—and rightly so. They’d seen it all before on their own living room TVs.

Well, if it’s not very funny, then what does it have to offer? Nothing, really, except a chance for Maher and Charles to make a fast buck (glad I got my ticket for free). Maher is pitching this film as mavericky—telling the truth about religion that everyone else is afraid to address. But Religulous is nothing more than filthy, nudie, druggie, and obtusey. There is little to laugh at and nothing to learn (except maybe that if you quit being religulous you get to act like Caligulous)....

If there is one important lesson for Christians of all sorts to learn from this movie it is this: we have got to start talking differently about “faith.” Unfortunately, we have let the secular world and antagonists like Bill Maher define the term for us. What they mean by “faith” is blind leaping. That is what they think our commitment to Christ and the Christian view of the world is all about. They think we have simply disengaged our minds and leapt blindly into the religious abyss.

The biblical view of saving Christian faith has never had anything to do with blind leaping. Jesus himself was fixed on the idea that we can know the truth—and not just in some spiritual or mystical way. Rather, he taught that we can know the truth about God, humans, and salvation objectively. That is, the very best forms of investigation, evidence, and careful reasoning will inevitably point to God and His great plans for us. The early church learned well from the Master because they too were fixed on the idea that they knew that Jesus was raised from the dead and that we could know it too. The Apostles never made any room for interpreting their experiences of the risen Christ in some mystical or fictional fashion. As the Apostle Peter put it, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

What we mean by “faith” is not blind leaping that is oblivious to the evidence, especially evidence to the contrary. Rather faith in it’s biblical context is trust grounded in objective knowledge. Faith is trusting that which we can know to be objectively true. I run a graduate program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University in which we train students at the highest levels to give compelling reasons for their faith. Maher did not knock on our door. But unfortunately, I think many of the Christians he interviewed would be surprised to learn that there is a robust knowledge tradition in Christianity. I long for the day when a guy like Maher would never consider making a film like this because it would be so difficult to find Christians that he could hound and hoodwink.

You can read the rest here

(cross-posted)

Comments (40)

Before I was a Christian I took it as a given that Christians were stupid.
One of the key factors in my considering Christianity was discovering there was intelligence behind the faith.

"Before I was a Christian I took it as a given that Christians were stupid."

Paul,
I have a request. There is a new commenter here with my name. Is there any way we can encourage him to add another identifier, like an ititial to his first name. I don't want to to be associated with boneheaded remarks like the one above, nor should he want to be confussed with my less temperate comments.
Thanks,
Kevin

What's boneheaded about that comment?

Before I was a Christian I took it as a given that Christian men were women. And then, in the unlikeliest of places -- a predominantly Brethren in Christ college campus -- I found real men who took their faith seriously.

I consider it substantially more boneheaded to hold a misconception than to admit to a past misconception.

"Before I was a Christian I took it as a given that Christian men were women."

Comments like that are boneheaded in that they reveal the narrow, dull and parochial mind of the modern secularist, who without any irony, presents himself as a paragon of wordly cosmopolitanism. I have done and said enough stupid things over my lifetime, but none of that caliber.

Our Kevin:

I have a request. There is a new commenter here with my name. Is there any way we can encourage him to add another identifier, like an ititial to his first name. I don't want to to be associated with boneheaded remarks like the one above, nor should he want to be confussed with my less temperate comments.

Surely, you jest?

How can one ever confuse the eloquent, intelligent comments of our Kevin of erudition with the subpar menstruation of the ersatz Kevin of late?

Comments like that are boneheaded in that they reveal the narrow, dull and parochial mind of the modern secularist, who without any irony, presents himself as a paragon of wordly cosmopolitanism.

No, actually, they don't reveal any of that; you're inferring far to much to be reasonable and I think you're mistaking the other Kevin for Maher himself.

And don't forget that you're talking about fellow Christians who have obviously repented of such sentiments (though I'm still up in the air about the BiC and I doubt that the other Kevin feels secure in Benny Hinn's intellectualism). While the idea may be boneheaded and false, the comment is certainly not.

Your request to be distinguished from that "bonehead" is the same level of arrogant self-righteousness that would lead a man to refuse to sit in the same pew as a repentant homosexual.

I have done and said enough stupid things over my lifetime, but none of that caliber.

If that's not an outright lie, then I pray that God grant you a little humility -- not to mention a better capacity for self-reflection.

Ari, you are a scream! Your humor is well-suited for the days ahead and we'll be counting on you to keep delvering the goods.

Steve,
I know the difference between vicious bigotry and cloistered myopia. I did not say my sins were confined to the relatively minor realm of emotional intelligence and social awareness. I simply said I never thought Christians, or the followers of any major religion for that matter, to be stupid or effiminate. Then again, I had the benefit of being raised by a genuine Christian man.

Gentlemen, I ask for politeness to all our commentators, particularly those like the new commentator Kevin who obviously is saying that he *no longer thinks Christians stupid*. I for one appreciate his comment, because I always hope myself, perhaps vainly, that people will have that sort of eye-opening experience: "Gee, the Dawkins types are just wrong. They're just bigoted. Christians aren't like that at all." So welcome to both Kevins, and to the Kevin who has been here for a while, please, take it easy on other people.

I know the difference between vicious bigotry and cloistered myopia too; and I certainly would not be so foolish as to accuse anyone's sins of being confined to any sort of minor realm. But I don't see how our mutual understanding on those points helps us here.

I would have preferred you to have simply said that you never thought Christians to be stupid without the insinuation that the other Kevin was a bonehead. To echo the previously acclaimed aristocles, "Be more charitable."

Gentleman, friends -- Let's now cease with the Comedy of Errors that seems to have been the case here. Y'all have engaged in subsequent discussions with continued camaraderie even in spite of past heated disagreements as well as a notable difference in personal opinions or theology. Let's not endanger that now. Onward Christian Soldiers!

Like a mighty army moves the church of God; brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

Steve, I said his remarks were boneheaded and made no comment on his personhod. I hope that is a distinction you can make. It might lessen the desire to offer spiritual advice to your intelocutor in the middle of an argument.

Kevin

I once thought that the belief in Christianity was stupid when I was an atheist. By extension then I would have attributed some level of stupidity to every person who professed a belief in Christianity.

That I now see that as wrong and admit that I was in error when I was young (and even see the my former belief as arrogant and flawed) does not make me a bonehead now. It does not make the expression of that fact a boneheaded statement. It is simply an admission of past error and nothing more.

I thought that Paul said that when he was young he thought like a child and now that he is an adult he has put childish things away. Is that scripture a boneheaded admission?

Further, my life is still replete with boneheaded moments so a little charity would be appreciated from those of you who express your opinions without fault or error in perfectly measured and articulated thoughts at all times.;-)

Jay Watts,

I thought that Paul said that when he was young he thought like a child and now that he is an adult he has put childish things away. Is that scripture a boneheaded admission?

To be fair, this passage did not mean that Paul thought that he was previously stupid and only now becoming intellectually endowed; rather, it is remarking on 'growth' (i.e., a continued conversation) on the part of the believer.

Faith is a gift destined to grow in the hearts of believers. Adhering to Jesus Christ, in fact, sets in motion a process of continuing conversion, which lasts for the whole of life. He who comes to faith is like a new born child, who, little by little, will grow and change into an adult, tending towards the state of the “perfect man”, and to maturity in the fullness of Christ.

ari: To echo the words of the original Kevin, "Keep it up!"

Lydia: in this I intend neither irony nor offense, "Sorry, mom."

Kevin: I understand the distinction between attacking a person and their idea. Forgive me (and Jay Watts, too, seems to have read you all wrong) for inferring from your desire to be distanced from Kevin 2's boneheaded comments an attack on Kevin 2's person.

Steve Wrote to Lydia:

Lydia: in this I intend neither irony nor offense, "Sorry, mom."

This is hilarious!

It appears the one with the superb humour here is none other than our friend ;^) Steve!

Lydia, "Our Lady of W4" -- The "Mother"!

Jay, The beief that holding to any faith, but especially Christianity, is a sign of stunted mental development is a wide-spread modern prejudice. It is a bone-headed view and one I never held. As for St. Paul, I bet he would prefer to sit this one out and instead warn us both against the danger of striding atop high-horses.

Steve, assigning the other Kevin the moniker Kevin2 seems lacking in some way. Kevin 2.0 might, with his approval of course, be more appropriate.

Perhaps we should call the commentator who has been here longer, "Old Kevin." :-) Anyone who wants to distinguish himself from a new commentator of the same name is, of course, free to give _himself_ a more descriptive moniker rather than asking everyone else to give the other chap a more descriptive moniker. You could add a last or middle initial, or perhaps simply the initial "W" for "the wise." :-)

And I haven't even had time to read Craig Hazen's review. HOpe to do so this afternoon.

Good point Lydia, Olde Kevin (note the ersatz Toryism of the spelling), or Kevin 1.0 with its hint of anachronistic irrelevance might be better. In fits of confusion I might just sign-off as Lydia and have "you" approvingly quoting Christopher Lasch!

Let the names begin.

Let the names begin.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Really _excellent_ piece by Craig Hazen. Kudos, and thanks, Frank, for bringing this to our attention. I appreciate especially the way he leads into his discussion of Christian evidences with the phrase "we have got to start talking differently about 'faith'." Amen and amen.

It's pretty evident that someone like Maher really does not _want_ to encounter the best that can be argued in favor of Christianity. The same is true, I believe, of John Derbyshire. He'll say, "You guys just believe because you believe because you believe" and then positively _mock_ the idea that he might, you know, go and do some reading himself. People like Craig Hazen are doing the best thing that could be done here: Providing living examples to confute the claim that Christians just believe "kooky" things blindly because it comforts them. If more Christian children were raised with that clearly articulated to them, there might be fewer Mahers in the world.

I never thought Christians, or the followers of any major religion for that matter, to be stupid or effiminate.

But surely the Unitarians. . .

George R., I've always wondered what does a Unitarian have to do to "lose their faith"? Start believing in something?

Poking fun is fine, but no Unitarian bashing. That church shooting happened less than five miles from where I work. The person responsible for the tragedy is now pleading an insanity defense instead of admitting his guilt like a man should.

There's interesting history there. I've only just learned it in the past six months or so. In the 19th century, the Uniterians had what might be called a semi-orthodox wing. This group were basically Socinians. They believed in the Judeo-Christian God and in miracles and held that Jesus was a prophet but not the third person of the Trinity. They were defeated in a fight within their own "denomination" by the people who were, I gather, basically deists. Don't quote me on every detail here, because I haven't double-checked it. But there was definitely an intra-Unitarian fight long ago with the group that actually believed _something_ losing. Interesting and weird, looking back from this perspective.

I suppose we could pick Scientologists, Raelians, or believers in Pyramid Power if we want to pick a religion with adherents who have blasted all their brain cells.

Someone here needs to learn how to read.
I don't understand what is confusing about my remark...

I am a Christian now. I was agreeing with the original post where he wrote

"Rather faith in it’s biblical context is trust grounded in objective knowledge. Faith is trusting that which we can know to be objectively true. I run a graduate program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University in which we train students at the highest levels to give compelling reasons for their faith."


My thought BEFORE I WAS CHRISTIAN - that would be then. I simply emphasized the importance of this from personal experience. Finding out there were reasons for faith and in fact the entire intellectual hertige of Western civilization was built by Christians was key to my conversion.

Kevin V., I understood your remark, and there was nothing boneheaded about it. We just have a few cranks around here so infatuated with their own words that they can't see the plain sense of anyone else's.

Welcome to W4, Kevin V. I understood and appreciated your point, as well, and I'm glad there are people like you around. Makes us would-be apologists feel like (to quote _Singin' in the Rain_) all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'.

I, too, fully understood Kevin V's statement about his former erroneous belief.

Mr Luse,

Is that an original line, because that is first class wordsmithing right there.


You wouldn't happen to be a friend of aristocles', would you?

If that is a code for something clever then I am about to fail miserably in responding appropriately.

I am a friend to most anyone who can tolerate me but have not the pleasure of knowing anyone here beyond their posts and comments. I personally know neither the philosopher of long ago nor the committed "pro-McCain because Obama is far worse" commenter here at WWWtW.

Although I would claim the ever brilliant Lydia as a friend. She graces me with the occasional personal e-mail exchange.

I am, like our Lord, a man of no reputation. ;-)

So Kevin went from being "Wise Kevin" to "a crank around here so infatuated with his own words that he can't see the plain sense of anyone else's".


Step 2 & Bill Luse: Perhaps you two should keep your clever insults to yourselves; it's completely unbecoming.

I'm sure the Lord himself so enjoys the mockery, especially from those supposedly "like our Lord". Why, he must've had a ball with folks who had done the same to him at the Road to Calvary! Quite a ball.

How ironic that those who found fault with the actions of the one originally in question committed similar faults that amounted to grave insult as well.

So Kevin went from being "Wise Kevin" to "a crank around here so infatuated with his own words that he can't see the plain sense of anyone else's".


[Jay Watts] (sorry Step 2) & Bill Luse: Perhaps you two should keep your clever insults to yourselves; it's completely unbecoming.

I'm sure the Lord himself so enjoys the mockery, especially from those supposedly "like our Lord". Why, he must've had a ball with folks who had done the same to him at the Road to Calvary! Quite a ball.

How ironic that those who found fault with the actions of the one originally in question committed similar faults that amounted to grave insult as well.

Aristocles,

I think you need to put down the coffee and settle down a bit. I am not certain why you are taking the offense that you are, but I certainly have meant no offense to anyone. The only thing I have done on this thread is to defend a position that I thought was taking an unfair assault and to tell William Luse that I thought that was a clever turn of phrase.

If you think that those actions are hammering the nails into the hands of Christ you might take a note of some of your own less charitable exchanges on this blog.

The comment about being a man of no reputation was a harmless self deprecation that I have no bonafides but that according to the KJV in Phillipians neither did Christ so there are worse things in the world. It was not meant to elevate myself to the level of Christ in anyway and to imply that with your sharp retort seems a bit harsh and unecessary.

As for me and when I post a comment, I do not want enjoy clever exchanges where we parse through every phrase and throw it back into others faces. So I thought that Mr. Luse's comment was funny as someone who most often watches but does not engage.

Peace.

Hey, Jay: The reason Bill asked that is that Aristocles was trying in some recent threads to get him, Bill, to come back and write as a W4 contributor again and was occasionally complimenting Bill's writing in comments as a means to this end. (I suppose that won't be happening anymore, now.) Since you had said something nice about Bill, he made a joke along those lines. You couldn't have been expected to know unless you had happened to read the other threads. And I thank you for your kind words.

Aristocles, chill. Really, please. Everybody play nice, now. Love, Mom :-)

Ah, Bach. (A little Radar O'Reilly humor)

I knew it was probably an inside joke. Should have left it alone. Lost a lot of sleep lately with the newborn so my judgement is impaired a bit.

What was this thread supposed to be about before it became about who was the meanest? Oh, yeah. Loved Hazen's review, though I have long puzzled at how someone so incapable of being funny can continue to call himself a comedian. I am glad to hear that Maher is still keeping up the good work.


Bill Maher suffers from Carlin's Disease -- you know, once funny, then becomes so involved in the "real meaning" of their occasionally pertinent analysis that they lose themselves. Unfunny does not nearly cover what he his. That he is willing to draw blood at all costs and at considerable shallowing of character solidifies his gladiator approach hacking down anything having to do with faith. And his plebeians love him for it at the same time they consider themselves enlightened because of his attacks.

And while I'm on an analogy and metaphor field trip... As to the New Kevin (TM), I need only look here to find a fitting analogy to what you initially posted:

I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

Lest we all not forget, how sweet that sound.

While there was nothing new in the movie to anyone that has researched christianity/religion from either side of the fence, I'm surprised that Hazen bothered to review it at all. This is akin to Bill O'Reilly reviewing Farenheit 9/11 and everyone declaring it a fair and balanced review when he pans it as "liberal lies."

Also - the defense of the "realness" of christ being "a guy in the fairytale about christ said that this isn't a fairytale" is unscientific at best and hilarious at worst. Re: Da Vinci Code, A Million Little Pieces, etc. Saying your story is true in the story doesn't prove it to be so.

but I'm preaching to the wrong choir, aren't I?

As a professor at Biola, Hazen is certainly qualified to critique anything Maher may have got wrong about christianity (and he does, which is good), but I wouldn't put too much faith in anything else.

Speaking of which, I still have yet to read a logical defense of "faith" (using either Maher's or Hazen's definition). Just as Hazen encourages students to construct a "meaningful" reason to believe in christ, I'm sure Tom Cruise could some up with some "meaningful" reasons to believe in Xenu.... especially when surrounded by other scientologists...

To the previous posters - what was it that made you NOT think christians were stupid? (not saying outright that they are, just interested in what changed your mind) Note: "because God talked to me" is not an acceptable answer unless you're in a mental hospital.

A,

I think you're right. The bulk of Christians being represented in pop culture today all appear to be dimwits, even to me. They are not very well grounded in their faith, mostly because few Christian leaders today are actually educated enough to handle even rudimentary apologetics much less teach it to their congregants. You can thank our weak seminary systems for that. They are a disgrace to the faith.

It's equally unfortunate though that the ones who typically end up the most visible in pop culture today also happen to be the same ones who give the rest of Christianity a bad name. Not all Christians are brain dead dolts who check their brain at the door it's only the ones who end up on TV that are.

Regardless, if history's most brilliant figures were able to concede to a belief in Christ then why can't the average human being? Many many men and women far more intelligent than you and I could ever hope to be have wrestled with this very same question and eventually put their faith in Christ after a long discovery. Does this mean that those legendary intellectuals are just as dumb as the typical preacher on TBN? Did they check their brains at the door while they were unravelling the sciences we use today? Seriously, you can't go there, you'd lose.

That being said, asking someone to use logic and reason to prove that Christ was who he said he was is futile. Be real, you can't reason your way to God. If you're attempting to do that you'd never get anywhere. If one were actually open minded enough to sit down and review the historical and scientific evidence for a God though they would find out pretty quickly how easy it is to carry such a belief system. Few Americans are open minded enough these days to actually put the time and effort into it though.

Anyways, without going so far as to dismiss your request as ridiculous I would suggest you rethink how you approach the problem. You want to find God? I know one easy way to do it and it won't take long. The problem is once you get there to find our how real He really is you won't have the opportunity to come back to speak about it....

For those who choose not to go there we take it on faith.

"Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

Cheers,
Dusk

Craig,Craig,Craig. Thats it you've found it. The reason we have to spend more time and energy on apologetics when the only people interested in it are those who throw money away and run up their student loans entering your program. Of course there are intelligent Chritians and of course Bill Maher is "throwing the baby out with the bath water," but he makes a very important point that believers should take seriously, and that is that there are also some very dumb christians who follow their egotistical leaders like (know someone like that) like cattle.

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