After watching this week's Real Time with Bill Maher and subsequently reading various criticisms of the show's segment wherein Maher and his panel discussed atheism vs. religion, I find myself in a very interesting spot: I want to defend Bill Maher.
Now, Maher is undoubtedly anti-religion.
Meanwhile, I am undoubtedly pro-religion.
But I think the inherent juxtaposition of our two stances is what compels me to defend the man. Because, for me, the underlying issue from Friday's Real Time debate, and what I believe spawned a great deal of criticism from religious bloggers, was this statement: "If you are an atheist, you must think people who believe in God are deluded."
This is what Maher said to panelist/author S.E. Cupp, an atheist, and what was, in my opinion, the impetus of what led to an ensuing 15-minute debate about religion. Because instead of acknowledging the statement's obvious truth, Cupp waffled. She said she didn't believe religious people to be deluded.
Now, please don't get me wrong, Cupp's brand of tolerant atheism is far more palatable than the more offensive brand Maher sometimes expresses (i.e., "non-atheists are mediocre thinkers"), but her position's palatability doesn't change the fact that Maher is right. To be an atheist, one by definition has to believe those who believe in God (any god) are deluded. Meanwhile, for one to be religious -- or, should I say, for one to believe in God -- by definition means he has to believe those who don't believe in God are deluded.
There's simply no way around this.
And here's my point: this shouldn't be a hard thing to admit.
But it is.
And I think I know why: I think it's because the word "deluded" carries such an ugly connotation. "Deluded" summons images of loony bins and psych wards and Heidi Montag. The word's interpellating effect is incredibly diminishing. No one likes to hear that he or she is deluded and consequently, anyone remotely worried about offending someone doesn't want to use the word. I think Richard Dawkins -- if he truly does care about advancing it -- did a disservice to his mission by choosing such a divisive word for the title of his book, The God Delusion.
In my opinion, to be able to advance the dialogue between our two camps, we need to do two things: 1) get thicker skin, and 2) find a new euphemism for "deluded." One that doesn't carry such a negative connotation. I'm no Frank Luntz, so I'm clearly not the right guy to coin the term, but perhaps it should simply be a word like "misled." Or even "mistaken."
I guess what I'm saying is this: thinking someone is wrong (mistaken, deluded, etc.) because he believes in God is not a bad thing, and it shouldn't offend those of us who do believe in God to know that someone thinks we are wrong about it. And vice versa. Because the simple truth is that when it comes to this particular debate, one side has to be right, and one side has to be wrong. This is one of the very few issues in the world that doesn't lend itself to ambiguity.
In light of this truth, I feel that instead of being scorned by the religious community, in this particular instance, Maher should be commended for having the courage of his conviction. Just as I believe Newark mayor Cory Booker, who was also on Maher's panel Friday night, should be commended for his own conviction in standing up for his faith. Now, at times, Maher -- whose show I love and whom I find very funny -- could probably be a little less abrasive about how he articulates his point (just as many on my side of the debate could be far less abrasive about how we articulate ours), but the point isn't about the delivery, it's about the foundational belief.
If God is real, which I sincerely believe he is, he doesn't need me getting my feelings hurt because people think I'm wrong for believing in him. And I think the sooner we religious folks cotton to this idea, the sooner a real dialogue between our two camps can begin.