An Open Letter To Bill Maher

05/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Etan Thomas Author, poet, philanthropist, 11-year NBA veteran

Let me say first that I am a big fan of yours. The way that you point out the faults of both the republicans and the democrats is absolutely brilliant. I believe your talent along with the likes of Jon Stewart as well as Steve Colbert is very much needed especially among young people. Not to say that adults don't benefit from your show as well, but it's the young people, who otherwise would not pay attention to the news who benefit the most. It's the young people who become educated and aware of current events and issues, and are introduced to the minds of your guests whether they are entertainers, political analysts, or authors.

Now, some may feel that the fact that young people aren't watching CNN or God forbid Fox News, to become educated on current events is a bad thing. That of course is debatable. However, one cannot deny that everyone young and old whether they should be watching the regular news or reading the paper or not, greatly benefit from your combination of politics and humor.

That being said, after watching your movie Religulous, (I know it has been out for awhile now, but I just saw it) I was quite disappointed with your depiction of religion as a whole. Of course you are free to believe whatever you want to believe, but your goal appears to be aimed at convincing your audience of the overall absurdity of religion. Your tone of mockery was directed at the teachings of every religion, pointing out what is in your opinion, completely irrational for anyone to actually believe. Not to say that you don't make some valid points in your objections with different people in their respective religions. In fact, I agree with some of the issues you raise regarding the different practices, rituals, and actions of certain "religious people". However you associate the actions of man to religion as a whole. It is a miscalculation that many people make resulting in them turning away from God altogether. It results in them blaming God for the actions of man. See, God gives us all freewill, so that means we are free to do what we will, believe what we will, and act as we will, even if it means that we are in direct disobedience with His word. We have the freedom to do it. Why, you ask would God trust a people who have exhibited absolutely no record of being able to handle the responsibility of free will? I don't know. Nor would I question God, but I definitely question mans interpretation of God's Word.

You described religion, as you have many times in the past, as a "neurological disorder that spreads guilt and hatred among people while offering nothing in return."

I can't say that I completely disagree with your position. Religion has been the main cause of most of the wars this world has ever seen. It is true that the majority of wars have been caused by the simple fact that people do not respect beliefs other than their own. This has been a worldwide problem for centuries, and will continue to be the cause of wars probably until judgment day. To quote Common,"Who am I to say to whom you pray ain't right?"

Furthermore, not only do they not respect it, but they view it as their mission in life to convert, convince, or force (take your pick) others to believe what they believe. Don't think that I'm not including Christianity in this. There is a saying, "As long as there has been a God, there have been those who kill in his name." Wars have been fought all throughout history because of the belief that "my god is better than yours" From the Catholic missionaries who invaded parts of Africa and The West Indies in an attempt to convert the masses of people who were "lost" without the "enlightenment" of Catholicism. To the present day Janjeweed who are slaughtering Sudanese by the thousands under the direction of Sharia Law in an effort to convert the entire country to Islam. That practice is evil no matter who does it. Whether it is the Christians, the Muslims, the Catholics or whoever, but that is also a deviation from the teaching in the Bible and the Koran. That is simply man using religion to fit his own evil agenda.

During the movie you proclaimed...

"Religion is the power to divert man to destructive courses."

It's not the religion that diverts man; it's the fanatics that use religion to justify their cause. As evidence with the early settlers, the founders of this nation, who used Christianity to justify the enslavement of millions of people. That is a reflection of their wickedness. They used Christianity to justify their agendas, which is the easiest, and most cowardly way to defend their position and/or actions. That reminds me of a saying, "people without a conscious will even lie to themselves."

In an episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, your final word on the death of Jerry Falwell is not one that I could take issue with. You summed it up perfectly in your statement...

"Jerry Falwell found out that you can launder your hate through the cover of God's will."

Reeza Aslan, Middle East analyst for CBS news, and author of No God, But God, made a great point on your show that you completely missed. In response to the accusation that some religions are of peace while other religions are of the sword, he made the very insightful and what should have been enlightening point when he said...

It's not religion that's violent or peaceful, its people who are violent or peaceful. Whether you believe it or not, God doesn't make you a bigot, God doesn't make you a misogynist. People are just bigots and misogynists. The thing about religion is that it provides a powerful language through which you can justify any ideology. Whether ideologies of peace and tolerance or ideologies of fanaticism. What we really need to do is those people who represent the vast moderate majority of people of faith who get drowned out by this very loud obnoxious voice of extremism and violence. It's hard to make ourselves heard, but we really need to work harder and make sure that our voice actually matters.

This is the problem. We don't hear that rational voice enough. What we do hear is the voice of religious extremism such as Bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Pat Robertson, Paul Weyrich, or Jerry Falwell... etc. We are constantly bombarded with voices that not only echo condemnation and separation, but also are acting as a wedge instead of a bridge to bring people together.

Rev. Jerry Falwell on Sept. 14, 2001 places blame for the events that occurred on Sept. 11th:

The abortionists have got to bear some of the burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all those who have tried to secularize America- point the finger in their face and say: You helped this happen

Paul Weyrich:

We are in the vanguard of those who understand the threat that true believing Moslems represent to both Christians and Jews and ... all of us who believe in our Judeo- Christian civilization must fight to preserve it. .. Muslims should be encouraged to leave [America]. They are a 5th column in this country.

A booklet written by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner was passed out to soldiers preparing for a recent 22 - day Gaza offensive that resulted in more than 1,300 Palestinians (mostly civilians) killed.

"When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers... This is a war on murderers." He also cites a Torah ban on "surrendering a single millimeter" of Greater Israel.

The messages of these extremists are not soaked in the word of God. They are soaked in the word of man. These men are masking their own beliefs and prejudices in the word of God, and that is a reflection of them, not of God. I understand how you can equate such evil to the very institution that these people are claiming to represent. However, what you have to understand is that this is a grave misrepresentation of not only the true nature of God but also His word.

In another interview, you spoke of your issues with your Catholic upbringing. You have had some bad experiences that have tainted your view of religion as a whole. In your words..

They tried to scare me. I remember vividly once when I was preparing for my first communion. I remember I was sitting; my arms were on the pew in front of me. I was slumped over. And I remember a nun said to me, 'The boy who is slumped over is going to go to hell.' For slouching.

I have to admit that made me laugh. I too had some pretty bad experiences growing up. My mother put me in Catholic school when I was younger, and those were the worse three years of my adolescent life.

I have memories of some of the meanest, most racist nuns that ever walked the planet. I remember Sister Emily taking a slingshot away from a student and asking them why they brought a "ni$$er shooter" to school. I remember sister Louise looking at me in front of my mom when we returned the next year and saying, "you people really grow fast." I remember Sister Agatha looking at my little brother who had a splinter in his hand, when he asked her for help, and her telling him to get it out himself. She later told my mom that she didn't even like children and was sent there by archdiocese and that if it were up to her; she would be as far away from children as she possibly could be.

I remember being sent to detention for asking, "How on earth is saying five Hail Mary's going to help anything? Does saying it more than once mean you really mean it, or do you think God didn't hear it the first time? And why do you all pray to Mary anyway?" I remember being sent to the principal's office for asking, "So let me get this straight, I am supposed to tell this stranger sitting behind a booth everything I have done wrong, and what, he is supposed to talk to Jesus for me? Why don't I take out the middle man and talk to Jesus myself?" I also remember getting in trouble for asking why Sister Mary Claire walks around sprinkling everyone with water? Why you all kneel and stand up so much in a mass that only lasts 45 min at the most (in my church, we did praise and worship for almost 45 min). I remember being told that people who question God go to hell. A nun, who has taken a vow to do the work of God for all of her days, and be bride of Christ, actually told a third grade child that if he asked questions, he would go to hell. Imagine if I was old enough to ask some of the really good questions, like why do you all allow the priests to move from parish to parish molesting and raping alter boys without being punished in any way shape or form? Or, where exactly in the bible did Jesus say that they had to take a vow of celibacy? Furthermore, could they disagree with the notion that by making something a law that is unnatural, in this case celibacy, they are opening the door for perversion? I probably would have been expelled.

However, through all of the bad experiences I had, I never thought that scripture was "made up." It simply meant that the people who were teaching me got it really, really wrong. They interpreted my inquisitions as being out of line and disrespectful to "the church." They felt that it was simply not my place to ask such things. I wasn't trying to be insolent by any stretch of the imagination; I was simply trying to gain a better understanding for what I was being taught. But again, that is not a reflection on the religion, that is a reflection of the people. If a history teacher punches her student in the face when they make a mistake, that doesn't make history wrong, it makes the teacher wrong.

I understand that although you presented Religulous as though it were an actual documentary, it was more of a comedy. You held up the ill informed yet comical people you interviewed as evidence to support your position. There were plenty of places you could've gone to have an intelligent debate on religion, just as you know where to go to have an intelligent debate on politics. Asking people dressed up in Jesus outfits in theme parks or random people at truck stops probably wouldn't elicit the most well thought out response to some of your questions. Just because you interview someone from a religion that does not make them an authority, or even qualified to speak as a representative of that religion. That's kind of like when Sarah Palin was asked about the Bush doctrine. She was not qualified to speak as a representative of the entire Republican Party. She simply misrepresented herself. No offense Mrs. Palin.

I don't believe that you were truly out for answers but only to poke fun and mock. You are not a person faith, and with that said, cannot even begin to understand any religion that requires faith at its core. What you did was overgeneralize religion, while painting a picture with far too broad of a brush. While extremely comical, it simply was not an accurate depiction. While there are a plethora of other objections that I had with your "mockumentary," I will save those for another time. Be blessed.