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03/18/2014 11:41 am ET | Updated May 18, 2014

Bill Maher's Fundamentalism

I am a Bill Maher fan. My partner and I regularly watch the political comedian's show on HBO, and we share his political leanings. Though he doesn't quite "get" the need for or role of myth, he fulfills the traditional and mythological role of "fool to the king," using barbed wit to speak truth to power. And he expresses the anger and frustration many of us progressives feel toward "the powers that be."

Saturday night we attended his live performance here in Atlanta. The friends I accompanied wondered how his religious barbs might affect me. All I could say was that I agreed with most of them, mainly because he was not directing them at the religion I practice.

For example, I agree that religion and science are mutually exclusive categories, but it's not an either/or choice, for each serve different purposes. Some of the most respected theologians and contemplatives have been scientists, doctors, and mathematicians themselves. Personally, my faith would not be as vital and progressive were it not for scientific discoveries and revelations.

Though Bill Maher thinks he is dissing all religion and spirituality, he actually attacks what I would call grade school religion. He even hinted at some respect for the new pope, whom I would describe as representing graduate school religion and above.

His reference to "the Jewish fairy tales" of Hebrew scriptures sounded unintentionally ironic to me, given that the Jewish prophets played the same role of playing "fool to the king," speaking truth to power, and could be said to be the moral and spiritual basis for Maher's own criticism, both of political leaders who fail the poor and marginalized, and religious leaders who place priority on worship and purity over justice and mercy, as well as his desire to set a fire under the electorate to do something about it. Another Jewish prophet, Jesus, did much the same.

Rather than give credit to Mother Teresa's ability to doubt her faith, referencing one of her posthumously published letters, Maher used it as "proof" that religion is a crock of ----.

Psychiatrist and spiritual explorer M. Scott Peck once defined evil as "the unquestioned self," the inability of an individual or institution to even imagine being wrong. Thus I believe that in faith, doubt is a virtue. Just as in science.

In my view, Maher's certainties about religion mirror the certainties of fundamentalists, rather than the whole of faith. I believe he would appreciate Bishop Jack Spong's quip, perhaps quoting someone, "Religion is like a public pool. All the noise comes from the shallow end."

Related Post: The Benefit of Doubt

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