Holy Crap — Jeffrey Tayler in Salon defends Bill Maher’s mocking of religion.
Bill Maher, the host of HBO’s “Real Time,” is a shining beacon of the New American Enlightenment, radiant with goodness and hope.
But first, a bit of background.
No matter what anyone says, religion is a deeply, if darkly, hilarious topic, and the sundry tomes of the sacred canon read more like joke books than anything else, albeit sick joke books. How can we, in the 21st century, having mapped (and even edited) the human genome, engineered pluripotent stem cells, and discovered the Higgs Boson, be expected to revere the dusty old Bible, for example, with its quarreling goatherds and idolatrous tribesmen, and its golden calves and talking snakes, to say nothing of its revenge-porn (against unbelievers) finale? How can we not laugh aloud when Genesis declares that Almighty God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh, yet had to pilfer a rib from Adam to produce Eve? What are we to make of Numbers 22:28-30, wherein the Lord intervenes, not to part the sea or still the sun, but to set Balaam’s donkey a-jabbering? How are we supposed to accept Jesus as an up-to-snuff savior when, in Matthew 21:19 and Mark 11:13-14, he loses his temper and cusses out a fig tree, condemning it to death, for not bearing fruit out of season? Any second-grade science-class student would have known better, and possibly even exercised more self-control.
“Properly read,” declared the science-fiction author and biochemistry professor Isaac Asimov, “the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” He was right. The same may be said of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, which the late, dearly missed Christopher Hitchens called “not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require.”
The proper response to religion, riddled as it is with absurdities, is, thus, laughter, either of the belly-slapping, table-pounding kind or the pitying, head-shaking sort. Laughter, but also outrage. After all, those who take such absurdities as manifestations of the Godhead have, especially since the Reagan years, hogged the moral high ground and commandeered American politics, polluting public discourse with their reactionary cant and halting progress in reproductive rights, science (think the Bush-era ban on stem cell research) and education (to wit: stubborn attempts to have oxymoronic “Intelligent Design” rubbish taught in schools). Look abroad, and the panorama of savagery religion must answer for curdles the blood. No rationalist could contemplate all this entirely unnecessary faith-driven regress and backsliding with anything but anger, tempered with despair. If we want to do true and lasting good in this world, we are morally obligated to fight faith in the open, and root it out from every nook and cranny in which it hides.
Facing such a task, a desire for comic relief is only natural. Bill Maher is where anger, outrage and religion meet – in humor. (This essay will address only his stance on religion.) There is nothing un-American about his faith-bashing – far from it. Thomas Jefferson, who denied the divinity of Jesus, wrote that, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions” – and what is religion but a jumble of unintelligible propositions about our cosmos and its origins? Yet Maher has incited no small amount of ire among both the faith-addled masses (fully two-thirds of Americans believe Jesus actually rose from the dead, and almost half expect him to return in the coming decades) and their muddleheaded sympathizers for his brutal broadsides against religion, and Islam in particular. Bigot!Racist!Islamophobe! they cry, at times bemoaning the “offense” they purport to have suffered from his words, and illustrating how far the cognitive capacities of so many of us have deteriorated since Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority began meddling in politics. (This can be no coincidence.) Their real message to Maher: Shut up!
Name-calling is the last resort of losers — in this case, losers waging an unwinnable war against the spread of godlessness. And “shut up!” is the last command of which the Greats of the Enlightenment and their heirs would have approved. The 19th-century British philosopher John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, put it best, referring to suppressed speech: “If the opinion is right, [the shutter-uppers] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” If Maher is really so wrong, why not let him hoist himself by his own petard?
Fashionable Bashing — Joe Conason on Jonathan Chait’s attempt to dissect the Clintons.
Jonathan Chait of New York magazine has done no small damage to his own reputation as a liberal intellectual over the past year or so, but apparently feels he can rehabilitate himself by attacking the reputation of the Clintons — always a fashionable media pastime, especially during an election cycle.
So today, Chait describes the Clinton post-presidency as “disastrous.”
Certainly the work of the former president hasn’t been “disastrous” for the millions of people across the world aided by the work of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, including vast numbers whose lives have been saved over the past dozen years or so thanks to the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative (which Chait doesn’t deem worth mentioning). Nor has the Clinton post-presidency proved disastrous for President Barack Obama, a former adversary whom the Clintons have served very well indeed.
Nevertheless, parroting a series of recent accusations against the Clintons, Chait condemns the couple as “disorganized and greedy.” Much of what he repeats in his column is so easily debunked, however, that what he reveals is not their lack of character but his own weak journalism.
“The New York Times has a report about the State Department’s decision to approve the sale of uranium mines to a Russian company that donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Global Initiative,” intones Chait. But that is such an inaccurate, misleading way to characterize what happened as to indicate that the columnist may need remedial reading instruction.
Tendentious and biased as it was, even the Times report noted that the decision to approve the Russian uranium sale was made not by the State Department alone, but by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) — a powerful interagency committee chaired by the Treasury Department that includes the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the Energy Department, and a host of other cabinet-level government agencies.
Nowhere did the Times prove or even suggest that the State Department drove the Russian uranium decision, because that isn’t how CFIUS works. And nowhere did the Times report show that Hillary Clinton personally influenced the decision. Indeed, the record indicates that she played no role whatsoever. Knowledgeable observers of CFIUS believe that its operations are dominated by Treasury and Defense, not State.
To learn what really happened, though, Chait would have needed to read carefully, then maybe ask an intelligent question or two — but he couldn’t be bothered.
Accounts Receivable — Susanna Wolff bills her dog.
Dear Valued Pet,
You have an outstanding balance on your account. An itemized list of billable goods and services is as follows:
25-lb. bag of organic, grain-free, mega-expensive dog food
25-lb. bag of different food because you decided you didn’t like the fancy other food even though you’ve always gobbled it down like a monster in the past
1 of the best, most humane, pressure-point-free harnesses on the market
1 new, regular harness because I got sick of explaining to smug busybodies in the park that the humane harness just looked inhumane because you insisted on strangling yourself with it anyway
¼-lb. of Taleggio you ate off the coffee table during a dinner party
1 salami on which you tentatively placed your tongue before party guests arrived and that I served anyway
4-16 dog hairs in every single cup of coffee I’ve had since you came into my home
1 accidental “like” of a former classmate/current stranger’s Birthright-trip Instagram when I tried to brush one of your hairs off my phone
62 weeks, that’s how deep into that Instagram feed I was, just F.Y.I.
1 discovery that your hair wasn’t just on my phone screen, but actually embedded under the glass
3 pairs of headphones eaten in their entirety
1 pair of headphones merely shredded beyond repair, which allowed me to figure out what happened to the other 3 pairs
1 lifetime’s worth of feces picked up with only a flimsy Citarella produce bag protecting my hand
8 attempts at subtly studying said feces in public for any sign of those headphones
2 trips to the vet
45 minutes trying to get you to pee into a little plastic dish thing only to have the whole mess tip over onto my shoe
624 dollars to find out that you’re fine
Another ¼-lb. of Taleggio, somehow
Total amount due: $6,346
Payment due: 4/24/2015
If payment is not received by 4/24/2015, I will have no choice but to keep providing for you and loving you anyway because you are my dog.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you.
Your Indentured Owner
Doonesbury — Dead end.