For those looking for my report on Gladys Muehlig's funeral at First Presbyterian Church, go here.
In my original introduction to The Itinerant Chorister Project, I mentioned the movie Religulous by Bill Maher (which I recently re-watched) as something that led me to do this project, thinking that Maher had thrown out the baby with the bathwater. I tend to agree with him that the six-day creation and many other things in the Bible are not literally true. I am on board with him that Ken Ham's Creation Museum is absurd, and also that The Holy Land Experience amusement park in Orlando is not the place for me. But I take very seriously Jesus's overall moral message of loving your neighbor as yourself. Maher keeps on stating that he just doesn't know whether God exists or not. And yet with great self-assurance he berates those who do believe in God.
I was asked by a friend this week how I can believe in God when I am a scientist. In all honesty, I've had some real struggles with this. I guess I understand God or The Higher Being as being unknowable, and hope that God is merciful, at least more merciful than Bill Maher, and will not punish me for not believing the parts of books that conflict with the understanding that humans have gained through science, and even harboring doubts about some other parts of those books. I agree with Maher in his skepticism about prominent geneticist Francis Collins, who claims that there is scientific proof that Jesus existed.
In a few cases in the movie, instead of asking people to state their beliefs and debating them, he tells people what they believe, and starts debating from there. He talks to a Muslim about passages in the Koran that seem to advocate violence against non-believers. This person says that the Koran was written a long time ago and that we don't read it in the same way anymore, to which Maher answers that most people read holy texts as literal and permanent. At another point in the movie, he says to a group of Protestants that they believe in the infallibility of the Pope. One of the funniest people in the movie is Father Reginald Foster, a priest at the Vatican, who laughs and jokes about the ostentation of the buildings there and how Jesus himself would probably run away and help people somewhere else. A little later he says, "Pffft. We don't believe in Hell anymore. You're talking about old Catholicism." Maher's assumptions were being dismantled, but it was a funny part of the movie, so he left it in.
It is likely that Maher would object to the kind of faith that I just professed above, but a great many religious believers, lay people and, perhaps even more so, clergy, depart from what he would consider to be the traditional beliefs in ways similar to me. A comedian/filmmaker can't put us in a box!
Maher states that deities from non-Christian traditions, including Krishna from Hinduism, Mithra from Zoroastrianism, and Horus from Egyptian mythology share some of the characteristics of Jesus, including various combinations of being born on December 25, virgin birth, and raising someone from the dead with a name similar to Lazarus, and seems to expect that this will make people turn away from Christianity. These revelations are unlikely to faze believers who are not as hung up on literal understanding of the scriptures, who may already know about these parallels with other belief systems.
Some of Maher's arguments that I find more challenging to counter are the accusations of evil that has been done in the world for the sake of religion. While all religions will say that they are in favor of world peace, some will make it their goal unconditionally, while others may say that peace comes only through bringing all into their religion, and possibly use that to justify violence.
Yes, religion is a human institution and therefore imperfect. Yes, it has often stirred up violence in history, but I believe that was through false interpretation, or maybe over-interpretation. Yes, it has been used to persecute people as groups and individuals; again false interpretation. I'd like to see a campaign not against religion, but against false interpretation of religion. In the meantime, as in my previous post, I can't resist singing, with hope in my heart, "For all the saints who from their labors rest."