The Religious Fundamentalism of Bill Maher

On May 16, I preached a sermon entitled, “Fundamentalism vs Freedom.” I spoke about how the Christianity we see in the Book of Acts is not a religious fundamentalism. Where we do see religious fundamentalism in Acts is on the part of those who oppose the Christian message.

I spoke about the most pressing form of religious fundamentalism today in our culture being the religious fundamentalism of the New Atheists. Last week, a member of The Crossing sent me a link to a showing of Bill Maher’s “Real Time” that was apparently aired the same weekend as I preached my sermon. It’s a good example of exactly what I was talking about in my sermon. Note: I do happen to think Bill Maher makes some good points. He seems to understand the words of Jesus better than the so-called Christian on the show.

You can watch the 15-minute clip for yourself right here (scroll down and you’ll see where you can hit the play button).

Below are just some excerpts from my sermon preached on May 16, 2010…

One thing we see in Acts 13 is a great contrast between two religious approaches—Religious Fundamentalism vs. Religious Freedom

On the one hand, we see an example of religious freedom—

As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.

But on the other hand, in vs 45-50 we also see a great example of religious fundamentalism—particularly in this case a Jewish Fundamentalism.

When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. But the Jewish leaders incited the God–fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

(v. 45) They “heaped abuse on him.” (v. 50) “They [incited and] stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas” and they “expelled them.”

The two fists of religious fundamentalism: ridicule and expulsion. Their resistance of the Christian message involved personal attacks with the intent of making impossible any kind of reasonable, fair and open discussion.

See, religious fundamentalism is when you’re so tied to a religious interpretation that’s an overly simplistic problem-cause-solution approach to the world—that an “us vs. them” hostility develops toward those who have different beliefs.

They see them as “enemies” to be defeated because they see them as the cause for much of the world’s problems. And so the real solution to the world’s problems is the defeat of these religious “enemies.”

With that narrative, religious fundamentalists develop a kind of hostility and bigotry and a condemning label of “evil” toward those who oppose their beliefs.

They have no interest in respectfully listening to and understanding those with different religious beliefs and their reasons for having them. They are enemies to be defeated by ridicule and expulsion.

They’re not interested in finding or building common ground with those who have different religious beliefs. They are enemies to be defeated by ridicule and expulsion.

The two fists of religious fundamentalism are always ridicule and expulsion. And that’s what we see here with these particular Jewish Fundamentalists in Acts 13.

Now in our day, really since 9/11, there is a particular kind of religious fundamentalism that has been emerging that is trying to do just that—ridicule and expulsion of those with different religious beliefs.

That’s the primary tactics of the Religious Fundamentalism of the New Atheists.

The New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, are known for their fairly recent best-selling books. And I would also include comedian Bill Maher, who is best known through his TV shows and his recent film Religulous that ridicules all religious belief.

I believe that these so-called New Atheists show all the signs of being religious fundamentalists. It just so happens that their religion is atheism.

Since the New Atheists’ favorite case against religion is that it is the cause of most of the world’s evils, I jokingly asked Matt Page, the surgeon from The Crossing who volunteered to spend a week doing surgery in Haiti after the earthquake, if he saw any atheist relief organizations down their in Haiti. He laughed and said, “no.” You know, I never saw any on the news either. I did see tons of Christian organizations however.

As the New Atheists keep trying to incite people with their overly-simplistic “religion is the problem” mantra, they always manage to leave out a giant pile of evidence from recent world history, such as Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and Stalin’s Russia, who built their utopian no-God-allowed secular societies at the cost of literally millions of believers who died at its hands. Far more people died at the hands of fundamental atheism in the last century than by anyone else.

At any rate, Bill Maher claims that atheists and/or agnostics represent as much as 16% of the population in the U.S., but one can’t help but notice that so far they have not built anywhere close to 16% of the nation’s charities.

See, what IS new in the New Atheists is not their arguments, but the personal tone of their berating and ridiculing those who don’t share their religious beliefs.

If you don’t believe what they believe about God, you’re ridiculous, somewhat unintelligent, and actually said to be delusional.

New Atheists like Richard Dawkins betray their religious fundamentalism with even the titles to their most recent books. Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, is a title that boldly asserts than anyone who does believe in God is, well, delusional—they have lost touch with reality—they are psychotic.

See, religious fundamentalism always elevates oneself to an elite status so that the biggest problem in this world is the delusional ignorance of everyone else.

According to the New Atheist Fundamentalism, their interpretation of science has answered ALL the religious uncertainties and rendered any belief in God to be unintelligent and delusional.

But Dawkins’ and the new atheists’ claim that scientific evidence has answered the creation of the universe issue and the creation of life issue, and so it intellectually demands atheism, goes way beyond any scientific evidence.

It’s like the Russian cosmonaut who was the first man into space returning to earth boasting that he did not see God.

The primary tactic of any religious fundamentalists is to silence competing religious beliefs through ridicule and expulsion from the main stream of ideas and culture and society, rather than allowing for a freedom of discussion and ideas to have an even playing field.

Fundamentalism vs the Freedom of Speech and Thought

Genuine, respectful tolerance toward those with opposing beliefs is a particularly Christian virtue. Christian theology is the best foundation for tolerance.

Notice what v. 48 said…
“…And all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

They “believed” because they were first “appointed for eternal life” by God. It’s a mystery no one can possibly fully understand, but the bottom line is that God must open someone’s mind and heart before anyone is able to believe.

It means that true belief in the gospel is a gift from God. So we can never manipulate or coerce or intimidate someone into believing in Christ.

That’s why Christianity never thrives in it’s own fundamentalism. True Christianity thrives where there is an open and fair and respectful discussion of the message of Christ and the evidences for it being true.

No ridiculing anyone. No berating anyone’s intelligence. No bigotry toward those who believe differently. No coercing or manipulating people. No condemning them with the label of “evil.”

Just a discussion about a message to be believed, or not.

And God is the one who must give people the ability to believe. And that realization can be very freeing.

But getting back to the message we see over and over again in the Book of Acts…
It’s not as if Christians believe in Jesus in spite of evidence, but because of it!

And in the Book of Acts, the primary evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity always came down to whether or not Jesus’ resurrection really happened.

Acts 13:30-33 TNIV
“But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.”

Scott Myers comment the other day (an atheist at 40 who became a Christian by reading about Jesus’ resurrection—it blew up all his assumptions he had about Christianity).

Biblical Christianity is not just a philosophy or a set of morals, though it involves these things. But essentially Christianity has always been a proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection and its implications. It always comes down to this.

Now, of course, we weren’t there to see it. But evidence is always an issue of believing credible witnesses. Almost everything we believe to be true, we believe because we trust the credibility of someone else.

Paul, of course, along with most of the other apostles, all died for their witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

Question: Does the strength of YOUR faith in Christ rest upon the reality of his resurrection? In your opinion, are Paul and the other apostles credible witnesses?

That’s the primary question as we continue to make our way through the Book of Acts.

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