Mar 16, 2014

Bill Maher on Noah and his Genocidal God

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I like Bill Maher. His New Atheist views less so. I think his views on religion are often under-informed and facile. That said, I find little to disagree with in his latest anti-religious rant. It is a little frightening that so many in the US take Biblical myths literally. Maher claims that 60% of Americans believe Noah's Ark is a true story. I assume this isn't in the sense that it is reflective of similar catastrophe myths found around the globe or that it probably derives very directly from the Sumerian legend of Utnapishtim.

The statistic Maher cites most likely comes from a 2004 ABC poll. That same study found that literal belief is strongest among evangelical Christians, much as one would expect. But this is always the problem with New Atheist arguments. They focus on their direct nemeses, those as dogmatic in their views as they themselves are. And, in fairness, there really is no arguing that literal belief in this story poisons our thinking for the central reason Maher states. This Old Testament god they worship is a genocidal maniac. Belief in such a god sets the stage for all manner of cruelty and consciously or unconsciously justifies atrocities.

Joseph Campbell has said much the same and I have cited the following more than once. Maher just says it funnier.

[The Bible is] the most over-advertised book in the world. It's very pretentious to claim it to be the word of God, or accept it as such and perpetuate this tribal mythology, justifying all kinds of violence to people who are not members of the tribe.

The thing I see about the Bible that's unfortunate is that it's a tribally circumscribed mythology. It deals with a certain people at a certain time. The Christians magnified it to include them. It then turns this society against all others, whereas the condition of the world today is that this particular society that's presented in the Bible isn't even the most important. This thing is like a dead weight. It's pulling us back because it belongs to an earlier period. We can't break loose and move into a modern theology.

One of the great promises of mythology is, with what social group do you identify? How about the planet? To say that the members of this particular social group are the elite of God's world is a good way to keep that group together, but look at the consequences! I think that what might be called the sanctified chauvinism of the Bible is one of the curses of the planet today.


  1. Nice commentary. As offensive as Maher's delivery of these sentiments is, I'm glad you don't disagree. I felt the same way about Religulous... some of his comments were off-target but the overall message carries plenty of weight.


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