Bill Maher's Twitter and the Fear of God

Bill Maher, the irreverant (and increasingly irrelevant) host of some poorly watched show on HBO called "Real Time with Bill Maher", is, according to Sue Naegel of HBO, "a fearless, funny and totally original observer of the modern world." In fact, his show is so interesting that for the latest rating period I could find (October 24, 2011), his show was beaten in the 10:00 pm time slot by such notable television programs as "Sanctuary" on SyFy, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" on the Food Channel, and the memorable "Hairy Bikers" on the History Channel. (Actually, it appears that Maher's program was beaten by every cable competitor in the 10:00 pm slot. I guess people just aren't that invested in Mr. Maher's original observations of the modern world.)

Anyway, Mr. Maher is no friend to Christianity. As I noted in a blog entry in 2006 entitled "Dr." Bill Maher's Unenlightened Diagnosis, Maher (in his original way) believes that anyone who believes that religion is true has a "neurological disorder." He has said, ""We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think that religion stops people from thinking." Mr. Maher also was behind a Religulous, a poorly grossing film ($13 million internationally) that contained some typical Maher quotes such as:

The plain fact is religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having key decisions made by religious people - by irrationalists - by those who would steer the ship of state, not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken.

Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don't have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it's wonderful when someone says, "I'm willing, Lord! I'll do whatever you want me to do!" Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas.

If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you'd resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers.

You see, what Maher lacks in wit, he makes up in bombast. And since he is pretty darn bombastic, I suggest it tells you about the level of his wit.

But in case that doesn't tell you, consider Maher's recent tweet about Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. If you are not a follower of American football, Tim Tebow has become the star of the Broncos team by leading them to a series of exciting, come-from-behind victories that has led the team to the cusp of a place in the NFL playoffs. What's important for this blog is that Tebow is an outspoken Christian. In fact, he is so outspoken that even other Christian athletes (like Kurt Warner) have suggested that he tone down the God-talk.

Tebow's Christianity made him a target of the semi-wit of Bill Maher. You see, while the Broncos were on a winning streak (I believe it was 7 wins in a row), Tebow was thanking God. But then the Broncos faced the Buffalo Bills on Christmas Eve, and the Broncos were beaten pretty soundly. Maher, apparently in his role of "original observer of the modern world", had to tweet about the loss. According to the Washington Post in an article entitled Bill Maher and Tim Tebow: Why are so so many offended by the quarterback’s faith? reports that Maher tweeted: , “Wow, Jesus just [expletive] Tim Tebow bad! And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is Tebowing, saying to Hitler, ‘Hey, Buffalo’s killing them.’” (For those not familiar with the lingo, "Tebowing" is the process of kneeling on the field to give thanks to God that Tim Tebow made temporarily famous in his short stint as quarterback.)

Some people have called for a boycott of HBO in response to the tweet. That's a better idea than boycotting Maher's program. After all, if he lost half his viewers no one would notice anyway. But I'm not blogging to advocate boycotting HBO. At least, Maher didn't say anything in the tweet that was unexpected given his prior comments, so there is nothing new here to justify the boycott. And since I don't subscribe to HBO (and never will given the low quality of programming they show), my boycotting of HBO would be merely a token gesture.

There are two things I note. I've already alluded to the first: Bill Maher has no class. He thinks he is bright, enlightened and funny. I contend he is none of the three. Rather, he's more like the wise guy in middle school who thinks it's funny to say outrageous things while teachers stand and frown because in the broader picture the child doesn't have a clue. He chooses to use foul language about God and bring Hitler into the picture because he thinks it makes him edgy. He's wrong.

The second thing I wanted to point out is the article from the Washington Post that I cited earlier. Author Sally Jenkins makes an outstanding point in the article that I want to share. She asks what it is about Tebow's "Tebowing" and references to God that makes non-religious people like Maher squirm. She has a good answer:

What is so threatening about Tebow? It can’t be his views. Tebow has never once suggested God cares about football. Quite the opposite. It’s Maher and company who stupidly suggest a Tebow touchdown scores one for Evangelicals whereas an interception somehow chalks one up for atheism. Anyone who listens to Tebow knows he doesn’t do Jesus Talk, he’s mostly show and no tell. His idea of proselytizing is to tweet an abbreviated Bible citation. Mark 8:36. He leaves it up to you whether to look it up. When he takes a knee, it’s perfectly obvious that it’s an expression of humility. He’s crediting his perceived source, telling himself, don’t forget where you came from. On the whole, it’s more restrained than most end zone shimmies.

So why does Tebow’s expression of faith make people so silly-crazy? Why do they care what he does?

Because he emphasizes the aspect of his talent that is given, not earned.

And that makes people nervous. The reactions to Tebow seem to fall under the category of what theologian Michael J. Murray calls “Theo-phobia.” In his essay “Who’s Afraid of Religion?” Murray argues we’re ill at ease with intrusions of personal faith. We fear they could lead to oppression, or mania, or even prove us wrong. We prefer to keep religion at the abstract distance of historical or socio-cultural discussion, the safe range described by historian George Marsden, “like grandparents in an upwardly mobile family, tolerated and sometimes respected because of their service in the past. . . but otherwise expected either to be supportive or to stay out of the way and not say anything embarrassing.”

When Tebow kneels on the field, his religion becomes challengingly present. Tebow doesn’t have to get into a bunch of Jesus Talk to put you or me in an uncomfortable state of mind. It’s more subtle than that. Murray suggests, if I have a reaction to The Knee, it’s because Tebow implies “that there is something in the universe over and above the natural which deserves my attention, allegiance, or honor and I find that distasteful or irritating.”

Just when you’re trying to mindlessly surrender to an afternoon of pleasure, Tebow begs the question, what if faith actually, well, works? Regardless of whether you believe Tebow’s athletic talent is random and indiscriminate, or bestowed and directed, when you watch his fourth-quarter comebacks it is impossible not to notice that faith is an undeniable performance enhancer, at least as powerful as any drug. For whatever reason.

Good points. During this season of Emmanuel ("God with us"), Tebow's kneeling on the field reminds people that he (like many Christians) really does recognize that God is with us -- not only when we are in church but when we are at work or at play. Maher, and others semi-wits like him, want to ridicule that acknowledgement because it challenges their belief that only those things that they think are true are true.

I think I'll root for the Broncos to win on Sunday, and regardless of whether they do I will be happy to watch Tebow stop to recognize God and provide him with this small token of praise as the creator.


Anonymous said…
As a skeptic, I have to point out that Bill Maher is in the business of trying to draw attention to himself and being as "in your face" atheist about someone who's so "in your face" a christian as Tebow is a great way to do just that. He's not just trying to be helpful about a public issue, he's publicizing himself.

As a former Christian, I have to point out Matthew 6:6, which seems missing in the discussion.

As an atheist, on a personal level, I don't care about Tim Tebow's "Tebowing" towards the Almighty anymore than I do PDAs between romantically involved couples-- immodest perhaps but worthy of an eye-roll at most.

As a football fan, I don't think Tebow's actual quarterbacking is particularly divine and most analysts agree. In my opinion, he's enjoying what almost every rookie or replacement quarterback experiences when they first take over-- the success that comes from playing against defenses that have not had the benefit of breaking down tapes of his play. Mark my words, if the Broncos start him next season, it won't be for long.

As a human being, I think there are worse things in the world than someone crediting their success on the field to a higher power and I truly believe Tebow is as quick to turn to his faith when he's not having so much success either. So, in that regard, I credit him for being authentic, even if I don't agree with his religion or his political views.

Lastly, some parting quotes:
"You never see a football player blame God after a loss. Just once I want to hear a receiver say 'Jesus made me drop that pass.'" - George Carlin

"If God cared who won these games, he'd buy a ticket." - Bobby Knight

Enjoyed the post.

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