Tuesday, June 8, 2010

If This Counts as Anti-Religious, I Must Be The Anti-Christ

So, it's been nearly a month since I first heard episode 184 of Real Time with Bill Maher. And let me tell you, this was the episode that made me think, "Maybe I shouldn't be listening to Bill Maher at work". Because I was spitting mad. You wanna know how mad I was? Well, I'll let Madeline Kahn take it away:


That reminds me: I should probably buy Clue at some point.

So, what got me so worked up? Bill Maher's discussion of anti-religious sentiment in the "Liberal Media" with S.E. Cupp. Because nothing makes me more pissed off than the assertion that any media is anti-religion. Because, as an atheist, I can point out to you pretty damn quickly how not anti-religious media, in general, really is. Bill Maher is a somewhat less than stunning example of actual anti-religious sentiment in today's media, less than stunning both due to his anti-religion as well as the application of his anti-religion in his anti-religious arguments. So, first part of the conversation that had me responding to Cupp, out loud, in a cubicle, at my Very Religious place of work. So, hold onto your hats, folks, because this is going to be a doozy of a long post. Aaaaaaaand, start:
BILL MAHER: Let me give you your examples. This is the - I'm reading the - this is the end of your "A Decade of Lowlights From the Liberal Media".
S.E. CUPP: Yeah.
MAHER: These are your first three examples: Here's Joy Behar, she's tal - and this is one of your examples - she's talking about -
[Talking Over Each Other]
CUPP: And she's a friend.
MAHER: evolution. She said -
[Talking Over Each Other Again]
CUPP: I do her show.
MAHER: "You have to teach both. Darwinism is not some kind of religious fervor. Teach both." So she's for teaching both Darw-
CUPP: No. What she said was that teaching Creationism to kids should be akin to child abuse.
MAHER: No. She said you have to teach both.
CUPP: She said that facetiously.
MAHER: Well, that's interest that you can divine that.
CUPP: She said on The View - she said on The View that teaching Creationism should be -
[Talking Over Each Other AGAIN]
MAHER: Darw-
CUPP: child abuse.
MAHER: I have it - yes she did. She said, "Darwinism is not some kind of religious fervor thing. You want your children to go into the world being ignorant? That's child abuse". Yeah, it is.
CUPP: I-I-I don't think that's true. I think and-and-and-
[You Know The Drill, Right?]
MAHER: That's not an anti-religious statement.
CUPP: the majority of the people who teach their kids Creationism because it's a nice Christian allegory I don't think are guilty of child abuse.
I'm going to stop here, for a second. Because Cupp's argument here is bullshit, but what truly makes it crap is that last line: "the majority of people who teach their kids Creationism because it's a nice Christian allegory". She flips the argument on its head. She changes what Creationism is. Creationism, as something that is taught in schools, is not an allegory. It is being taught as fact, or at the very least a theory at least on par with Darwinism. Allegories are what Aesop used. Allegories are fictional stories we can cull wisdom or understanding from. I don't have a problem with allegories. I love allegories. I have a problem with people insisting their religious doctrine be taught in public schools.

Here's my problem with Creationism. It isn't that some people believe it, though I do weep for the state of the world when people can turn that much of a blind eye to scientific fact. It is that a segment of the population wants to insist that their version of the world be codified as scientific truth. It is that a bunch of powerful, bullying people want to push their vision of the world as it was formed onto every child in their community.

If a parent wants their child to believe that the world was created in seven days, that human beings have always been as we are now, and that the earth is significantly younger than any scientific test has led us to believe, they are welcome to teach their child that. Within the comfort of their own home. Or in their church. Or both. But they do not have the right to have that belief imparted within the confines of a public school in the guise of science. That isn't anti-religion. It is pro-education. It is pro-understanding. It is pro- "You can teach your child whatever the fuck you want outside these walls". For S.E. Cupp (who I keep wanting to call "C.E. Cupp", for some reason) to call Joy Behar's remarks anti-religion is either a fundamental misunderstanding of religion (in which case, I think she wasted a lot of money on her Masters in religious studies), or purposefully misconstruing "religion" with "Christian Fundamentalism". And that's because there are plenty of Christians who do offer up Genesis as an allegory, but don't believe in Creationism and do believe in the Theory of Evolution. Some of those Christians, I have even met.

And here's how not anti-religious the media is: whether or not she was being facetious, Joy Behar said "they" should teach both - and I'm assuming the "they" are the schools. No. The schools, and the teachers who have gone to institutions of higher learning in order to teach science at public schools, should teach the theory of evolution. Stop. They should explain what "theory" means in scientific terms. And if parents want their children to hold a differing view, they can either pull their children from those classes when evolution is being taught and teach them whichever theory of life on earth floats their boat, or they can allow their children to be taught evolutionary theory and then also teach them whichever theory of life on earth floats their boat. But that is the parents' responsibility. And, frankly, I find it quite ludicrous that after all the screaming the Right does about parental responsibilities, they want to foist this one off onto public institutions.

And, onward:
MAHER: Okay, the second one you quoted is John Meacham, the editor of the -
CUPP: Newsweek.
MAHER: Newsweek. We have - he's a religious guy.
CUPP: Yes, he is.
MAHER: He doesn't like -
CUPP: The cover of Newsweek declared the death of Christianity - on Easter [laughs disbelievingly].
MAHER: Are you kidding me.
CUPP: It's preposterous.
MAHER: Jesus or Mary is on the cover of Newsweek or Time, like, every other week [TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: I subscribe to Newsweek. This is pretty accurate.]. If Jesus had an office on Sunset Boulevard and you walked down the corridor, he'd have his magazine covers on every wall!
...
CUPP: But Bill - one of those - one of those - one of those stories -
MAHER [Talking Over Her]: You're crazy.
CUPP: was saying that you can actually read - if you read the Bible correctly - it actually supports gay marriage. I mean, it's one thing to show these covers, but come on!
MAHER: Well that's - you're picking out one little raisin in a giant piece of bread, there, lady.
Stopping again, because as much as I now love the phrase "picking out one little raisin in a giant piece of bread", this here highlights Bill Maher's mediocrity in actually winning arguments.

First, declaring the death of Christianity isn't anti-religion. At most, it can be anti-Christian, and only the most arrogant fuck would dare insinuate Christianity=Religion. Secondly, it isn't anti-religious to believe that a religious text can be read in a different way than the dominant view. That'd be like someone being anti-Shakespeare because they wrote an analysis alleging Antonio is gay in The Merchant of Venice. It is profoundly pro-Christianity to look to the Bible for guidance, and find helpful answers within. Lisa Miller's Newsweek article, the one Cupp refers to, makes several salient points, most notably:
Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should.
In other words, Newsweek and Lisa Miller aren't anti-religion. They're just arguing against a certain tenet of certain people's religion. Miller's argument is very much rooted in her reading of religion itself (and she's not alone). So, what Cupp is arguing isn't that the media is anti-religion; just that it is anti-the-Right's-religion-of-choice. Because it isn't even anti-Christian. It may argue against the tenets of Fundamentalist Christian belief. But that isn't the long and short of religion.

Once more, into the breach:
[BREAK in the RELIGIOUS TALK]
MAHER: Let me get back to the premise that the liberals and the media are anti-religion. The pre - the things I talk about, are questioning, "Is faith good? Or that prayer doesn't work. That's the things I say. It's just me and a couple of cartoons -
CUPP [Interrupting]: No! You're so wrong!
MAHER: Who are saying that.
CUPP: No!
MAHER: Tell me one other person in the media -
[Talking Over Each Other]
CUPP: I'll tell you! I will go down.
MAHER: who ever questioned whether faith was good or prayer worked. Brian Williams?
CUPP: No.
MAHER: Keith Olbermann?
CUPP: I will go - I will go -
MAHER: Katie Couric?! None of them.
CUPP: Ohmygod! I can give you those examples right now!
MAHER: Tell me -
CUPP: Chris Matthews - Chris Matthews said -
MAHER: Chris Matthews is a devout Catholic!
CUPP: Chris Matthews said that Sarah Palin and Michael Steele praying on big decisions isn't normal. Rachel Maddow said that the National Day of Prayer infringes on her right to religious freedom.
MAHER: It does.
CUPP: Keith Olbermann called pro-lifers religious jihadists. I could go on.
MAHER: That's not - they're not questioning the essence of religion. This is a country that worships religion.
CUPP: Of course they are, Bill. Of course they are.
And there endeth the religion discussion.

And here is where Cupp is oh so very wrong. Well, maybe not about Chris Matthews; but even I, disliker in the extreme of Chris Matthews, is going to assume that what Cupp said and what Matthews stated probably doesn't meet up eye to eye. And I'm not even going to try to argue that Keith Olbermann never compared pro-lifers to jihadists, because I'm pretty sure he did. But there is a difference in criticizing the religious and how they practice their religion - like, by harassing pregnant women seeking abortions and celebrating the deaths of abortion providers or by claiming God has provided you with the answer - and being anti-religion. To equate the two is to wrap the religious in the protection of religion, because criticizing them and possibly how they demonstrate their religiosity is to suddenly become anti all religions, everywhere. And that is a ridiculous standard.

As for Rachel Maddow's position, I am pro-religion, including but not limited to gospel music, religious architecture, and church signs that say things like, "Now Open Between Easter and Christmas", "Our Sundays Are Better than Baskin Robbins", and "A Bible in the Hand is Worth Two on the Shelf". I'm a fan of the screed put by the philosopher Lennon, that being "Whatever gets you through the night, 'salright, 'salright". Unless what gets you through the night is telling me how to get through my night, because I've been getting through my night for 24 straight years fine and dandy. But the National Day of Prayer is something that makes me very uncomfortable, because it does infringe on my right to religious freedom. It is a day encouraging people to pray, and that doesn't just alienate me as an individual; it makes those with my beliefs alien. It makes us other. And for a people who are already pretty thoroughly othered, it is a bit of a blow to have an entire day dedicated to something that does that by my government. The government I voted for. And it comes down to one truth:

The absence of the mention of God is not the same as denying the existence of God. It merely gives those of us who do not believe a bit of breathing room.

Cupp, as an atheist, is choosing to defend the monolith of Christianity, and the section of Christianity that is Evangelical at that, for whatever the reason. But while the proof she pulls out may indicate that there are those on the left who disagree strongly with Evangelicalism, that there are those on the left who are anti-Evangelical, she has no evidence of anti-religious sentiment on the part of the Left or the media - again, aside from Bill Maher. Ironically, due to her constant defense of Christianity's privileged position in media matters, she herself is anti-religious, because she is anti-religious plurality. She is only pro-Evangelicalism. Hopefully, the next lefty she tussles with will point that out to her, and will point out that other sects of Christianity also exist. Because Cupp doesn't seem to recognize that fact.