Comedy has many approaches and subjects: leaders, governments, things we don't understand. In the vein of the latter, I suppose it is understandable to pick on religions. In any event, freedom of speech allows it. What is generally not condoned, however, is continuous and repeated sweeping insults to those with a differing point of view. The worst forms of prejudice and racism are bred out of this type of one-sided banter. Blacks in this country were never given the chance to defend themselves against claims of being less intelligent than whites during the time of slavery. Jews and non-Aryans were never given a chance to defend their humanity during the Holocaust, Muslims were never given a chance to defend themselves during the Crusades and on and on.
Whenever a group of people is slanderously described repeatedly with no consideration of a contrary view intolerance flourishes, and the seedbed of human rights violations is laid. We should be more careful. Our country still feels the effects of slavery, the Holocaust is an unmentionable tragedy, and even the most fervent Christian regrets the Crusades. How is it then, that in this country we still hear this sort of rhetoric from seemingly intelligent men? Why is it that yet another group is being subjected to one-sided slander? Is it because comedians and some members of the more serious media are only willing to pick on people who generally don’t defend themselves?
This time the group is Christians, and one of the more recent incidents of this malevolent behavior came from Bill Maher. He’s been known to go on rants, but he made another one recently. I’m certainly not advocating that Mr. Maher be stripped of his first amendment rights, but I'd prefer he show some humanity and attack the belief system rather than the adherents. I can appreciate an equal opportunity comedian, but when the focus is monomaniacally focused, it breeds the sort of prejudice that divides people and sanctions prejudice. I hope these are not things that Bill Maher desires and that he simply didn’t realize the historical similarities, but that is the danger.
The rant was incited by announcements for the upcoming movie "Noah" starring Russell Crowe. The movie prompted Mr. Maher to say things to indicate that God is a "psychotic mass murderer" and that Christians are crazy for worshipping someone who drowns babies. The rant continued for about five minutes during which time there was some laughter and applause, but his co-hosts seemed to become increasingly uncomfortable as the tirade continued. In a peculiar twist, Maher claims to be “pro-death,” indicating that he is in favor of capital punishment and abortion. If this is true, it would seem that he’d be in favor of a God who wiped out people who violated the law. Such is the irony of the sometime comedian, sometime pundit, and full-time provocateur.
The sad reality is that people such as Bill Maher often have little to no idea what they’re attacking. In search of irony, he may be inclined to focus on the negative, but even a modicum of balance reveals his uncharity. That he is engaged in 'comedy' is a thin defense. Christianity, the favorite target of Mr. Maher, is no exception. There are countless schools, hospitals and organizations to help the needy founded because of Christians, Christian churches, and Christian principles. There are dozens of Christian denominations, each with their own theologies and stances, and no one would describe them as unified about very much aside from the importance of Jesus Christ (though even this is sometimes at issue). To take a broad sweeping brush and attempt to apply it to "Christians" reveals Maher's own bigotry and ignorance. Fortunately, for him, in this country it often seems that intolerance of Christians is the last acceptable prejudice. It seems to be positively welcome in most quarters of what passes for mainstream media.
Like with any other group, the best way to understand Christianity is to spend some time with it, or with Christians, and have explorative conversations or, more importantly, to observe. Real understanding and familiarity is the product of prolonged exposure. Having a couple marginal Christian friends doesn’t make you an expert on Christianity, just as having a couple Jewish or Palestinian friends wouldn’t qualify you to make good judgments concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would certainly not qualify you to ridicule their beliefs or to characterized them for comedic effect.
As individuals, and as a country we need to take strides to understand those who think differently. Comedy can be lots of fun, and can even be a tool to help us see things in different ways, but it can only do that when it’s not insulting. Whether you want to call it karma or the golden rule, it’s intelligent to treat others nicely, because one day you might need help from them. With all the strife and problems of the world, it would seem that our time would be better spent in understanding rather than ridicule. The fact of the matter is Christians (as well as those of other faiths, and those of no faith at all) do a lot in this country to fight hunger and suffering and, if for no other reason, they should be respected and appreciated for that. Mr. Maher, I would like to respectfully ask you to change your focus to something constructive and use your talent to bring awareness to your listeners.