The first couple of sentences from a recent Facebook post from Anne LaMott:
“I am reluctant to say I heard directly from God the other day, because somehow Bill Maher or one of the other fundamentalists might get word of it, and condemn me as being as stupid and dangerous as Mother Theresa or the Parisian terrorists.
But I did hear from God. So sue me.”
In the days following the terrorist attacks in Paris, I watched Bill Maher’s interview with Jimmy Kimmel, the one in which Maher referred to all religions as “stupid and dangerous”. The logical next step in a statement like that is that all the people who follow any religion are stupid and dangerous.
Think about that for a second…
Done? Okay, let’s move on.
I am a Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ. To some I would be labeled as a follower of a religion. I tend to argue with that idea because I don’t see myself that way. My definition of religion is a human-based search for God. As such, religions are our attempts at getting closer to God, understanding him better, appeasing him if need be; in other words, our human attempts to bridge the gap between the human and the divine.
One way of looking at the religions of the world is as many paths leading up the same mountain. At the summit of the climb up these paths is the same destination: God.
By that definition, I don’t feel that being a Christian means I’m part of a religion. My view of Christianity is that it is the story of God’s search for humanity. In other words, it has very little to do with my attempts to get closer to God. Instead, it has a great deal to do with God’s actions to get closer to me, to bridge the gap between the human and the divine through his Son Jesus.
Christianity, then, is the story of God coming down the mountain to us. Hence, not a religion in the conventional sense.
But Bill Maher would most certainly say I was a follower of a religion; a stupid and dangerous religion. So just for the sake of this post (and to make Bill happy) I will say I am a follower of a religion.
Now let’s examine that “stupid and dangerous” part.
In her quote, Anne LaMott throws out the name of Mother Theresa to make the point of how she feels about the “stupid and dangerous” tag. That made me laugh. I’ve always found Anne LaMott to be way funnier than Bill Maher anyway; but by throwing out the name of an esteemed and venerated Christian, she wasn’t just making a joke, she was also throwing down a gauntlet of sorts.
The kind of blanket statement made my Maher is indeed something associated with fundamentalism. Ironically, the very thing, as an oft self-proclaimed liberal, he would despise. Certainly it is a close-minded statement and one that leaves no room for an understanding of those you don’t agree with. If that ain’t fundamentalist, I don’t know what is! In fact, one who levies those kinds of statements might be labeled as stupid and dangerous by some.
Wow. Things that make you go, “Hmmmmm.”
But I am not in the business of fundamentalist rhetoric. I think Bill Maher is actually a very intelligent man. Likely he believes that what he does and says will lead to a more peaceful and harmonious world, too. In other words, he feels what he stands for is smart and helpful. From the positive side of things, when he is not tearing a strip off of something or someone he doesn’t agree with, he is certainly motivated in life by the belief in what is Good, Beautiful and True.
To Bill Maher, this may be called Atheism or Secular Humanism. If that is the path you’ve chosen, Bill, go for it.
But back to the fundamentalist feel of labeling all religions and, by association, all followers of religion as “stupid and dangerous”: This statement is overwhelmed and soundly defeated by the vast amount of evidence to the contrary. This evidence exists not only in history but in the present day.
My experience of religion is almost exclusively as a Christian so I am going to counter the “stupid and dangerous” tag from that angle. What I see that contradicts that blanket statement is profound and world-transforming.
Here are a few examples from history of the “stupid and dangerous” people who have been followers of Christ:
- Sir Isaac Newton
- Florence Nightingale
- Nelson Mandela
- Anne Sullivan
- Rosa Parks
- Helen Prejean
- C.S. Lewis
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- William Wilberforce
- Corrie ten Boom
- Jimmy Carter
- Thomas Aquinas
- Vincent Van Gogh
- Maya Angelou
- Abraham Lincoln
I could go on and on. The contributions to history, to medicine, to science, to justice, to literature, to art, to peace, to philosophy and to every other area of the human endeavor by Christians over the centuries is vast and varied. In the west we value democracy, our health care and our education so highly and yet rarely admit that it was on the foundation of Christianity that so many of these things were built. It was Christians, motivated by their faith and their desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, that formed world-wide organizations like Habitat for Humanity and World Vision, impacting thousands of lives in our world today.
In other words, we owe so much to so many who were motivated in life by the belief in what is Good, Beautiful and True. They also happened to be followers of a religion.
More things that make you go, “Hmmmmm.”
The “stupid and dangerous” label hurled out by Bill Maher frustrated me. I understand on one level where he’s coming from. Much hurt and pain and death and war has arisen from religion. Much blood has been shed in the name of God. But in no way could I ever slap a label on all the Christians I know that puts them in the same category as a suicide bomber or a fanatical crusader.
I get frustrated by blanket statements like this from atheists because of the real flesh-and-blood examples in my own life of Christians who are so completely the opposite.
I have personally known Christians who have taken young, pregnant women into their homes, given them stability and compassion, seen them through the birth of their child and into the next step in their lives.
I know many Christians who have fostered children who come from difficult and often traumatic family backgrounds, given them unconditional love and a sense of self-esteem, and assisted them to become confident adults.
I know many Christians who have adopted children from war-ravaged and AIDS-plagued countries; Christians who have given homeless people a home; Christians who have started community gardens; Christians who daily support individuals with developmental disabilities so severe they can be a danger to themselves and others; Christians who have traveled to dangerous areas of the world to bring health, education, community support and disaster relief; Christians who give thousands and thousands of dollars a year to organizations that care for the poor, widows, orphans, dispossessed and marginalized.
And I know Christians who have loved me regardless of how unlovable I am; Christians who have generously given me so much even though they had very little to give; Christians who have supported me and my family through mental illness, depression and anxiety; Christians who have willingly volunteered their time, energy and resources on my behalf.
If that is stupid and dangerous, then Lord, make me guilty of being stupid and dangerous more often.
Ultimately, pointing the finger at religions as being the source of all evil is simple-minded and myopic. We all, equally – religious or not – share in the darkness that can envelope the world. And we all, equally – religious or not – share the responsibility to bring light that can overcome that darkness.
I would much rather work side-by-side with the atheist I see as intelligent and compassionate than go head-to-head with the one who sees me as stupid and dangerous. Wouldn’t that go much farther in bringing what is Good, Beautiful and True into our shared existence?
I may not be the sharpest Christian in the box but that makes a lot of sense to me.