Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bill Maher's Religuous

I just saw Bill Maher's film, Religuous. I really liked it, although some parts came across as cheap. Michael Moore's films are much more polished, and Moore at least attempts to includes pieces of the other side (even if he leaves out a lot of information). But I suppose Maher, as a comedian, gets a pass, because he's doing it for comedy's sake. His main point is that non-religious persons need to fight against a rising tide of ignorance before its ill-advised passion overwhelms and destroys all of us.

While I enjoyed the movie, one "deleted scene" disturbed me. Maher meets Howard Bloom, who goes on a rabid rant against Muslims. Maher doesn't contradict Bloom and seems to agree that Islam is a) focused on taking over the world; and b) an inherently violent religion. Sadly, it was like watching Maher's version of Protocols of the Elders of Mecca.

Bill Maher and Howard Bloom are wrong for many reasons. First, they are on the wrong side of the economic tide. Muslims represent around one billion people and are therefore an ample source of trade. Increasing globalization--if done properly--will temper any cultural or religious issues. As Robert Wright points out in The Atlantic (April 2009, page 50), "When economics draws people of different ethnicities and cultures into mutually beneficial relationships, inter-ethnic and intercultural tolerance often ensues. (How many ethnic slurs are heard in transatlantic business class?)"

Second, to call Islam inherently violent means to ignore history and Quranic text. See The Atlantic (April 2009, page 52), which confirms that "the Koran's description of Christians and Jews as 'People of the Book'--adherents of Abrahamic scripture, like Muslims--seem[s] to provide a basis for tolerance." The Prophet Mohammad also stated, "There is no compulsion in religion." It's impossible to reconcile that statement with violence unless one is deliberately trying to be obtuse.

What about "jihad" and other scary-sounding names? That's something that happened after the Prophet Mohammad died. The concept of "jihad," didn't exist until the mid-seventh century, "after the death of of [Prophet] Muhammad." (Id.)

As for the modern-day war of words between Iran/Persia and Israel? That's brand-new and unprecedented. "In the case of ancient Israel, the empire in question was the Persian Empire, which Israel became a part of in the sixth century B.C. Previously, Israel's brushes with empires had been largely unpleasant. [You have to love the author's gift of understatement.] The Israelites were tormented by the Assyrians and, more famously, by the Babylonians, who forced Israel's elites into exile in 586 B.C. And the Hebrew Bible has the belligerent, xenophobic scriptures to show for these experiences...But after the Persians conquered the Babylonians and allowed the exiles to return home, Israel was on the inside, not the outside, of an empire, and a pretty congenial one--an empire that respected its subject's religious autonomy." (Id.)

What appears likely is that Islam's so-called inherent violence is a modern-day invention used to justify various agendas. First, countries need enemies to keep themselves sharp and moving--utopia is bad for progress. Second, the government, which includes the military, has no incentive to stop the flow of taxpayer dollars to themselves; therefore, any enemy is useful to rally the troops and to justify increased revenue. In fact, an abstract enemy, like a "War on Terror," is better than a tangible enemy (i.e., Iraq), because people might actually protest if you haven't defeated a tangible enemy after several years. In addition, abstract enemies are perfect to keep the money spigot flowing, because in a perpetual war, spending has to continue infinitely. Anyone who says otherwise just isn't a patriot, right?

America's decision to allow excessive military spending, has real life consequences (aside from the foreign civilians dying in wars). If we believed we had no real enemy, would we really allow our representatives to spend trillions on defense instead of health care, parks, infrastructure, teacher salaries, and other domestic spending? Of course not. Our failure to protest our government's spending decisions is causing us to forgo substantial benefits at home.

By the way, Bill Maher has been absolutely wrong before. See this funny rant ("Ode to Government"), where Maher praises the Post Office, saying he'd love our country to be like the Post Office:

And then read this article, which will give you some insight into why the Post Office chief has said, "We are facing losses of historic proportion. Our situation is critical." (The Post Office lost lost $2.8 billion last year.)


No comments: