Bill Maher, host of the HBO talk show Real Time With Bill Maher, often asks his guests: “How can someone as smart as yourself actually believe in this religious stuff?” It’s fair question, one that a great many people ask themselves every day, and forms the premise of Maher’s recent comedy/documentary Religulous.
To many, religion seems quaint, anachronistic, even childish in today’s modern and post-modern world. To others, it is downright dangerous — particularly when religious fundamentalism begins to infect our modern-day political, academic, and scientific systems. Or worse, when it gains access to advanced technologies and devastating weaponry.
But there is something crucial missing from Bill Maher’s criticism of religion, which would prompt us to ask him, “How can someone as smart as yourself not realize that there is so much more to religion than just fairy tales? If we take a truly intelligent look at religion, wouldn’t we find something we can salvage from these great and enduring traditions?”
Here’s the irony: by virtue of their critiques against religious fundamentalism, Maher and other rational atheists are demonstrating capacities that can actually be more spiritual than the people and beliefs they are criticizing, in the sense that their rational world-views are more developed than the mythic world-views held by the fundamentalists. And it is true that we need to keep a cautious eye on these mythic, absolutistic, “us vs. them” expressions of religion, which have indeed been (and continue to be) some of the greatest sources of pain and suffering in history—and to this end, Religulous and other contemporary atheists are playing an important role in the overall cultural conversation.
But when we face religious fundamentalism with scientific fundamentalism and dismiss religion altogether, we are also dismissing history’s greatest source of liberation, compassion, and transcendence — the powerfully transformative practices and interpretations of spiritual reality that form the esoteric core of all the world’s religious traditions, east and west.
Listen as Ken and David discuss what Bill Maher (and the rest of the “New Atheist” crowd) are missing in this otherwise provocative and entertaining film.
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About Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.