HomeCurrent IssueBearcat Bullet: Not that kind of atheist

Bearcat Bullet: Not that kind of atheist

By Juliana Cohen

Our country has never elected a president who identified as an atheist.

This bothers some people, especially those concerned with the separation of church and state.

Don’t get me wrong: making the division of religion and state a central provision of our government turned out to be a rather successful experiment. I am taking a class right now (with Stephen Patterson) that debates Christianity’s implications for American culture, which inevitably bleeds into governance.

American activists who blame religious tendencies for most of our problems enter incredibly disrespectful zones in their discourse. Any mention of the word “God,” even metaphorically, sets some people off, who will then feverishly attack their credibility.

Non-believers like Bill Maher exude horrible incredible arrogance; he often says things about cultural norms of places he has never been to and traditions that he refuses to understand in any kind of holistic way.

I’m talking about his very polarizing “Real Time with Bill Maher” roundtable discussion with Sam Harris (author of “The End of Faith”) and Ben Affleck, which provoked a response from Reza Aslan, a religious scholar born in Tehran.

Both Affleck and Aslan balked at Maher’s characterization of Islam as “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing,” to which Affleck responded, “That’s gross and racist.”

I used to watch and enjoy Maher. As an edgy high schooler, “Religulous” validated my views much in the way that actual religious people probably relate to each other. Like me, Maher is culturally Jewish but also an atheist.

After a little more time and education, I began responding differently to his snide comments and patronizing humor. In “Religulous,” Maher literally walks around areas of rural America and makes fun of lower- to middle-class citizens for just living their lives.

In a YouTube video I found that pretty much sums up “public stunts,” (which really make you look like an asshole), a man in a fedora marches up to a homeless man with “God” written somewhere on his sign and offers him $20 to cross the word out. The recipient of this rude gesture didn’t accept the deal, which incurred a long interrogation that makes one understand why Athens executed Socrates.

Maher and the presumptuous YouTuber in the fedora have much in common.

When Maher makes the mafia analogy, his tone turns comical and incredulous, as though not seeing it his way were unimaginable.

“Real Time,” which airs on HBO in order to accommodate Maher’s “unedited” quips, provides insight into the host’s superficial relationships with celebrities like Seth MacFarlane or Rob Lowe. Politicians, journalists and comedians sit around a table ultimately controlled by the host. Maher’s smothering self-assurance leaves even the most powerful people unable to really make a point without him talking in circles.

The redundant phrase “thinking for oneself” fuels a lot of self-congratulatory talk among atheists, as if it were some unique trait. ISIS probably fits the description of a cult, and so does a group of people that demonizes a quarter of the Earth’s population for following a spiritual routine.

jacohen@willamette.edu

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