Bill Maher on Christians and Osama bin Laden

June 9, 2012

Last month, America celebrated the 1-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Bill Maher, that mocker of religion who created the mockumentary Religulous, had a few choice words for evangelical Christians:

New rule: If you’re a Christian who supports killing your enemies, and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself.

…But you see, I can say that, because I’m a non-Christian — just like most Christians.

If you’re easily offended: take a pass.
The rest of you: discuss.

Related: Osama bin Laden’s Death, and Dr. Who

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

34 responses to Bill Maher on Christians and Osama bin Laden

  1. totally agree with what he’s saying here…but now what? since elementary school, i’ve believed in and practiced non-violence, because i believe that’s what we’re called to by Christ. but i keep my mouth shut about it, because i don’t really want to enter into arguments. it makes me cringe every time some kid goes in front of the church and announces he’s joining the military and the audience applauds. i guess i’ve heard all the excuses like that God had a different opinion of war violence and police violence than personal violence, i don’t need to hear them again. it’s just going to come down to them saying, “i disagree,” but with more emotional baggage. so now what?

    • Nathan,

      I think the connection between pacifism and following Jesus is being forgotten. Part of it, ironically, may be the lack of draft! There’s no need to register as a conscientious objector anymore. But that was a big choice to make until recently.

      But today, except for Mennonites and Society of Friends (Quakers), I’m not aware of much pacifism in American Christianity.

      I think it’s high time we start changing that.

      • So pacificism is the deciding line between Christianity and non-Christianity?

        • Linda L Lanning June 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm

          Thanks, Matthew,
          Exactly my point. If pacifism is the deciding line, then we have to throw out much of the New Testament, including Romans ch. 14, salvation through faith, ….etc.

        • Matthew,

          This isn’t a binary proposition. I’m well aware that Christians have had different points of view towards war.

          But pacifism in particular attempts to apply Jesus’s teachings literally, across the board, without separating personal violence from state violence. In the competition among “Christian points of view towards war,” it should at least be a contender. Not a forgotten relic.

          • Jon,
            You didn’t cite a Mennonite, and you didn’t quote a Quaker. Instead, you allowed Bill Maher, a self-professed non-Christian, to speak for you. And according to him, pacifism IS a binary proposition.
            You said very little to set up the clip, and so far you have defended his position in the comments. So, how does your opinion differ from his?

            • So are you willing to consider criticism from a Mennonite, but not from an atheist?

              • You’re avoiding the question.

                • I suppose so, and I had to ask myself why. And I had an insight that may explain why you & I occasionally cross signals: we’re asking different questions. I think you’re more of a bounded set guy, while I’m more of a centered set guy. Let me explain:

                  Bounded set: In this context, you asked, “What is the deciding line between Christianity and non-Christianity?” In other words, who’s in and who’s out (and who gets to say)? If that’s your question, then sure, Bill Maher is working with a blunt knife. As Michael Snow writes in his book (see below), I’m not questioning the faith of Christians in the armed forces.

                  Centered set: The question I ask isn’t “what is the deciding line?” Rather, it’s “If my life were more Christlike, what would it look like, and where would it take me from here?” So when I see Bill Maher’s challenge (and knowing that it would resonate with many of my non-Christian friends), I take it personally, asking, “If this is what non-Christians think of us, are we really demonstrating the Way of Jesus? Am I?” And referring again to Michael Snow, I have to ask if there isn’t a higher way.

                  • Do professional sports players listen to their fans for tips on how to play the game? Then why are you listening to a professional heckler and saying, “He may have a point?” Are you “demonstrating the Way of Jesus” by listening to the mockery of non-Christians and ignoring the corrections of your fellow Christians? My understanding is that following Jesus inherently means making enemies (Matthew 10:34), not that we should seek them out (think Romans 12:18), but that they will naturally seek us out (John 15:18). Non-Christians criticizing us is the rule, not the exception.

                    • Matthew, you’ve come to an interesting question. Mind if I turn it into a blog post? I think I have more to say than comfortably fits in a comment.

                      But I wonder what you mean when you say I ignore the corrections of my fellow Christians. Disagree? Sure. Ignore? Not at all. If anything, our disagreements drive me to deeper prayer than simple agreement — and for that, I’m thankful for our friendship.

                    • I think you have taken my rhetorical question and treated it like an actual inquiry. Nevertheless, I look forward to the blog post.

  2. Linda L Lanning June 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    He makes some very good points, but he is also saying that if at the moment you become a Christian you don’t instantly become perfect, then you aren’t a Christian. Especially if you don’t get the part that he understands the way he understands it.

    • Linda,

      By holding up MLK (and Gandhi), I don’t think Bill Maher is calling for perfection. The problem is that polls show “White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified.” This is what he is shoving in our faces — and rightfully so.

      • Linda L Lanning June 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm

        So he’s saying that some (many?) of our brothers and sisters in Christ have political beliefs that are inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. And therefore they don’t deserve the name of Christian? So what? If my own beliefs were perfectly consistent, then I might feel that I have a right to throw stones. It is so easy to be superior to the other person. All you have to do is chose a position where you have the higher moral ground.

        • Hi Linda,
          I don’t know where you’re getting this 100%-pure-or-nothing thing.

          What are you reacting against, really?

          (You don’t have to answer me. Without condescension—really—it’s possible that the Spirit is using this to ask you that question.)

          • Linda L Lanning June 18, 2012 at 10:47 am

            Umm ….. are we discussing the same post? I am getting the all or nothing part from;

            “New rule: If you’re a Christian who supports killing your enemies, and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself.

            …But you see, I can say that, because I’m a non-Christian — just like most Christians.”,

            which is a direct quote from the video and printed just above the video on my copy of this post. I took that to be the main point that Bill Maher was making and therefore an appropriate topic for discussion. And I am reacting against passing that kind of judgement on another Christian just because of a political difference of opinion, regardless of which side of the issue I stand on.

            Clearly, that is not what you meant to discuss here. So, what specifically did you intend as the topic for discussion?

            • Linda L Lanning June 18, 2012 at 11:21 am

              It also occurs to me that I might be reacting to the possibility of losing an old friend over a philosophical/political issue. Sorry, I was afraid that you might be agreeing with the all or nothing part, which would represent a shocking change from the person I knew “way back when”.

              • Oh, I’m still that guy from way back when. If anything, even more so 🙂

                • Linda L Lanning June 27, 2012 at 4:41 pm

                  When I was a vehement anti-Christian, I would go on rants about what was wrong with the church to my friend. In reply, all she would do was talk about her best friend Jesus. She never defended the church. She never joined me in criticizing the church. She just talked about her best friend Jesus. Was it annoying? Immensely! Eventually my life got to the point where I was willing to admit that I desperately needed Jesus. I still despised the church and was disgusted the thought of being part of it, but I wasn’t going to survive without Jesus and that made me a defacto member of the church whether I liked it or not.
                  When I met you & Kay, I had only been a Christian for a few months. You befriended me, invited me into your home and became the church to me. From the two of you (and a few others) I learned what it meant to BE the church. You accepted me just as I was ( and I was a real mess), let me spout off all my opinions, occasionally got into arguments (sometimes quite heated) and still treated my & my sometimes off-the-wall opinions with respect.

                  Why do I bring all this up here? Because the church CAN’T be defended against the accusers except by her LORD and Savior. We aren’t good enough. In this life. we never will be. Jesus loves us anyway. We don’t need to try to win people to the church. It isn’t the church that saves the lost but only Jesus and He IS perfect. Please think about this. The goal of evangelism isn’t to bring the lost into the church or to demand that the church fit our culture’s understanding of what perfection looks like. That, my friend, is the way of legalism and condemnation and does not come from the Holy Spirit.

                  The more I get to know God and the more He remolds me in His image, the clearer who He is becomes. As each decade goes by, I see more and more clearly how far from the perfection of Jesus that I am and and how much farther I have to go than I ever imagined when this journey started. As I hope for grace and mercy, I attempt to extend the same to my brothers and sisters.

  3. Nice post. I think Bill and I could become friends…sort of. We Christians have forgotten that the government is for maintaining order amongst those who are law breakers in society and that is a hard world. American Christians have enter into the politics and judgement of this society, when we are primarily called to saving, forgiving, and growing the fellowship of God’s love. The Christian heart of this nation has become hard with judgement . We have forgotten how to empathize with God and man. We have become afraid to look into the hearts of our fellow human being lest we too have our hearts broken and be moved with compassion.

    • David,
      Yeah, me too, sort of. I think what I’d want him to see is how much I might agree with him. And where we disagree, how much I’m willing to try seriously listening to in order understand.

      Maybe the next time I feel prompted to pray for those in our government, your comment will remind me to ask God to soften their hearts.

    • David, I whole-heartedly agree with you. This is the part of American “Christianity” that I find hardest to swallow, as an outsider. (I’m agnostic.) As you say, there is a harsh judgmental aspect to the public faith of many Americans that seems oddly out of place with the tenets of Christ as I understand them.

  4. For anyone interested in this topic, you can read a bit about my journey from Marine to Christian pacifist with the Look Inside feature on amazon, here:
    Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way

    • Thank you for sharing this, Michael!

      Two things jump out from my brief perusal via Look Inside as they pertain to the discussion above:

      “Pacifism, or any other fruit of the Narrow Way, is not a pre-condition for salvation, but Christ’s followers should desire to bear as much fruit for our Lord as is made possible by His power.”

      “Here, I believe, is a key to Christian discussion about warfare: abstractions take precedence over concern for individual human lives.”

  5. Jon,

    I am not sure what you would expect as a comment on Maher. Does it resonate? Not really. He is playing for easy and obvious laughs with very little analysis. There is nothing new in the assessment that evangelical Christians are hypocrites and about as Christian as the monkeys in the monkey house.

    • Hi,

      I’m not sure it’s about being hypocritical. It’s one thing to say Christians don’t live out their beliefs perfectly. Isn’t It another to say that American Evangelicals are more likely to support torture than American non-evangelicals.

      Assuming that we agree that torture is a pretty big deal, isn’t it a question of a culture issue rather than a hypocrite issue? It’s one thing to make enemies, isn’t it another to be known as a faith for being pro-torture.


      • I’ve just re-read your comment (I read it a couple of times first) and think I may have misread you – sorry if my answer misses your comment completely. 🙂

    • Will,
      So it doesn’t resonate, because it’s too easy?
      What are some characteristics you would expect of a non-hypocritical Christian?

  6. I don’t usually respond to Jon’s posts mainly because a wife is obviously a bit biased about her husbands thoughts. But a couple of things jumped out at me while reading these comments.

    Linda, Matt, you are both quite correct. It is not the job of a non believer to determine what is and is not Christian.
    And the comment that much of what he said was for cheap laughs is also probably correct.

    But having said that I would like to set down some basic understandings of faith here.. (forgive me, I mainly write to my fellow followers now…)

    1. God is creator of all and is free to use anything within that creation to keep his children on their toes and going the right direction. Even non-Christians. When believers close our ears to comments simply because of the source from which it comes, we are telling God that He is only allowed to use certain people to speak his truths into us. I am not brave enough to tell God that. I would rather ask God to make clear through his Holy Spirit what is and what is not from Him.

    2. God has always cared more about WHY we do things than WHAT we do. I think even Michael would agree that it isn’t his pacifism that is so vital as the true belief and obedience to Christ that brought him to that decision.

    Man looks at the surface but God looks at the heart. We as little Christs need to do the same. where is our heart in all of this? Bill has no clue where our heart is. He doesn’t care. But I, as a Christian don’t have that luxury. I have to care. do we know what the heart behind those individuals who answered the questionnaire is? I am not a fan of surveys. they only show a very very small part of what goes on inside a person. But God sees the whole person. the question is, do we trust him enough to ask what, if anything he is saying to our hearts through this.

    • Linda L Lanning July 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      Thank you for speaking up. I value your insight as much as Jon’s and (since you have a mind of your own 🙂 ), you always add value to a discussion.

      My dear friends,
      Thank you so much for another brisk theological debate. I had forgotten how invigorating they are and how much I have missed them. They do so much to help me clarify my understanding.

      I see that we will once again have to agree to disagree, since we are seeing this from completely different angles. I find that I cannot (nor do I want to) apologize for the shortcomings of the church. If I did that, it would seem to me that I would be apologizing for the wild extravagance of God’s love that calls everyone to come to Him just as we are with all our warts and failings and trust Him to remake us in His image in His own timing, each of us at our own uniquely different path into the center of His heart.

      I realize that you see this from a radically different viewpoint and I won’t presume to tell you that you are not hearing from God on this. Your path is your own and you are clearly pursuing God with all your heart. May God richly bless your path into the center of His heart!

      • Linda,

        Nah, I dont apologize for the church either. I look at it and say. “Wow! God is so amazing. He can show his glory to people even through messed up vessels like us!” I think one of the most profound things you said in this discussion was about how your friend kept talking about her friend Jesus. That’s what it all boils down to for me. I want as many people as possible to meet my friend Jesus. He calls each of us to different ways of going about that. Some to hold the church accountable to her first love, some to stretch the church in new directions she didn’t expect. Still others to listen to the outside world and discern how best to show Christ to them. But in the end all parts of the body work together because there is only one body. One Bride of Christ. Drawing people and inviting them to meet Jesus. Heh. It does mean we sometimes can get into disagreements though. Even Peter and Paul had their…moments.

  7. Well as a non-christian reading these comments its seems you all missed the point and just got defensive….his point: you as a faith to the rest of us look like a bunch of hypocrites. Yeh yeh ‘it’s not a non-beleivers job to tell us what to beleive blah blah blah.’ Don’t give me that bull, what are you too afraid to take critisism from someone? There is a difference between being perfect and not supporting torture. As Bill points out Jesus was all about non-violence. And Christians (not all but plenty) are pretty violent. Torture? Doesn’t get much more violent (Aside from Muslim terrorists , they take first prize for violence) . As Bill said those Christians are obviously missing a pretty big part of Jesus’s teachings. And this is comedy but some of his comedic jabs are also some really got points “Its in that book you hold up when you scream at gay people” …if someone asked me if I had to pick a group that was the most judgmental (and not just the fringe elements but decebt proportion of the group) I would easily and unforgivingly say Christians …especially the Fundamentalist or Evangelical kind. That should be a red flag to Christians as a whole that they are not all that “christlike” or atleast not as much as they thibk they are, but you just scoff when the critism comes from someone other than a Christian, apparently. (based on comments on this thread)
    I’m not saying I hate Christians, I have plenty of Christian friends and family (and by plenty I mean at least 75% of them) I love them very much. I do not care wheather someone is Christian or not, but I wish more Christians at least attempted to follow Jesus’s teaching about love non violence and charity, instead of the church teachings about not reading harry potter, not being gay, converting everyone you see , ect.

    Understanding how the non-christian world sees you is not a sin. Isn’t a big point in Christianity to teach by example? Well listen to us when we say loud and clear “Practice what you preach before you preach it to me!”

    and before anyone jumps down my throat: I was a Christian, I am no longer a Christian. No, I am not irreligious , I converted to a different religion. And for the sake of my sanity I will not mention what it is on a Christian forum.

    Ps. If I offended you, grow thicker skin and get over it I am just some no-one on the internet. My intent was not to offend but to explain from a non-christian perspective.

    • Hi Michi,
      Thanks for bringing your perspective as a non-Christian. I appreciate it.
      You seem… a bit jumpy. Have you had times when you’ve felt like people jumped down your throat?