Bill Maher Claims All Religion is Stupid and Dangerous


Bill Maher responded to the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo by attacking religion, saying,

“First of all, there are no great religions. They’re all stupid and dangerous — and we should insult them and we should be able to insult whatever we want. That is what free speech is like.”

Yes, that is true. That is what free speech is like. You have the right to express your belief that religion is stupid and dangerous.

After all, as liberal activist Sally Kohn wrote yesterday in an op-ed at CNN, I can support the free speech rights of groups or individuals without supporting the message.

And she agrees with Maher that, “the principle of free speech means I can say what I want whenever I want it.” But she stressed her desire to “try to think carefully about the impact of my words — and how they might be felt among others whether or not they share my belief system.”

Maher clearly does not. Kohn says “it’s important we remember that free speech and respect can go hand-in-hand,” whereas if Maher thinks something is stupid or offensive, he is just going to say so, even if, as a result, he is just as stupid or offensive as that which he is criticizing.

This is really no more helpful than Catholic League President Bill Donohue saying the editor of Charlie Hebdo died because he was a narcissist. Is there any difference between Maher’s sweeping condemnations of all religion (i.e. everyone should be an atheist like Maher) than Donohue’s condemnation of radical Islam and secularism (i.e. everyone should be a Catholic like Donohue)?

If Maher were right, if all religion were dangerous, any old Christian (or Muslim) would be murdering people. But this doesn’t happen. We call the ones who do “extremists” for a reason, after all. Most of my extended family is Christian of one sort or another. None of them are killing people.

Sally Kohn pointed to the problem in a December 21 tweet:


And this problem is clearly behind Donohue’s thinking as well.

Screenwriter and producer Kevin Miller took issue with Kohn’s characterization, writing at Patheos that the rules don’t change for whites, that “White police shooter = all white cops racist.” He points out that “everyone has a blind spot, especially when the belief system upon which we have based our identity is threatened,” including Muslim leaders, he says, who want to portray the Charlie Hebdo killers as “lone wolfs” who do not represent all of Islam.

I do agree with Maher that there are no “great” religions. There are just religions. Saying there are “great” religions necessitates the claim that there are “lesser” religions, which means some religions are better, or more true, than others. Since all religion is belief, one cannot be greater, or more “true” than another.

I admit that I am offended by Maher’s remarks, but I am willing to admit also that Jan Assmann may be right when he argues in his “Of God and Gods: Egypt, Israel, and the Rise of Monotheism” (2008) that the term “religion” itself is so laden with “biblical implications” that if we call the biblical tradition and its derivatives, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – “religions,” we should substitute another term with respect to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.” And, it follows, Rome and Greece and ancient Scandinavia. He argues that religion, like paganism, “is an invention of monotheism.”

If “the perception of reality proper to monotheism” that is the thing we know of as “religion” is “alien to ‘paganism'” so then is the perception of reality proper to atheism. Though, unlike Maher, I am not offended by the very existence of his belief system, and do not “insult them and [believe I] should be able to insult whatever we want.” If I were to take Maher as an example, I could argue, as Maher does, if an atheists kills someone, that all atheism is stupid and dangerous.

No, not helpful at all. Better we recognize those blind spots Kohn and Miller spoke of, than to embrace the idea of collective guilt, or, as Miller puts it, “the exceptionalism we apply to members of our own group in such situations.” Maher, certainly, would be quick to point out that an atheist murderer was an aberration, and not representative of atheists in general.

There are Christians in prison, there are Muslims in prison, and yes, there are atheists in prison, and even Heathens in prison. Our belief systems are not the only things that guide our influence actions. So all religion is stupid and dangerous? Religion is no more dangerous than any other form of belief or worldview, including political ideologies, as has been proven by godless communism in the past century. Let’s face it: not everybody killed down through history has been killed in the name of one god or another.

What must be condemned is not religion, though I will admit from my point of view, Abrahamic monotheism has given religion a bad name, bad enough that I’m putting myself in Jan Assmann’s court on this one. And I can understand why atheists would be repulsed by religion while pointing out that ancient “cult” (to use Assmann’s substitute) has nothing to do with “religion.”

What we must condemn is extremism of any stripe. Any product of thought, religious, political, or otherwise, taken to such an extreme that its adherents believe everyone else must convert or die, or even that everybody else must be forced to think like us, whether this comes from a liberal or a conservative or a Christian or an atheist, must be condemned.

Bill Maher, like Bill Donohue, exercise his free speech rights. I support their right to say what they want to say because, like Kohn, I believe that does not require that I support what they say. I don’t. Either one of them. Nor they me, I am sure. But I believe we should use our words to try to make people think, to challenge their assumptions, not merely to say something is stupid, which I don’t find to be helpful at all.

And we must remember, and I have condemned the Religious Right on this account, that words themselves can be a form of violence. As Kohn argues, free speech comes with responsibilities.

I will leave you with this, and Bill with this gentle admonishment: If we lived in a fact-based world, and want those facts to matter, we should be less like Elisabeth Hasselbeck, not more.

60 Replies to “Bill Maher Claims All Religion is Stupid and Dangerous”

  1. Which still does not prove ALL religion is stupid and dangerous. Pol Pot is responsible for the deaths of over a million people, yet he outlawed religion.

  2. Lets face it, without religion there would have been no attacks on some fake prophet, and then no attacks on this charlie. Trying to say religion has no fault in this is taking the easy way out. This paper went after christians too, and the odds are sooner or later some beard wagging xtian may have done the same thing these muslims did

    Religion is stupid. People laugh at the Jehovah Witness’s for predicting the time the earth ends based on 1 mans determinations, but then go say the world is 6000 years old. Again, based on 1 mans determinations. The concept of religions is ridiculous

    If there were but 1 region world wide, there may be some credence to believing in it. But there have been thousands, and there is a 50-50 chance right now the real religion(if one existed) is no longer practiced

    And that’s my free speech for the day. I have to go to a Korean buffet and listen to a gaggle of Korean ladies. Never get a word in edgewise

  3. Let’s face it, there is religion. How do you know there would have been no attacks without your hypotheical no religion?

  4. Why would there have been any attacks with no religion? There would be no one making fun of a prophet. Why would anyone attack the magazine were there no religion to make fun of? To protest the advertisers?

  5. Please.
    Let us distinguish between religion and Institutionalized Religion. More to the point, perhaps, can we please reserve a decent regard for the Spiritual Dimension?

    That base and puny men corrupt The Spiritual Dimension for coin and power does not discredit The Spiritual. It merely condemns the pulpit… And that is as it should be.

  6. Ultimately, political; the assailants were of Algerian descent, and with a tradition of grievance behind them going back six decades and more. The cartoons were seen as acts of colonialist contempt (as they ultimately were).

    This country alone should be illustrative of the fact that (sensu latu) political objectives are garbed as religious imperatives in order to inspire the credulous to act, sometimes even against their own interests.

  7. All human perception begins with comparison/contrast. It precedes us-them, which in turn results in all ideologies of every stripe. All ideologies fall along a a scale of benevolence/malignancy, and it is the extreme ends of this scale that produces violence.

    I could be wrong, but it seems that our evolutionary intelligence just might be a failed experiment. Bring on the aliens!

  8. Grouping all people of any “religion” together is just another form of bigotry. It is no different than racism, homophobism, sexism etc. It is born of ignorance and generally passed on from parent to child.

    While education is the cure, most bigots seem to suffer from educationism too.

  9. The final irony is that there is nothing in the Koran or from the Prophet himself condemning blasphemy. Not a single word.

  10. Maher may be thinking of religions based on god revelations or dogmatic “Truths.” Holding false beliefs is “stupid” nearly by definition, even though some beliefs may be harmless, trivial or even helpful. God beliefs are non-trivial and far from harmless. They inform behaviors on a fundamental level. I think Maher is correct, faiths (belief without evidence) create dangers that threaten all of humankind. I would argue that faith is fundamentally a dumb idea and dangerous.
    It is nearly universally dangerous to hold unsupported beliefs (unless they are accidentally correct beliefs) of any kind, in any area of life (with trivial exceptions) and having unsupported beliefs is quite unnecessary in order to live productive, moral and useful lives or have healthy societies. Engaging in risky behavior (accepting major life governing theology without evidence) is a stupid idea, therefore the statement, “they’re all stupid and dangerous.” Most theists and philosophers will a…

  11. Bill is 100% right. Religion sucks. It is for those wanting to live in yesterday’s world where everyone believed in ghosts, goblins, witches and all manner of evil spirits. Religion is a crutch for the weak minded whose moral decay permits them to lie to themselves and pretend they are somehow going to live forever. It is for those willing to replace the real world with a delusion for the sake of them fooling themselves into believing they are somehow special and loved by an allpowerful big daddy in the sky. Religion is for those without any sense of a moral compass who believe everyone must be as morally defencent as they are and in need of some book or scripture to help them tell the difference between right and wrong. The biggest problem we are seeing with religion is that it is not sustainable within an information based society that permits free speech. Delusions just don’t do well with some stupid kid running around telling everyone the king has no cloths on.

  12. “If Maher were right, if all religion were dangerous, any old Christian (or Muslim) would be murdering people. But this doesn’t happen.”

    Your logic needs more logic. Driving a car is dangerous. The fact that every road trip doesn’t end in a crash doesn’t prove that cars aren’t dangerous. The 30,000 road deaths every year shows that they are.

    Not every religious person has to turn into a psychopathic maniac to prove religion is dangerous. Your opening line says, “Think responsibly”. I would rather you “think logically”.

    I agree with Maher. Religions are stupid because they are based on faith and belief rather than evidence, facts, science, reason, or any sort of objective reality. People who believe in something based on faith can be manipulated to anything. The history of religious violence in the world is enough to show that.

    Yes, political ideologies can be used to incite violence, too, but in those cases I would argue that the ideology is also based on faith, …

  13. All statements of fact are subject to proof. None are subject to disproof.

    If I say I have an invisible dragon sitting on my shoulder. It’s not up to you to disprove me. It’s up to me to prove it to you. If I can’t prove it to you, I can’t expect you to believe such an amazing claim. The working hypothesis for the reasonable person is that there is no dragon.

    If someone says God exists, it’s not my job to disprove them. It’s up to them to prove God exists. If they can’t, then they can still believe it all they want, but reasonable people can’t be expected to just accept it.

    That’s all atheism is. It’s saying that until someone can prove that there is a god, then the working hypothesis is that there isn’t.

  14. You’re obviously not familiar with the Koran.

    “And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.” 2:191-192

  15. I agree with Maher 100%. Religion will be the death of us all. Far too many horrible things have been done in the name of gods, and more horrors will come. I live in the Bible Belt where fundamentalists believe that God commands that we protect Israel, this relatively new country, as if it is the same Israel from biblical times. It matters not what their government does, we will back them because God commands it. The nutty Muslim extremists of course want to destroy Israel. This will lead to massive wars someday, and not like the old ones with shields and swords. Now we have nuclear weapons and all other manner of weapons capable of inflicting mass destruction to varying degrees. The time will come when conflicting religious beliefs lead to a war that results in at least hundreds of millions of deaths, and it will be all over nothing because there is no god just like there is no Santa Claus.

  16. No. That is a type of agnosticism.

    We human beings are basically germs on a damp grain of sand circling a small spark in an infinite fireworks display. We can see about seven spectral colors, hear a limited number of frequencies, survive in a very finite range of temperature, pressure, humidity, and light. The nature and extent of all existence is unknown and to a large extent unknowable by us. Even my hunting dog, a terrestrial placental mammal like me, has a far greater range of hearing, a far keener sense of smell, and a far more restricted perception of color. His “reality” is different from mine. And in the Sirian system, on some planet of Alpha Centauri, on a world orbiting Antares, in antiworlds, what do they perceive?…And all these perceptions together would still not comprise “reality”. Yet they would all perceive a tiny piece of it. Just so, either theism or atheism is a conjecture extrapolated from a perception of a tiny piece of reality. The only possible intellectual stance is agnosticism; let us be humble enough to admit we can’t *know*.

  17. As one not familiar with the Koran, I can’t comment on the historic context of the passage, but there was one. It applied to a specific battle that took place on the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century. You can go to Loonwatch and ask for an explanation. If your query is courteous and in good faith, someone will explain it to you. If it isn’t, Dr. M. will call you a fecal fascist.

  18. Whatever higher power a person believes in, or if they do not believe in a higher power, that is their choice. It is a spiritual dimension of that person. I think that there is nothing wrong with it.

    I do think that when religion and politics mix, and when certain people of a religious sect try to perpetrate fear, hurting others, in the name of their religion, that is when religion becomes dangerous. If Mr and Ms A decides to be a devout Muslim, live their life according to their tenets, and not try to coerce others into their beliefs, no harm. It is personal; therefore, as much as I love Bill Maher, I have to agree to disagree with him that all religion is stupid and dangerous. KEEP it out of politics and stop using it as a weapon, that is the danger and stupidity.

  19. You misinterpret my words and then refute them. That’s a straw man. I didn’t say each and every religious person would be killing people.

    Yet you say,

    “Not every religious person has to turn into a psychopathic maniac to prove religion is dangerous.”

    Which means this is also true:

    “Not every atheist has to turn into a psychopathic maniac to prove atheism is dangerous.”

    You have just shown you are a champion of collective guilt. Congratulations.

  20. If all Pol Pot did was banish all faith-based religions, his story would have gone much differently. What Pol Pot did was force other people to believe the way he believed. He is called an atheist, but what he really did was create his own secular cult.

  21. This “respect” religion sentiment is also dangerous. We must insult religions as we insult every idea and belief. If religion is good and worthy of continued belief, it will find a way to justify itself in the face of insults — and, eventually, the insults will stop.

    It’s the same thing we do to scientists. A person comes along and tells people that invisible things called “germs” cause illness and death. Everyone insults that idea because it’s crazy. But, the idea stood up to that, and now we insult people who don’t believe in germs.

    Religion should be no different.

  22. Also, don’t call what Maher is doing an “attack.” An attack is what the religious people did to Charlie Hebdo. He’s criticizing religion. That’s all.

  23. Bill Maher is correct. Killing people is just one of the terrible things go that religions do. So much hate is generated by religious leaders that our world is dominated by hate & intolerance.

  24. I feel sorry for all you people of little or no faith. There is a real God who created all things including all peoples. He, however did not create religion. Man did that! Yes, it is true there have been religious wars from the beginning of time. But not all killings are done in the name of religion. Nor are they all dangerous. The stupidity lies when people think we just appeared somehow, the Big Bang Theory, etc… I myself do not believe in religion for it does cause much strife. Spirituality, on the other hand is a very powerful thing, and can be used for good or evil. Study for yourself the Word of God. It says the natural (nonspiritual) man will not understand His Word as it will be foolishness unto him.Woe to you who are not ready when he comes. That’s
    where the stupidity and danger lie.

  25. Which god is real? There have been thousands of them over time.

    You should try to research the bang and the we just appeared thing. Thats a cliche

    You have the only god, Hindus have the only god, hundreds of thousands of local indigenous peoples have their own gods. Get the picture? You only think there is the god because you are born here. If we were in India we would be saying the same about Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. They are the only gods

  26. I thank God I was born here and have the privilege of knowing Him(GoD). I understand there are many other so called gods….a god is anything you let rule your life. I serve the God of the Holy Bible and personally believe The Word of God to be true. It’s obvious and science is also proving that historical events in the Bible are true. How do you think we got here?

  27. How do I think I got here?

    Well, the woman, piaba
    And the man, piaba,
    Tonton call baka lemon grass
    Lily root, belly root, gully root
    And the famous head is scratch scratch

  28. Ideology, is in ‘my opinion’ is the ‘slippery slope’ within Cultures! These Cultures develop into ‘Societies’ etc. etc. As Societies become Nations/Regions, development of these Societies that are in complete control of a Nation/Region, can live in Peace! Until, other ‘Ideologies/beliefs’ emerge! These other beliefs could be money/materials, for example: Rich means Power, Power is stronger than Local Beliefs, to the point the Powerful want to be ‘Gods’! History is ‘full’ of stories, like the scenario, I presented, within ‘Theology’ there are more examples of ‘Power, Lust, Greed, Sin’ that brought down ‘Kingdoms’ ‘Nation States’, etc.
    My Philosophy is: Ideologies/Religions/Beliefs are just different views of the same object: A ‘Higher Power/Energy Source’ with many names, but remains the same! As a Theorist/Philosopher, I believe in ‘Pure Energy’ as the ‘Creator of All! Quantum Theory of Everything, validates my ‘hypothesis’ of ‘Pure Energy’ does e…

  29. Reynardine, Past the woman and the man part none of your post made sense to me so I don’t know how to respond to you. Except to say God created man and woman as in Adam and Eve.

  30. Patrick, most people have no “sense of a moral compass” anyway. Why do you think Ayn Rand (one of her books is “The Virtue of Selfishness”) is so popular among Republicans now? In her atheistic world view, the more evil that you can get away with, the better. If there is no ultimate Judge, then Hitler, Stalin, and Reagan got away with murder, many times over. There *must* be some universal sense of justice to make living on earth tolerable. You don’t need a Heaven, but you sure as hell need a Hell. If Dick Cheney avoids prosecution for war crimes for the rest of his life, and there is no Hell, what’s the point of it all? If that’s the case, it’s better not being born into a world without justice.

  31. I agree with Maher, These religions are just old full of false beliefs that the human race should move past. If you want a religion, try, Living together in harmony with the belief that unlocking the secrets of the universe will give us a chance to truly discover why life and the universe exists. Perhaps one day we will discover if there truly is a god.

  32. Hraf,first I off I like your articles and your courage to speak truth to power as all of your writers here do. However Bill is correct when he denigrates all religion. It is quite obvious than MAN invented GOD out of the deep need to explain the world around him and like Frankenstiens monster it grew beyond his control and now has a DEATH grip on humanity. The obvious proof is that this “god” is just as ignorant and evil as those who worship him. I know your going to say that humans make their own minds up about how to practice their faith and yes they do. But they have “faith” in a complete fantasy! A complete fabrication. When you have a LIE you must continue to LIE to make it real, continual fabrication is the ONLY life blood of religion and without it religion dies. Religion has usurped EVERY good thing that man does, thinks, does or aspires to and has corrupted it with superstition. Religion is a mental virus and only atheists are immune to the ravages of this heinous LIE!

  33. “If I were to take Maher as an example, I could argue, as Maher does, if an atheists kills someone, that all atheism is stupid and dangerous.”

    Atheism is not a belief system.
    A crucial difference.

  34. docker, with all due respect what you’re talking about is pure paranormal metaphysics. Religion and institutionalized religion ARE BOTH THE SAME!! Because they are BOTH fabrications of MANKIND! This “spiritual” world you speak of is ALSO a fabrication of ancient and present day man, our imaginations can be a curse as well as a benefit and religion is the very curse of our over active needy fearful ways. When are people going to come to the logical conclusion that this “spirit,ghost, holy ghost soul crap is just that CRAP! To think that there is something after this life is absolute hubris! Make the most of THIS life and quit blaming evil on this alleged “devil” and good on the alleged “god”! Take responsibility for your life and throw away the crutch of superstition and faith.

  35. Wrong reynardine. Atheism and atheists are FACT BASED! the “proof” is there and is plain to see. Religion is “faith based” faith is ONLY a thought and there is not one shred of evidence to prove the existence of this god person at all. Now to clarify once more…Atheism= Fact, Science EVIDENCE based!! Religion= Faith,fabrication and “belief” based. I don’t know about you but I would much rather be part of a fact based system than a “faith” based system. Faith based leaves too much room for theological gymnastics is order to attempt an explanation or excuse in the light of overwhelming FACT!

  36. Wow Sue! are you trying to convince us or yourself? Sorry I’m too smart to buy your crap. Faith is ONLY a thought and a thought is an electrical charge in the brain with no mass. It ONLY means something to you or people who have this “faith”. I have thoughts but none involve this futile thing called “faith” I prefer the intelligent way and live by the facts. Religion is only viable when this “faith” is applied constantly, it needs this constant fabrication to exist. Evolution and atheism has no need to be constantly “propped up” by fabrication or “faith”. The facts stand alone strong and tall while your “faith” is a product of your imagination and lives in the ether and is easily vanquished by reality. Join us in the Real world Sue.

  37. SunnyDay, EXACTLY!! When you ask these bible thumpers about that you can see the gears turning as they do there best to fabricate or find a fabricated reason for that particular thing. I’ve had these dingbats tell me it was because of “pure god given genetics”..Pure Genetics..yet they all HATE the science of genetics because it PROVES Evolution. That is the Achilles heel of this thing called religion, they have to keep fabricating or looking for fabrications in that fabrication called the bible. While we atheists just point to the facts, it is that simple. There is a riddle that goes like this…How do you shoot down the holy spirit?…Ask it a pointed question. I love to ask pointed questions to bible thumpers and watch the gears turn and grind and smoke rolls from their ears as they try to recall a lie or make one up. It’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel and I enjoy watching them squirm.

  38. The concept “stupid” has objective standards, by which religions are reasonably classified as stupid and Maher is not.

  39. How do you prove that atheism is not a believe system but a scientific one? How can science prove that god- a spiritual being- is a human creation and not the Creator? How atheism explain everything around, so organized, and logic as you pretended to be? Why theism that is universal has the obligation to prove that God is real and you do not have to disprove him? It is obvious that you are not a scientist and in any event, the kind of scientific knowledge in which you pretend to base your atheism is and has to be imperfect by nature meaning that you cannot affirm with absolute certitude that God is a human invention. Your pretention that a theist has to prove the God existence while you only has to point to evolution is stupid. Evolving from what? From nothing to improving in everything; toward organization and perfection directed by the blind force of evolution? People like you sometimes learn by science the way in which an organ or system works, and becomes to believe that scienc…

  40. All religions are stupid, to control people and to tell other what to do or not to do. I agree, all religions are stupid, dangerous and sooner or later will disappear. And whoever does not think the same is stupid and is in danger too.

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