Colson’s Religulous ReviewOctober 22, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
Chuck Colson recently watched Bill Maher’s Religulous, but he’s not too offended by it. Instead, he sees it as just another platform from which to preach his gospel. He zeroes in on a scene where Maher is interviewing some believers at a truckers’ chapel.
He reminds them that guys in prisons and foxholes hang on to religion because they have nothing else. And then he says, “But you guys aren’t dumb.” In other words, Maher’s point is that the truckers should know better than to believe in God—unlike all those dumb prisoners and soldiers out there who don’t know any better.
Having been in prison myself, let me speak for those prisoners. Recognizing your need for God isn’t a question of “smart or stupid.” It’s a matter of recognizing who you are; your own insufficiency, the sin in your own heart—and prisoners get that. And then you have to recognize your desperate need for a Savior.
Maher doesn’t so much ridicule believers as he simply gives them an open mike and lets them make themselves look foolish. This leaves Colson with little to complain about, other than to gripe about how this makes Maher look good by comparison, as though it were all about Maher instead of about the silly things religious people believe sometimes. “(It’s hard for a viewer to avoid the conclusion that the only higher power in Maher’s universe is his own ego.)”
But Colson is determined to make this come out as an evangelistic opportunity anyway, and he falls back on the old marketing trick of making your product’s weaknesses sound like strengths.
[Y]ou don’t have to have a gigantic I.Q. to see that it’s necessary because you cannot rescue yourself from your own mortality or sinfulness—that is, you are not God. In fact, realizing your own spiritual need is probably the wisest thing anyone can do.
I think that’s what Christ meant when he talked about God using the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, or those that most people think of as wise. Sadly, Bill Maher doesn’t seem to have come to that place in his life where he’s willing to risk that kind of foolishness.
Colson’s argument is too good. The way he describes it, it’s not foolish at all to turn to God for the salvation of your soul. But if it’s not foolish to be saved, then why is foolishness a good thing?
The reason foolishness is a problem is not because it would be stupid to save your soul and live forever in bliss, but because foolishness leads to beliefs that are inconsistent with each other and with the real world. Like all wishful thinking, the end result sounds like a good thing, but the foolish arguments used to make it sound true are just not a valid means of finding what really is true. Even Colson, though he may try to use foolishness as evidence for the Gospel, doesn’t really believe that it’s good to be foolish.
What’s foolish about the Gospel is that people don’t have good reasons for believing it, and therefore they turn to foolishness to justify their belief. It’s foolish to gullibly swallow the stories men tell about God loving you enough to die for you, when you can see for yourself everyday that God isn’t even willing and able to show up in person to wish you a good morning now and then. It’s foolish to believe that God would make your salvation depend on a book that everyone has a different interpretation of, and for which there is no objective way to determine what the correct interpretation is (as opposed to whatever interpretation seems right in your own eyes). It’s foolish to believe that, in 2,000 years of Christian history, only you and those who agree with you have actually found The True Faith.
In fact, it’s not just foolishness, but self-centeredness. The subjective nature of religion necessarily makes it personal, and God’s universal failure to show up in real life prevents it from being objective. For any one person to hold up their personal religious beliefs as though they were The Eternal, Infallible and Authoritative Rule of the Almighty, is the ultimate in egotistical conceit. If you’re not God, then you’re not infallible, and you could be wrong about a lot of things, including salvation.
So in the end, Colson falls victim to the Gypsy Curse: in accusing Maher of having an oversized ego, Colson exposes his own religulous conceits. Maher’s film exposes believers to a certain amount of ridicule because the things they believe are legitimately ridiculous. To claim that this sort of foolishness is a sign of spiritual correctness is, well, religulous.