Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Saturday Stub: Bill Maher the Apathetic Atheist

Posted by Ethan Clow on July 23, 2011

And now for another Saturday Stub, where I post some short piece of news or other commentary that I think is of minor interest and perhaps worthy of some brief consideration on a Saturday.

Before I left for TAM9 I came across this short piece from the CNN show with Piers Morgan. It’s a short video where Morgan chats with Bill Maher, host of the HBO show Real Time and also the star of the atheist movie Religulous.

One of the topics they cover is Maher’s atheism. He remarks that he’s an apatheist, a combination of apathy and atheism.

“its a combination of apathy and atheist, I don’t know what happens when you die and I don’t care.” He states.

What surprised me about this statement from Maher is that from what I’ve heard, he’s hardly apathetic about atheism at all. I find it hard to believe he’s apathetic enough to make a feature-length documentary critical of religion and religious devoted believers.

In that same clip, he criticizes Michele Bachmann for basing her decisions on what God tells her.

“She thinks God is talking to her, you know, when I was a kid, when you thought God was talking to someone, you called Belleview”

Maher is far from my favourite advocate of atheism. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest he’s merely an ideologue, someone who espouses a point of view out of rhetoric or for partisan reasons, not out of critical thinking. This would also explain his baffling anti-science based ideas regarding medicine and vaccines.

As much as I liked Religulous and think that’s it’s has a somewhat useful thesis on religion, Maher is someone I really resent being included in the same category as skeptic. I also thought it was inappropriate to give Maher an award for atheism, that’s named after a scientist and skeptic, namely the Richard Dawkins Award, of which the Atheists Alliance gave to Maher in 2009.

At TAM8, Dawkins defended the decisions citing Maher’s eloquence on speaking of religion and atheism and his role in promoting atheism across America. Okay fine. He’s eloquent. I don’t think that’s a particularly good reason, especially considering the award is named after a prominent scientist. When I asked Stuart Bachman about it (back in episode 115) he stated that (paraphrasing) Maher got the award for speaking out on atheism, not for being a secular saint. Yes, they knew he had unconventional views on vaccines and such but they felt he made a difference for atheists.

I can accept that. But then…doesn’t it seem odd that Maher calls himself an apathetic atheist? Doesn’t it look bad when a winner of the Richard Dawkins Award for advancing the cause of atheism claims he doesn’t care?

Of course, one could make the case that Maher cares quite a bit. It’s hard to believe one would make a movie extolling the evils or religion and not care about atheism. Maybe he just doesn’t care that much.

2 Responses to “Saturday Stub: Bill Maher the Apathetic Atheist”

  1. Emjay said

    I think you’ve misunderstood the point Maher was making in that clip. He’s not apathetic about atheism; rather he’s apathetic about the question of what happens when you die. He regards speculation on that point as probably useless.

    Maher is probably belabouring the point somewhat for comedic effect, but then that’s his job. One could hardly call him apathetic concerning the harm and irrationality attributable to religion, he has quite the track record. So I think it’s false to conclude, as this post seems to, that he is apathetic about atheism itself. Indeed, the clip from the Piers Morgan show reinforces this interpretation.

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