Saturday, July 24, 2010
The Irrationality of Rationality
In Religulous, Bill Maher seeks to highlight the irrationality of religious belief. In many cases, he successfully highlights the irrationality of irrational people.
Maher clearly thinks himself to be wise when he declares that he simply doesn't know. He employs the Socratic method to his questioning of the religious believers featured in the film -- from the relatively mundane and benign men in the truck stop chapel or Judaism-to-Christianity convert Steve Burg to crazies like Ken Ham (who ironically resembles the missing link between man and ape) or outright philistines like Rabbi David Weiss.
Yet Maher applies the Socratic method to sophist ends -- something that Socrates actually would have despised. Maher has decided on the message of his film -- that all religion is ridiculous, irrational and dangerous -- from the very beginning, and is merely using the Socratic method to make that argument.
That Maher actually profited from the production of Religious -- not in itself unthinkable -- further demonstrates Maher's sophism.
The greatest irrationality of people who think themselves to be rational is the suspicious eye they cast at anyone who doesn't share their sense of rationality.
Maher successfully demonstrates the irrationality of many of his subjects. However, Maher tends to cherry-pick some of the most extreme examples of religious believers. He magnifies a comparatively marginal sub-strata of religious believers in order to treat them as mainstream.
It's a feat he replicated from individuals such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers.
There is value in Religulous. While it's hyperbolic, bombastic, and in fact irrational, it's also thought-provoking. As CS Lewis would insist, anything that provokes thought about religion is actually of service to religious believers.