What I would say to Bill Maher…
I’m intrigued by Bill Maher’s occasional rants against Christians. In all fairness, he’s usually targeting religious extremists, but I know from other comments Maher has made about Christianity that he deeply resents the Church. (“Pope Benedict is a Nazi.”) However, as someone has said, “Behind every argument there is a person and behind every person there is a story.”
In my heart I believe that strong arguments against God are rooted in moral issues. They are contrivances to stave off a deeper reality—an action or attitude that we know is wrong, but are determined to continue. Scripture is very clear about that (Ephesians 5:17-19; 2 Thessalonians 2:10,11; Psalms 14.1 [The “fool” here is not an ignoramus. The Hebrew word, nabal, refers to someone who is morally obtuse.]). Simply put, if people "love the truth,“ they may have questions and doubts, but they won’t jettison the faith, or rail against it, as Maher does. If they have a shadow life, cynicism, denial and even humor become convenient ways to deal with the moral tension they feel. Again, I’m not speaking here of those who struggle in their faith, but of those who have seen the truth and have turned their faces away from it.
True seekers will ”work it out“ as C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Dostoevsky, Dorothy Sayers and a host of other thoughtful men and women have done. That doesn’t mean that all their questions are answered, but they learn to live with ambiguity. My wife, Carolyn, is a good example of a very intelligent person who early on struggled with questions of faith and who is still trying to “work it out." She has a many questions she can’t answer, but she lives with mystery and loves God with all her heart.
So, I say—unbelief is a matter of the heart and not the intellect. ”The heart has reasons (for and against the truth) that reason doesn’t have,“ Pascal said.
Now, if I had an opportunity to sit down with Maher, I wouldn’t make morality an issue, but it would keep me from being intimidated by his tirades. I know what the issues are and, more importantly, I know that he knows. I would ask questions and listen without a great deal of comment. I would try to show love by demonstrating a genuine interest in him. I don’t think I would respond with counter–arguments. I would listen and ask questions and then listen some more. I would want to know why he feels the way he does. But primarily I would want to show love, rather than argumentative animosity.
I’ve always been touched by Dostoevsky’s parable of the Grand Inquisitor. Ivan, the unbelieving brother, tells the story of the Inquisitor and his tirade against the Church and its faith. Jesus throughout the Inquisitor’s rant remains absolutely silent until the end. He doesn’t answer with arguments; he leans over and kisses him. ”The kiss glowed in his heart,” Dostoevsky observed. As Ivan finishes his parable, Alyosha, in imitation of Jesus, leans forward and kisses his brother. Ivan tries to shrug off Alyosha’s love but he can’t. His "profound gesture“ (Dostoevsky’s phrase) represents the triumph of love over radical skepticism. There’s no logical argument against it.
Simply put, if I had an opportunity to talk to Bill Maher, I would try to show love for him, for love has the power to melt the hardest heart. Later, in time, when love has ”won the right to be heard,“ as we used to say in Young Life, I might give him a New Testament and ask him to read the Gospels with this simple prayer: "God, if you’re real, I want you to reveal yourself to me,“ for “the Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). If Maher is indeed a seeker of truth, as he claims to be, he will find God in its pages; if not he will not. It’s that simple.