The goal of this article is to discuss the idea of celebrities being interviewed on religion in a highly public setting when they do not have scholarly credentials to authoritatively speak on matters of theology, philosophy, or science. People like Bill Maher, Penn Jillette, Seth MacFarlane, George Carlin, Brad Pitt, Bill Gates, Lance Armstrong, James Cameron, Ricky Gervais, Howard Stern, and many more, have commented on matters of religion in public. Likely, you have heard of all of these celebrities over the years. Would you agree that these individuals, regardless of whether or not they are qualified to speak authoritatively on matters of theology or not, are capable of influencing others to their viewpoint if they simply vocalize their support of atheism? The answer is that many people, particularly young adults, are influenced by popular atheist figures. The two leading figures of this movement are Bill Maher and Penn Jillette.
I’ve included short video clips of outspoken celebrity atheists Bill Maher and Penn Jillette. As some of you may already know, Bill Maher made a documentary called “Religulous” and Penn Jillette has written “God, No!” and “Everyday is an Atheist Holiday!” After being exposed to their underpinnings, I was blown away by how popular these guys have become at the expense of theism. They have been on several talk shows on primetime television promoting their works. While there are many more than two celebrity atheists, I selected these two celebrities because they are often the most visible in the Hollywood scene on this topic. I spent a good amount of time listening to videos of celebrity atheists to see if I could find a celebrity who could present an articulate case for their atheistic worldview. After spending hours on YouTube, I was unable to find any celebrity who could present a case that was completely consistent with their stated atheistic worldview. It can be concluded that these celebrities do not understand the implications of atheism.
Bill Maher and Penn Jillette generally mirror the atheists in Hollywood. It is a stance of pure emotion and a pungent distaste for what they think God stands for with their primary complaint being the existence of evil. They self-proclaim themselves as being fueled by the power of pure reason, logic, and science. Essentially, they differentiate their position from theism by stating they’re more in tune with reality than theists because of their acceptance of naturalism/materialism. While this summary is dramatically generalizing their position, mercifully in my opinion, I feel that this is the primary message being communicated in the public arena of mainstream media.
Below, I have provided a video for the trailer of “Religulous” and a brief interview with Penn Jillette on the topic of atheism.
Any Christian with an ounce of understanding of Christian theology or philosophy would be able to identify that the arguments being presented by these individuals are not credible arguments. They are misunderstanding what is claimed by theism while simultaneously being ignorant of the implications of atheism. On one hand you have Penn Jillette who makes his signature, “I don’t know” argument and happily stands by it. To me, I do not perceive him as a malicious guy. In fact, I’d like to sit down and have a discussion with him because he genuinely seems like an interesting person who appears to enjoy life. On the other hand, you have Bill Maher who is often combative, insulting, and bigoted towards those who believe in a God. If you have ever seen “Religulous”, you understand what I mean. For Maher to primarily interview people who have no expertise in theology and attempt to overpower them with his rhetorical skills, it appears as though he wasn’t out on a search for truth when he made his documentary. Rather, he was out on a mission to make religion look bad.
Both of these celebrity atheists have their own approach. Both of which has the influence to sway the ignorant reader/viewer to consider atheism as a credible worldview. People, particularly the younger generation (like myself), fall victim to their influence regardless of how ignorant these celebrities are. The reality is, these celebrities, and those like them, are entertainers. They are certainly not theologians, philosophers, or scientists. For these guys to write a book/make a documentary that attempts to critique religion on the basis of these three factors is intellectually embarrassing. What is worse is that the people being influenced by this material are not even looking into the credibility of the claims being made by these guys. The atheistic flame is being fueled by the gas of fallacious entertainment.
They both touch on the idea of morality and how they believe that the theists are morally good only because they are afraid of burning in hell. View the short video below for an example of this.
What they fail to understand is that without a God, the concept of objective morality is incoherent. Without God, there is no standard to measure good and evil. As an atheist, any idea that we may have concerning “good and evil” would be the result of social conditioning over the hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. With that in mind, there would not be an objective moral difference between Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa under an atheistic worldview. School shootings, terrorist attacks, murders, rapes, etc… could not be labeled as good or evil in an atheistic worldview because atheism fails to have a standard to measure objective good/evil. For theists, like myself, I am able to objectively acknowledge that morality is universal and grounded in God. I know that the Holocaust was objectively evil. I know that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were objectively evil. In a world with no God, how can an atheist say that anything is objectively evil under a universal standard?
While I admire Maher and Jillette for acknowledging the existence of objective morality, they are completely lost on how to ground objective morality in a world with no God. I become lost when I hear them complain about the morals of Christians. How, under atheism, can anyone objectively identify right from wrong? Leading atheist/biologist Richard Dawkins, a man who they both value with very high esteem, says the following about objective morality under an atheist worldview, “There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference…we are machines for propagating DNA…it is every living object’s sole reason for being” .
I highlighted on morality because that is what appears to be the biggest inconsistency with most atheists. They love the idea of there not being a God but still like to borrow from the moral concepts of theism. You cannot have it both ways. Atheists have to either consider theism because of the existence of objective morality or embrace the idea that morality is relative and the appearance of morality is nothing more than a biological adaptation.
In the end, this was an article based upon my frustration of hearing these two celebrities, and their proselytizing about how their outlook on life is superior while being completely ignorant of the problems that face it. Printing books and producing movies in the name of atheism while failing to make a concerted effort to appear as though they are seeking truth rather than just religion-bashing has been largely ignored. While much more can be said on this matter, it is my sincere hope that people awaken to the true nature of the atheist propaganda of Hollywood. I encourage everyone to read books by scholars and ask the hard questions. But whatever you do, do not allow yourself to become easily influenced by these guys and people like them. You owe it to yourself to search out the truth, and the truth will set you free. I’ll conclude this article with insightful thoughts from C.S. Lewis on the issue of morality, thoughts of which have given me a greater perspective on the topic of morality,
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden; A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic Books, 1996), p. 133 and Richard Dawkins, “The Ultraviolet Garden” Lecture 4 of 7, Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (1993)
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Fount, 1997)