Unabashed liberal comedian and talk show host Bill Maher has consistently made waves in the media for his harsh criticism of Islam, basically calling it a religion of violence that is a threat to the West’s way of life. Many of his fellow liberals have reacted angrily to this, calling it “Islamophobia” (I enjoy progressives’ insistence on making every disagreement or criticism into some sort of “phobia”… unless of course it’s something they disagree with). Of course, nobody can forget the squabble on his show between him, Sam Harris, and Ben Affleck. Harris and Maher share their disdain for religion in general, especially Islam these days, and Affleck called their criticism of it “gross” and even “racist,” which was, well, dumb, since Islam is not a race. What is hysterical about all of this is that people like Maher and Harris don’t pull punches on Christianity either, and I have never heard a peep from the left complaining about that. In fact, whenever Maher lays it into Islam, people like Charlie Rose get uncomfortable and reflexively try to turn the criticism on Christians too, but Maher doesn’t bite, arguing that the problems of religious extremism is not nearly as bad as in Islam.
I will not, however, comment too much on the amusing inconsistency of liberals rushing to defend Islam (without even understanding its religious doctrines) while attacking Christianity on every turn. I am not even going to defend Maher’s stance on Islam; I’m not a Muslim, obviously, but Maher’s comments, like most of the things he says, is overly simplistic and more suitable for bumper stickers and Internet memes than reasoned conversation. I instead want to hone in on one complaint he consistently brings up whenever he is faced with criticism from the left. Whenever Maher blasts Islam, he gets an earful from the so-called social progressives, and he responds with frustration that liberals in this country have failed because they do not stand up for “liberal principles,” principles that Islamic countries, in his mind, clearly violate. What are liberal principles? According to Maher, those at least include freedom of speech, freedom to practice religion without fear of violence (or leave a religion), equality for women, equality for minorities, and separation of church and state. Since these are clearly lacking in Middle Eastern Muslim countries, he is aghast that liberals would not stand up and criticize them rather than reflexively defend them out of some misguided sense of tolerance or sensitivity.
On some level, Maher is right: Liberals, particularly the secular kind, are showcasing inconsistency and confusion here. What he fails to notice, however, is that there is a reason why materialistic liberals are confused: They have no objective foundation of values to stand on. What they do have is borrowed cultural capital from Judeo-Christian beliefs and values, and the further they stray from those, the more confused they get.
A great illustration of this is from Ben Affleck himself, who paraphrases the Declaration of Independence in the clip above but seems to catch himself from saying that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and instead says that we are endowed by our forefathers. Our forefathers? First of all, that’s not what that document says. Secondly, if it were our forefathers, mere human beings, who endowed us with rights, on what ground could they possibly claim that these rights are “inalienable” and cannot be taken away by any form of government? What’s to stop other human beings from taking those rights away because, after all, they were given by humans as well? Why should other countries in the world give a rip if this is merely the American way of doing things that was made up by some people in the 18th century (and was part of their Western religious and philosophical heritage)? More importantly, how on earth could Thomas Jefferson, no Christian himself, write such a thing as a coherent counterclaim to the crown of England? “We have rights because we said so.” Yeah, that’s an argument that will stand the test of time, no doubt. Right off the bat, we can see that, because they reject a Creator, materialistic liberals try to illegitimately draw these transcendent principles from a vacuum. They simply have no transcendent ground to point to.
Further confusion can be seen in the constant use of the phrase by people like Maher of “separation of church and state.” As it is currently used, this phrase is often used to try to eliminate any mention of God in legal or political proceedings completely. It is viewed as a way to protect the government from the horrible influence of religion. However, this is wrongheaded for at least two reasons: One, this phrase is not in the Constitution nor in the Declaration of Independence. This is amusing because slightly more knowledgeable atheist progressives will retort to the mention of a Creator in that document that it is not the Constitution, which has no explicit mention of God. Well, neither is “separation of church and state;” the only thing we have in the Constitution is the anti-establishment clause, which has to do with the state not establishing an official religion or denomination It does not mean that religion has no place in public discourse. The second reason this is misguided is because the very concept of separation of church and state is very much a Christian idea. The Anabaptists objected to both the Catholic Church’s and Magisterial Reformation’s tendency to marry the church and the state, which got them persecuted. After them, the English Baptists were major players in making sure this concept was in the founding of this country. The concern of the Anabaptists was not to protect the government from church but the purity of the church from the corrupting influence of political power. Did they or the later forefathers think that religion needed to be relegated to the fringe? Not at all; even Thomas Jefferson approved of Baptist pastors preaching to Congress. There is no issue with religious beliefs informing political decisions.
Yet, in their insistence that “separation of church and state” should mean that any discussion of God is out of bounds, liberals find themselves standing on thin air regarding the very principle itself. Where on earth do they get this principle? In fact, one can easily argue that certain communist states in history and even the present have a great many characteristics of a “state religion,” where the state and/or the leader is the object of worship and dissent is squashed. How can this be when communism is inherently an atheistic philosophy? The answer is clear to me: Without God, principles such as “inalienable rights” and “separation of church and state” begin to substantially lose meaning.
Thus, Maher is correct to be annoyed with the reaction of his fellow liberals, but he fails to see what’s really going on. These principles that he cherishes, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, are not “liberal” principles, at least in the modern connotation of the word in the context of our current politics. They are principles of our country as a whole, principles that conservatives are very much concerned with as well. It is the liberals who try to make everyone think uniformly on things such as Islam, homosexuality, taxes, etc. through intimidation and government force. Maher sees the symptoms when he is met with the ire of progressives, but he ironically cannot see that the cause is his very rejection of God. This concept of God, even for some of our forefathers who were deistic, was very important to our concept of rights, and by rejecting that, liberals cut themselves off from the well that they draw out of. It only takes some deeper questioning to see that now their buckets are empty. Small wonder why progressives resort to the tactics that they do.