Comedian Bill Maher can be funny, but I don’t like him. He can’t resist attacking various religious leaders, as he did on the occasion of the visit by Pope Benedict XVI.
It’s not a free-speech issue. It’s an issue of good judgment and good taste, or more specifically the lack thereof. Just because we can do something or say something doesn’t mean we should. I personally don’t think people’s faith, whatever it is, should be mocked, nor their religious leaders ridiculed.
Why give religious leaders a free pass? Because it is a serious thing to cause someone to lose his or her faith. It’s not the same as learning that your favorite movie star is a mean drunk or your favorite politician is a crook. That kind of knowledge doesn’t alter your worldview. You already knew some people get mean when they drink and that some politicians are crooks. You just pick someone else to support.
But suppose you lose your faith in the existence of God? That alters your worldview like an earthquake. It opens up the abyss of nothingness and meaninglessness. It causes a person to question everything he or she ever learned about the world and about good and evil. That’s far too serious an impact on a human being to be inflicted by some cynical comic in search of a cheap laugh.
Ayn Rand, who was herself an atheist, wrote a long passage in "The Fountainhead" on how to wreck a society. One of the rules she cites is to teach them (the people) to laugh at everything. Comics like Maher are doing that. Not only do laughter and ridicule destroy the sacred, they also destroy the hero and the admirable person. The goal of such merciless humor is to arrive at a state of nihilism. That’s the spiritual death that precedes physical death.
Comedians have plenty to laugh at. We humans can be very funny. There’s pomposity to puncture; inflated egos to deflate; foolish and ridiculous ideas to ridicule. But leave the great people, the serious and good leaders, the religious people alone. We Americans owe so much to George Washington, I get angry when I see someone making cheap jokes about his false teeth or using his image in some commercial advertisement. The same thing goes for the flag.
My favorite comedians are Bill Cosby, Larry Miller, Bob Newhart, Dave Gardner and Dick Gregory. Good comedians can be funny without profanity and vulgarity. Profanity and vulgarism always indicate a shortage of brainpower. It doesn’t take a lot of wit or ingenuity to say "go f— yourself." Legend has it that when a woman Winston Churchill despised told him at a party, "If you were my husband, I’d put poison in your coffee," Churchill replied, "If you were my wife, I’d drink it."
One of my favorite presidents, Calvin Coolidge, came home from church one day, and his wife, who was ill, asked him what the sermon was about. "Sin," said Coolidge. "Well, what did the minister say about it?" she asked. "He was against it," Coolidge replied. He was famous for brevity. When a woman at a state dinner bet him she could make him say more than two words, Coolidge replied, "You lose."
George Wallace, a black comedian who is also a favorite of mine, tells about visiting Taiwan. He buys a tape recorder and turns it over. The label on the back says, "Made Around the Corner."
I suspect people like Maher were bullied at school and turned to sarcasm as a defense mechanism. Now, his slashing style of humor is his turn to beat up on people. It’s too bad we’ve become so "lawed up" and "lawyered up" that you can no longer slap a guy in the face without someone making a federal case of the incident. I don’t know the pope, and I’m not even a Catholic, but he deserves to be defended against the kind of trash Maher is throwing out.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.