Bill Maher Believes Religion is about Power; Global Christianity Begs to Differ

         I have a love-hate relationship with the comedian Bill Maher. On the one hand, he has truly inspired me to get the truth out about Christianity; for that I am thankful. On the other hand, he has a loyal following who believe everything he says even when it is completely false. He breeds ignorant activists who never question the facts that he offers. In later blog posts I will debunk Maher’s film Religulous because there are so many flat-out lies (or terribly done research though I’m inclined to believe lies since he clearly has an agenda in the film) that someone has to point out his errors.

            Right now I just want to point out something that Maher says in a deleted scene of Religulous. He says, “But if you can’t get that [sex], power is a pretty good second one. And that’s what religion gives people. Power. Power is sex for people who can’t get or don’t want or aren’t any good at sex itself.” Obviously Maher is trying to be funny, but the idea that religion is about power is a common critique. I’ve heard it many times from my non-Christian friends. Christianity is about power and money and no one would be a part of it if they didn’t stand to gain something. This is probably believed by many, and it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

            The problem with the hypothesis that Christianity is only about power and money, is that it doesn’t evaluate all of the evidence. It looks only at the Western Church. Admittedly, the Western Church has grown comfortable. As Dr. Bill Payne, one of my professors at Ashland, said, “In America, Christianity is associated with sexism, homophobia, superstition, anti-intellectualism, slavery, colonialism, anti-science, and a host of other bad things.” This is undoubtedly true, and we have become associated with these things because in our comfort we have lost track of the Gospel.

            It doesn’t help that the media will only do stories on crazy people who want to burn Qurans and protest the funerals of soldiers. For every 1 Christian doing something like that I know about 1,000 or more who are serving in food pantries and free clinics, taking food to homeless camps, praying for the city and country, taking supplies to low-income schools and hundreds of other things like this. Be that as it may, there remains a large contingency in America and the wider Western world that, through their actions, misrepresent Christianity. It is those people that give Bill Maher fertile ground to attack the faith.

            When we expand our view beyond the Western world, however, we see a Christianity that looks very different from our own. Bill Maher claims to be a rationalist, someone who evaluates his beliefs based upon the facts, but this simply can’t be true because when we look at Christianity worldwide we see a community that is powerless and persecuted. Around the world, Christians are being killed for their beliefs, yet, despite the persecution, people continue to convert to Christianity.

            What led me to investigate worldwide Christian persecution was my Missional Church class at Ashland Seminary. Our professor, Dr. Payne, showed several videos of Christian persecution throughout the world. The one that moved me the most was the one about what’s happening in India. The video (I’ll share the link at the end but just be warned it is unbelievably graphic) was created by Christians in India in response to a rash of attacks that broke out against believers. The video opens with two men and a teenage boy being beaten to death by angry protestors. The violence is nauseating and it’s real. The attacks against Christians began because Hindus blamed Christians for the killing of a Hindu leader even though the evidence points to a communist extremist as the culprit. In any case, Christians were systematically beaten to death and their bodies were left strewn all over the streets.

            Unfortunately, the violence against Christians in India is actually quite widespread. The Gospel represents a threat (not a violent threat mind you) to the Hindu Caste System and Indian nationalist organizations have sought to stamp out Christianity from its midst. Churches are burned and people are killed simply because they have a different belief system. After learning about the persecution in India and other places, I knew I had to try to get the word out. In places like India, Christians aren’t persecuted because they represent a threat to the powers that be. On the contrary, the Christians have no power and are a minority group who a killed because they refuse to believe in an oppressive caste system. While I was startled to learn that Christians were being persecuted in India, as I investigated further I realized Christian persecution is far more widespread than I could have ever thought.

            One of the countries in which I was surprised to learn that Christians are being persecuted is Colombia. The violence in Colombia right now is astounding. A number of paramilitary organizations and guerilla forces are fighting for the southern portion of Colombia which is vitally important for the drug manufacturing and trafficking business. Caught in the fray are Christians who refuse to fight and are hated because they won’t take sides. The paramilitary organizations and guerilla forces are unable to find viable recruits amongst the Christians because of their non-violent commitment so they are killed. The violence among Christians is increasing because people are, astoundingly, converting to Christianity despite the danger.

            In Nigeria, 51% of the population is Christian yet the government operates under Islamic law. It is a common practice for young Christian women to be kidnapped, raped and then forced to marry their kidnappers. The kidnappers are protected by the law. Furthermore, just this week, a hostel in Christian neighborhood was attacked and over 40 people were killed. The details of this, the latest massacre of Christians, are too gruesome to describe. At the heart of the violence is the attempt of Muslims in the region to establish Shariah law throughout northern Nigeria.

            Iran is another country that actively persecutes the Christian church. Frequently Christians are arrested and held in prisons for years before being released. One example is Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who was held in prison for three years under the charges of apostasy and evangelism of Muslims. For those that don’t know ‘apostasy’ is the rejection of a religious belief. So, one of the charges against Youcef was that he rejected Islam and became a Christian. Youcef  was threatened with the death penalty and while in prison the authorities frequently tried to force him to renounce Christianity and convert to Islam. While it’s good news that Youcef has been released, he’s hardly safe. Other pastors who have suffered similarly, have been murdered shortly after release. Despite the persecution, the Church in Iran is growing dramatically.  

            These are just a few examples of the MANY that illustrate what the global face of Christianity really looks like. To my non-Christian readers (if anyone has made it to this point), I know that what you most often see in America is Christianity defined by consumerism and political battles. That is truly unfortunate, but what the examples I’ve shared (and the many more that I couldn’t share) illustrate is that in places where there is little to be gained Christianity is flourishing. It’s flourishing not because people stand to gain influence, money, or power, but because the Gospel message has power and changes lives on a daily basis. In the Western world, people have the luxury of sitting in their towers and looking down on people of faith with snide remarks about rationalism and how there is no scientific basis for God but there’s no denying that people are willing to suffer and die for their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. You may call these people crazy, but just maybe they’ve experienced the love, hope and freedom of God in ways that make is possible to suffer the insufferable.

            To my Christian readers (if there are any left), I think it is important to be informed about our global community. I’ve only included a few examples, but the problem of Christian persecution is widespread. It’s good to pray for persecutions when they are brought to our attention by the mainstream media, but I don’t think it’s enough. When we hear about persecution on the news or in the paper, it’s generally because it’s a particularly terrible attack, such as the attack on the church in Egypt a year or so ago. For every incident that we hear about there are thousands more that go unnoticed. We need to make supporting our global Church a priority by praying for them every day. It’s really easy to get tunnel vision and lose focus of the fact that we are a part of a global community. We are worried about our buildings, our outreaches, our programs and we lose sight of our brothers and sisters who are being murdered for the beliefs that every day we take for granted. We are in a position to extend aid and support to our persecuted family and it’s vitally important that we do so.

            I’m not an expert on the subject of Christian persecution. In fact, I was alerted to the problem only a couple weeks ago. I don’t have the power to put an end to it, and I don’t have an excess of money to give to support my persecuted brothers and sisters. I do know, however, that what I saw that day in class and what I’ve researched since then has broken my heart and deeply convicted me. I want to give what little resources I can to help out and I want to lift the global Church up in prayer every single time I think about it. My hope is that others will join me and together we can support our Church, utilizing the freedom and resources that so many others are denied.

Helpful Links:

Voice of the Martyrs:

http://www.persecution.com/

          – Shows incidents of persecution, has several charitable initiatives aimed at supporting the global church, displays prayer needs

International Christian Concern:

http://www.persecution.org/

–          A lot like Voice of the Martyrs

Video Links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXjlkaM-ikY

        – Video put out by Voice of the Martyrs

DISCLAIMER, the link below displays a VERY graphic video showing Indian Christians being beaten to death. I wanted to provide the link so that you could watch it if you felt compelled. It’s a graphic reminder about what’s happening worldwide; these are our brothers. You’ve been warned.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKcWbxhKZVo

        – Video made my Indian Christians in response to outbreak of violence against them. VERY GRAPHIC.

Persecution in Vietnam, a news report:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5ig1ayurEg&feature=related

Persecution in China, a news report:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCVrdGwAhPo

International Release, update on persecution worldwide, starts with a report about Sri Lanka:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEGr4GpchB4

News report about persecution in Pakistan:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4xK7qmo4_U

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2 comments on “Bill Maher Believes Religion is about Power; Global Christianity Begs to Differ

  1. Mark B says:

    Good post, Rich. I guess though, if I was thinking like Bill Maher, I’d counter that your argument might prove his assertion. Because Maher is not saying that Christianity alone is about power, but religion in general is about power. And the fact of the matter is that the places that you cite where Christianity is weak and persecuted, it suffers such at the hands of yet just another religion– religions that are typically in the majority and trying to keep their hold on power. Your examples seem to only prove that in some cases, Christianity is on the losing end of some religious power struggles. In Nigeria, power-induced religious violence goes both directions (Christian & Muslim). In Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, the same. In many places in India, it’s Muslim vs. Hindu power struggles. In almost every instance, persecution and conflict– if connected to religion– is power-based. Thoughts?

    • That’s a good point Mark. I know that Bill Maher says “religion” but being familiar with his work, I also know that he’s referring to Christianity most often. For example, Religulous is an hour and a half long and about 55 minutes is devoted to Christianity. Furthermore, Religulous was released in 2008, an election year, and was aimed largely at the Bush administration. His assertion that religion is about power is based upon the American political situation not an overview of what’s happening in the world. But for the sake of discussion let’s say that Bill had familiarized himself with the global landscape, I would say that it’s easy to look at a situation and assign motives but we should really be asking if those assigned motives are accurate. For example, we can look at the situation in Nigeria where Christians are the majority group and are being persecuted, not because the Muslim populace feels they are a threat but because they believe they must enforce Shariah law. We can look at that and say well they’re trying to wrest power from the hands of the Christians but Shariah law is already the law of the land. It seems more likely that it’s not about a power struggle at all, it’s about enforcing what they feel is their religious prerogative. India proves this point as well. According to VOM Christians represent 5.8% of the population; hardly a threat yet they’re being killed and churches are being burned. Hindu nationalists believe that according to their religion, the caste system is absolutely necessary. Christians, of course, believe it’s crazy talk and because they won’t conform to the majority held religious belief, they’re killed. It’s not about power, it’s about enforcing what they believe is the correct way to worship. For a power struggle to exist, there has to be two parties struggling for power and for the most part that’s just not happening especially in places like China, Vietnam, India, and Iran.

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