This weekend, the girlfriend and I got a chance to take in Religulous, Bill Maher's new movie. Bill hits the road to question religious folks - Christian, Muslim, and Jew - about the nuttier parts of their faiths. In the interviews, he is mostly open, honest, and not all that snarky (a considerable achievement for a man whom I envy for his world-class cynicism). Nonetheless, as the girlfriend pointed out after the film, all you have to do is ask some questions and people start to come unglued.
That observation got me thinking about the "veil of ignorance." Developed by philosopher John Rawls, the veil of ignorance, is the idea that when setting up a society, determining rights, and such, it's best that the folks making the decisions are ignorant about their own personal characteristics. The theory is that you're more likely to be concerned about protecting the rights of all citizens if you don't know whether you're part of the powerful elite or a despised minority.
I'd like to see a similar arrangement when discussing religious tenets. Lots of religious people have no problem seeing the beliefs of others as being weird, loony, or otherwise nonsensical. But confront them with something equally odd about their faith and they get upset. Why? Obviously, because most people don't like having their fundamental personal beliefs challenged. But why should they? If you believed that the world was run by a little pink unicorn, wouldn't you want someone to set you straight? I know, I know - the truth shall set you free, but not necessarily make you happy.
All that aside, who exactly is Maher's target audience? Probably not the faithful, although I think an open minded religious person would enjoy large chunks of it. More likely its the 16% of Americans who, in a recent study, failed to attach themselves to any religious belief. It includes agnostics and atheists, but also folks who just don't have much use for belief in their daily lives. As Bill points out, it's a minority group larger than many others with political pull.
We should get off our asses and make our voices heard. Why? Because in the 21st Century, things like this like this happen in the campaign of one of the major party presidential candidates (via DftCW):
At a McCain rally today in Davenport, a pastor delivered an odd invocation.Seriously - vote for McCain because God might lose some celestial face? Now that's "religulous."
'There are millions of people around this world praying to their god -- whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah -- that his [McCain's] opponent wins, for a variety of reasons,' said Arnold Conrad, former pastor of Grave Evangelical Free Church. 'And Lord, I pray that you would guard your own reputation because they're going to think that their god is bigger than you if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name in all that happens between now and Election Day.'