Bill Maher Goes to Bible School
Earlier this month, Bill Maher, a well known comedian and anti-religious atheist, hosted Dr. Jordan Peterson on his show, ‘Club Random with Bill Maher’. Maher, who created the mockumentary, Religulous, has a particular animus toward Christians. He is known for his blunt and hard hitting one liners that discredit religion and the Bible as good for nothing. Recently, however, he has found common ground with conservatives who see cancel culture and especially the censorship of free speech as a scary departure from democracy.
His guest, Jordan Peterson is a well known clinical psychologist and former college professor, who was canceled for refusing to submit to his university's draconian pronoun laws. He won the admiration of many for sticking to the truth, no matter the cost. He is now a world renowned speaker and writer. He too was an agnostic but recently, after deeply examining and wrestling with the Bible and God, has undergone a slow-motion, intellectual conversion to Christ.
The conversational style, longform interview between this odd couple, took place in a relaxed setting. As Bill poured his whiskey and sparked up a cigar, the discussion was off to a quick and interesting start. Many viewers thought so as well. After only two days on Youtube it had 1.7 million views. What follows is my attempt to weed out their off and on discussion on scripture.
The Importance of Truth Telling
After talking about the importance of free speech and the need to preserve comedians as the last of the truth tellers. The conversation led to the topic of the dystopia of authoritarian societies such as East Germany during the Cold War.
Jordan commented, “A totalitarian state occurs when everyone lies about absolutely everything all the time… the politicians and the people who have power, in those situations, they lie too but so does everyone else”.
In a new book Peterson is writing called, We Who Wrestle with God, he writes about Sodom and Gomorrah and the threat of the destruction of the city. Peterson has a very interesting take on these Bible stories due to his intellectual strength in the area of psychology and human behavior. He actually interprets scripture with an ancient Catholic, patristic method. He takes into consideration the four senses, the literal, the allegorical, the moral and the anagogical.
Unlike skeptical Bible scholars who emphasize the human and the rational, with the aim of telling us why the story is not true, Peterson’s focus is on the story itself. He especially wants to apply the moral of the story to contemporary lives and even issues in the news.
Like a boss, Professor Peterson takes poor Bill Maher on an intellectual odyssey in the kind of lesson that opens minds and hearts. Jordan wanted Bill to see that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is rich in allegorical meaning, and that the moral of the story is actually relevant to Bill’s life. Liitle did Bill realize it, but he was about to go to Bible school...
After going through the the whole Sodom and Gomorrah saga, Jordan wrapped it up with the moral of the story,
”So the idea is that if a city deviates from the appropriate moral path too blatantly then all hell will break loose… Abraham intercedes with God on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah and he bargains and bargains and I think he bargains them down to 10 people, which is quite good. God's willing to give in but it means something very specific as far as I'm concerned. It means in a political unit, if there's still ten people who are willing to tell the truth, then all hell will not break loose. Ten people who actually tell the truth is enough to stave off the descent into totalitarian chaos. That's why comedians are so bloody important. They say what's true and you can tell it's true because people laugh”.
After this, Bill gazed at Jordan as if the two were on a date. His eyes, a little glazed over, perhaps from his third glass of whiskey, but probably because for the first time in his life, he learned something about the Bible that wasn’t from an atheistic skeptic like himself.
He was a willing student because he revered Jordan as both morally credible and wise. In a burst of childish enthusiasm, he exclaimed, “I love it that you're a real professor. You’re a personality and a TV guy and like a great voice, but you're the real deal you're an academic”
Sadly. in the face of this moment of potential enlightenment, Maher can only fall back on his usual denial of Biblical wisdom as he said,
“...it has these things that are comically stupid and and corrupt. I mean God is so corrupt in the Bible. I mean you can bargain…you know he does things that are so capricious and cruel and you know petty. I mean he's very Trumpian”.
Jordan, a seasoned teacher, did not give up on his student. He tried again. This time with the story of Jonah and the whale...
“I'm going to tell you a story, okay? The story of Jonah is a story that you'll appreciate. So here's what happens to Jonah... he's just minding his own business and then the voice of God comes to him and the voice says you have to go to this city Nineveh. Everybody in Nineveh strayed off the path, and I'm thinking about wiping them out, but you could maybe go there and tell them how foolish they are and they'll straighten up.
Then I won't have to destroy the city. And Jonah thinks, 'there's no way I'm going to do that. First of all Nineveh is a city of his enemy Babylonia'. It's a city that he's not he's not allied with and so he thinks well you guys can go to hell in a handbasket. If God wipes them out that's perfectly fine with me. Then he also thinks like any wise man would… 'I see there's 150 000 people there and I'm a foreigner. I'm gonna go there and tell them how they're misbehaving. And that's going to work out well for me?'. So he thinks, 'to hell with that' like any sensible person would and he doesn't say what he has to say. So then he hops on a boat, he gets the hell out of there.
Well it turns out that God's not very happy if you're informed that you have something to say and then you don't say it. So the storms come and the waves rise and now the ship's in danger... It means that if you don't say what you have to say when you're called upon to say it, you'll put the whole damn ship at risk. The sailors, they figure out there must be someone on the boat that isn't right with God and that's why we're in danger of being swamped. So they go and ask everybody and Jonah, to his credit, says, ‘yeah it's me'…so they throw him overboard.
Now you think. ‘okay Jonah's got what he deserves because when he had something to say, he didn’t and now he's gonna die’… partly what that means is if you hold your tongue when you have something to say, then you're going to put the ship at risk and you'll be lucky if you don't die.
The next thing that happens is Jonah's drowning. That's about as bad as it gets. Then this creature from hell itself comes up from the bottom of the abyss and takes him down. So now he's in hell for three days. It's the whale …the whale is described as hell. It's a representation of the thing that dwells in the dark.”
Bill cuts Jordan off and, for the first time, shows that he is starting to get it. He concedes that the Bible might not be as dumb as he thought. He said,
“It’s so interesting that you see the lessons in these and I just always read these things as super stupid from the Bronze Age. Obviously they were telling people something. I mean whoever wrote this had a message in mind”.
Bill then tries to demonstrate that he is up to the task of thinking deeply about scripture...
“I went to Cornell. I took a Bible course but all the stuff I took I knew I was going to be a comedian so I didn't take any courses for any other reason then, ‘oh this looks interesting’…”
Bill Maher, the same guy that once said, “Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. And those who preach faith, are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense." has now become open to the possibility that religious wisdom is a thing.
“I mean the Bible … it's a big long book…and it's, you know, full of mostly nonsense. Once in a while it stumbles upon wisdom…”
Jordan, sensing that his student is having an ah-ha, epiphany moment, goes in for the kill. He sums up the moral of the story again and then challenges Bill to see it in a way that hits home for Bill as a comedian...
Jonah was finally willing to say what he had to say “so the whale spits him up on the beach. Then he goes to Nineveh and he tells everybody what the hell they're doing wrong and God decides to spare the city” Jordan adds, “This is true of comedians in general. You know that you have a moral obligation, a deep and profound moral obligation to say what you have to say. That’s the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. If there isn't anyone and who's left, who is good and will tell the truth, the whole city disappears. The same thing happens in the story of Jonah. Everything turns to hell”.
By putting it this way, Jordan allowed Bill to see himself as the potential hero of the story. He could be the truth teller in real life. “ You're called upon to tell your fellow man when they're not behaving properly. When your conscience tells you, you're called upon to do it. If you don't do that, the whole ship will start to rock”.
Like any rock-ribbed fundamentalist, when it came to the Bible, Bill Maher was stuck on the literal sense. Jordan Peterson managed to open his mind and perhaps his heart to the spiritual meaning of scripture. After watching Bill’s admiration for Jordan only grow as Jordan unlocked for him the Bible’s perennial wisdom, I believe there formed a crack in the outer shell of Bill's dogmatic atheism.
As a viewer, I had a mini conversion of the heart too. Up until this video came out, I had nothing but feelings of disdain and contempt for Bill Maher... Now, I kinda like him.