Friday, October 17, 2008

Boyd and Kimball on "Religulous"

As you may have heard, Bill Maher has made a movie bashing religion that is now out. I have not seen the movie myself (not yet anyway), but several good thinkers and church leaders have. I thought I'd share some of their thoughts and posts.

Dan Kimball wrote the first response I read about it here. Dan says:

The film was really well done, and it went by very fast. Bill Maher is trying to show how "religion" in general is messed up and even very damaging (which it can be). He tries to make his point in a very, very humorous way. But it also was very predictable in what it covered. I have either listened to or read most of the arguments he made in the film, so what was in the film itself wasn't really new information.

But Bill raised good and legitimate questions but he didn't get good answers from the people he interviewed (again, at least how they edited the film). People in the theater laughed (including me) at how the responses generally came across from Christians to his questions.

He does have some criticisms about the film, however.

Although it was a humorous film, and although it raised great questions which need to be asked - it only showed a very one-sided perspective. Thus, to me it was a poor film journalistically as it misrepresented Christianity by only showing the extremes of it.

Greg Boyd also wrote a review of the film here.

I also have to say that I found myself in agreement with much of Maher’s commentary. While many Christians seem to feel the need to defend religion – at least the Christian religion – from the sort of criticism Maher raises, I think its imperative for followers of Jesus to side with these sorts of criticisms. For the undeniable truth is that religion – including the Christian religion — is often irrational and extremely dangerous.

Fortunately, the kingdom Jesus inaugurated has got nothing to do with religion. Indeed, Jesus’ main opposition came from the guardians of religion, and religion continues to be a main obstacle to the advancement of his kingdom. (For more on this, see my Repenting of Religion). If Maher’s documentary does anything to help people get free of religion, it’s done humanity and the kingdom a great service, in my opinion.

In critique, Greg says:

First, Religulous is utterly devoid of nuances and objectivity. Maher lumps all religion in the same silly and dangerous bucket while never bothering to tell his audience what he means by the term “religion.” One gets the impression that humanity can be divided up into two well defined groups: on the one side you have rational humane people who have no religious beliefs and who simply want to make the world a better place; on the other side you have irrational misanthropic people who have “religious” beliefs and who inhibit progress and threaten the world.

and later...

This brings me to my second, more specific, criticism. Maher provides absolutely no evidence to support his remarkable claim that the Jesus story is a variation of the Horus myth. To his credit, Maher did interview Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome project, about the Gospels (the only educated “religious” person included in the documentary by the way). But Francis Collins is unfortunately an expert in biology, not biblical history. It’s hardly fair to call on him to give a robust defense of the historicity of the Gospels or refutation of the Horus-Jesus theory. (Yet, for all we know, he provided one that was edited out).

The truth is that there are many compelling reasons to conclude that the Gospels are substantially rooted in history, not legend or myth. Paul Eddy and I provide these reasons and argue against all the major Jesus-legend or Jesus-myth theories in The Jesus Legend (Baker, 2007) and (in a much more popular format) in Lord or Legend? (Baker, 2007). Had Maher seriously interacted with this material his documentary would have been much more informative. But it also would have undermined the objective of the film, which was to entertain audiences by making all religion (including faith in Jesus) look silly and dangerous.

What do you think? Have any of you seen the movie? Other than these two blog reviews (on blogs I read regularly) I haven't heard much about it. Has there been a surge against it by the religious right?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Abortion Facts

As it is nearly election time, the hot topic of abortion is in the air (which only seems to be a big deal in election years, interesting). I thought I'd share some interesting facts a ran across about abortion in the US. I'll leave the analysis to you. (Read the original post here).

Abortion Facts

Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended.

Almost half of unintended pregnancies end in abortion.

The most frequent reasons given by women seeking an abortion are that a child would limit ability to meet current responsibilities and that they cannot afford a child at this point in their lives.

Unintended pregnancy has increased by 29% among poor women while decreasing 20% among higher-income women.

Women below the federal poverty level have abortion rates almost four times those of higher-income women.

Between 1996 and 2000, while abortion rates for all other groups fell, abortion rates among poor and low-income women increased.

The majority of women having abortions are in their 20s or younger.

Overturning Roe Vs. Wade Will Not End Abortion in America

Overturning Roe Vs. Wade, a long time goal of the pro-life movement, would not end abortion in the United States, it would simply send the decision to the states.

If states with more than 45% "pro-life" sentiment chose to outlaw abortion, this would only impact 16 states accounting for 10% of abortions nationwide, or less than 100,000 abortions a year.

Women in these 16 states would still be able to travel to seek an abortion in another state, or seek an illegal abortion, making the impact likely less than a 10% reduction in abortions nation-wide.

States with the highest abortion rates in the country, like California and New York, would be unlikely to outlaw abortion in their states.

Studies Show that Economic Support for Women and Families Reduces Abortion

In a recent study released by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good finds that social and economic supports such as benefits for pregnant women and mothers and economic assistance to low-income families have contributed significantly to reducing the number of abortions in the United States over the past twenty years.

Economic assistance to low income families is correlated with a 20% lower abortion rate. Across the entire United States, this translates into 200,000 fewer abortions.

In the 1990s, states with more generous grants to women, infants and children under the age of five as provided by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program had a 37% lower abortion rate.

Higher male employment in the 1990s was associated with a 29% lower abortion rate.

The abortion rate has declined most rapidly from 1990-1996 when there was an economic boom under President Clinton. While rates have continued to decrease, they have declined less rapidly in recent years when poverty rates have been climbing.

Legal Status of Abortion Does Not Necessarily Impact Abortion Rates

Nearly half of all abortions in the world are performed in countries that have made abortion illegal.

The lowest abortion rates in the world - less than 10 per 1,000 women of reproductive age - are in Europe, where abortion is legal and available.

By contrast, in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, where abortion law is most restrictive, the regional rates are 29 and 31 per 1,000 women, respectively.

These countries are also much poorer than the U.S. and provide fewer social services; and a larger proportion of their population lives in poverty.

In Western European countries, in contrast, where more social services are provided and fewer women live in poverty, the abortion rates are consistently the lowest rates in the world.

Source: Joseph Wright and Michael Bailey, "Reducing Abortion in America : The Effect of Economic and Social Supports" (Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good) and The Guttmacher Institute "An Overview of Abortion in The United States"