Bishop Barron: Anti-religion Bill Maher has ‘become an ally’

Bill Maher Bishop Robert Barron Bill Maher and Bishop Robert Barron. | Credit: Noam Galai/Getty Images; National Eucharistic Congress

Bishop Robert Barron this week said that talk-show host Bill Maher, who has been famously critical of religion, has become an unlikely “ally” amid the ongoing bitter culture wars. 

Barron, the bishop of the Winona-Rochester Diocese in Minnesota and founder of Word on Fire Ministries, wrote in an op-ed at CNN on Tuesday that while for many years Maher was a reliably harsh and unsparing critic of religion, the comedian has of late set his sights on a very different target.

On his HBO talk show, Barron recalled, Maher “would often present the most extreme and simple-minded version of Christianity, and his audience would derisively laugh with him at the poor rubes who still believed such nonsense.”

The comedian’s anti-religious zeal ultimately came to a head in the 2008 film “Religulous,” Barron noted. In that feature-length film, Maher traveled the world, mocking and criticizing numerous religions, including Catholicism.

Maher “annoyed me,” Barron admitted, though he said he came to understand Maher’s beliefs as an outgrowth of what the bishop described as a “childish version of the faith” imparted by a lax mid-century American faith tradition.

Yet in recent years, Barron noted, the comedian has pivoted away from criticism of religion and more toward criticism of the “woke” style of politics that has come to dominate much of American political and social discourse. 

“As he has done so, I have found myself, time and again, nodding my head in agreement,” the prelate wrote. “To my surprise, the nemesis had become an ally.”

The bishop wrote that both he and Maher are opposed to the “all-or-nothing antagonism that is characteristic of wokeism and the brutal cancel culture that follows from it.” 

The “woke consensus is that those we disagree with are not just to be corrected or ignored; they are to be shouted down and silenced,” he said. 

The bishop further pointed to Maher’s recent appearance on conservative Greg Gutfeld’s Fox News talk show. 

The left-wing Maher and right-wing Gutfeld “didn’t insult one another; they didn’t resort to smear tactics,” Barron wrote. Rather, “they presented arguments and, at the close of the program, they were both laughing.”

Maher was demonstrating that intellectual opponents “do not have to demonize one another” and that they can “talk through issues without resorting to violence or personal attack.”

In doing so the comedian “was both striking at the foundation of wokeism and showing, in a truly patriotic spirit, that he still believes in the democratic process,” Barron said.

Maher earlier this month spoke out in response to outrage surrounding Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker’s May 11 commencement speech at Benedictine College; in that speech Butker, a Catholic, spoke about gender ideology, gender roles, homosexuality, abortion, and other hot-button issues.

The comedian on May 17 said critics have painted Butker as “history’s greatest monster” for speaking out in favor of marriage and faith.

“I don’t see what the big crime is. I really don’t,” Maher said.

Barron has in the past sharply criticized Maher over the comedian’s religious criticism, with the prelate describing him in 2014 as “the most annoying anti-religionist on the scene today.”

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Maher has likewise in the past been an unsparing critic of religion, calling it a “neurological disorder” that makes “a virtue out of not thinking.”

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