Alibi: Do you think that George W. Bush’s insistence on mixing politics and religion in his daily life conflicts with the Constitutional notion of separation of Church and State?
Bill Maher: I absolutely do. I think any reasonable person who studies the founding fathers comes away with the idea that they were not religious in the way that George W. Bush is. As a matter of fact, there’s very little about George Bush that reminds one of the founding fathers. The founding fathers were, after all, European in their thinking; that’s the world they come from. They were very well traveled, very well read, very erudite and cosmopolitan. They were nothing like George Bush — I’m not saying that as a criticism, I’m just saying that it’s a fact. The founding fathers, the one group of politicians that we can all agree were great, were not “good ol’ boys.” That doesn’t mean George W. Bush couldn’t have been a good president, I don’t think he was, but he certainly did not resemble the founding fathers in any way. And if you go down the list of who they were and what they believed in, you know, Washington was a nominal Anglican, but he didn’t go to church and certainly not for Communion. Adams was a Unitarian. Jefferson was a deist — he was so hateful of religion that he wrote an edited version of the New Testament with the miracles eliminated [The Jeffersonian Bible].
On the other hand, you have Lincoln, who was rather religious, but he didn’t wear it on his sleeve. They came to him during the Civil War with a Religiosity Ammendment, and he immediately nixed it. It’s a very recent thing — since President Carter — that politicians can wear their religion on their sleeves.
Alibi: It really scares the shit out of me …
Maher: It’s one thing to be religious, which I am not and have no respect for, but it’s even scarier when these people are Born Again. Born Agains believe that the rapture — you know, that shit — they really believe that the world is going to end, and many of them are so arrogant as to believe that it’s going to end in their lifetime, they’d like to have that happen. And this affects our policy in the Middle East because these Americans believe this tribulation is upon us. It’s one thing to have faith, but it’s another thing when it’s so important to your life that it affects public policy. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. quotes James Watt, Reagan’s Interior Secretary, as having said in a Senate hearing of his stewardship of the environment that “I don’t know how many generations we’ll be around …” (laughs) So if that’s your view, that the world is going to end anyway so we might as well use the land as we see fit, that’s a very scary development.
Alibi: In your opinion, are issues like abortion or gay marriage sufficient to base one’s vote on?
Maher: Not in my opinion, but to plenty of people in Bush’s base, that’s what the whole thing is about, those wedge issues. Again, this is scary because we’re in a very perilous time right now and we need to be thinking our way out. And for people to be guiding the ship of state by anything other than rationality is very dangerous. The Romans use to read entrails before they’d go into battle, you know, split a chicken open and have some high priest or something come in and look at the way the organs were laid out, and that would determine whether they went to battle or not. And we’re not that much better if we’re basing those decisions on our own silly superstitions. You’ve got to guide the ship of state with a compass.
Alibi: And how!
Read the full text of the interview in our Thursday, Nov. 4 issue and get tickets now to see Bill Maher on Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Popejoy Hall by visiting www.tickets.com.