Bill Maher Proposed an Atheist Holiday on a New “Real Time”
The Trump indictment loomed over this week’s episode
Let’s start with the ending of this week’s Real Time With Bill Maher. The bulk of this week’s New Rules found Maher discussing a subject close to his heart — atheism. His argument was, essentially, that atheists — or, more broadly, the religiously unaffiliated — were not represented enough in public life, from members of the government to officially recognized holidays.
It included Maher discussing upcoming Easter celebrations — “Bunny rabbits that shit eggs to celebrate the son of God? Whatever floats your ark.” — and the increasing number of schools observing Ramadan. The segment explored questions of what an atheism-themed holiday would look like — in Maher’s telling, it might be a three-day weekend with Monday set aside to not gather with other people who don’t believe.
Maher made the deepest rhetorical cuts when he observed that a holiday for religious “nones” would be free from commercialization, as there would be nothing to commercialize. That said, I can’t imagine there aren’t marketing departments out there willing to give it a try.
But Maher isn’t wrong about the growth of this segment of the population. He pointed to a statistic that 32% of the U.S. population are self-described atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.” A Pew Research Center study from 2021 offered a similar figure — 29%, to be specific.
And while Maher is clearly on one side of this debate, he also touched on something more — dare I say — universal when he imagined believers asking themselves, “Why make up a being who’s constantly disappointed in you?” While that’s something of a loaded question, the idea of stopping to question certain things one might take for granted every now and then is not bad advice at all. You don’t even need a holiday to do so — though an extra holiday never hurts.
Some other notes from this week’s episode:
- The show began with Maher monologuing about two trials — one forthcoming and one recently concluded. The former was, of course, that of former president Donald Trump, which opened the door for Maher to make a few memorable analogies — including this one: “Trump’s lawyer went to jail for this. That’s like getting the clap and your doctor dies.”
- Another good line on Trump’s indictment: “[Trump] spent his whole life stiffing people; the one time he pays somebody, this happens.”
- The second trial he invoked was, of course, the one involving Gwyneth Paltrow and skiing. “You don’t know passion until you’ve seen a thousand white people in the snow holding vagina-scented candles,” said Maher.
- Two of Maher’s three guests for this episode were elected officials — New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and Virginia Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears, both Republicans. Joining the latter on the panel was James Kirchick, journalist and author (most recently) of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington.
- In conversation with Sununu, Maher returned to a point he made earlier this year — that for all that some conservatives decry “socialism,” there’s a fair amount of how the U.S. government runs that could be accurately described this way.
- Maher repeatedly argued with Sununu about the equivalences he was making between the two parties. “What Donald Trump tried to do — not recognizing a fair election — is not comparable to incremental socialism” was one memorable turn of phrase, as was “I think all the problems except for Trump are normal problems that we used to work out.”
- Sununu, on whether or not he was seeking the Republican presidential nomination: “I’m going to wait to see what percent of the potential candidates get indicted.”
- Talk of the Trump indictment continued in the panel discussion, which eventually gave way to a conversation about gun control — and another of Maher’s recurring themes: the possibility (or lack thereof) of a grand bargain between Republicans and Democrats.
- In the second half of the panel discussion, Maher turned the subject to medical care for trans kids. Substantively, it was not too far removed from a similar conversation earlier this year when Andrew Sullivan and Rep. Nancy Mace were on the show.
- Early on in New Rules, Maher mocked neo-Nazis for their coffee mugs — and called for the city of Regina to re-embrace its, shall we say, controversial tourism slogan.
- Later in the same segment, Maher’s mention of Easter prompted an enthusiastic “YEAH!” from a member of the audience. “First you’ve heard of it?” he asked.
- Real Time is off next week, with a new episode set to air on April 14.
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