Bill Maher Proposed an Atheist Holiday on a New “Real Time”

The Trump indictment loomed over this week’s episode

Bill Maher
Bill Maher discussed "nones" and nuns on a new "Real Time."

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.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.