Two of the most important unstated issues here Bill Maher quotation above are 1) the kind of religion to which he refers, and 2) the nature of story-making itself as implied by Maher’s assertion that God defeating his nemesis the Devil would mean that there is no story.
Maher correctly shows that the mythical, dogmatic religions are the ultimate hustle. The focus of these dogmatic religious forms on social control via stories of the “In” group vs the “Out” group, the “Chosen” versus the “Other,” the “Saved” vs the “Damned,” the “Saints” vs the “Infidels,” the “Orthodox” vs the “Heterodox,” the “True Believers” vs the “Heretics,” etc. clearly is demonstrated by the consistent pattern of History, the alignment of special interests who profit from promoting those stories inside communities of people whom they have sought to control for political and economic benefit, and the fungible and amorphous meaning of the words and terms used to distinguish people in the “In” group versus the “Other.”
Indeed, the boundary lines between “In” and Out” are actually performed within these religions with rituals as the vehicle for giving these distinctions encoded meaning which “In” group believers can’t distinguish. And the reason they cannot distinguish the meanings is because they are entranced by the ritual and unable to see the hustle. But, Maher is only criticizing THIS type of religion—the mythical, traditional, dogmatic kind. The trans-rational religions rooted more closely in the contemplative spiritual practices—say of Trappist Christian monks, or certain kinds of Buddhist monks, or the Muslim Sufis to name but a few—do not qualify as the type of low-grade hustle to which Maher refers. And the contributions of trans-rational religion via the spiritual technologies of contemplation are irreplaceable and the neglect of their development of late, especially in the West, is a most serious problem.
The trans-rational religions are relatively unconcerned about defining dogma, performing it in in-group rituals of inclusion, and enacting it in the exclusion of the “Other” for the goal of political and economic power. Instead, the trans-rational religious traditions are interested in the spiritual technologies of “Waking Up” to consciousness and our own potential for individuation within it. The dogmatic religions are interesting in social evolution—but of a kind whose intent serves pre-extant and entrenched interests in positions of social power. The dogmatic religions are NOT interested in the religions of “Waking Up.” Ironically, for all of the talk Bill Maher makes of his unwavering support for science; he is probably unaware that most of the early scientists in early Europe were all originally monks laboring away in monasteries to come up with inventions to better grow food and manipulate light and copy books, etc. For instance, the Abbott Sir Roger Bacon in the early Middle Ages was writing about the development of machines as part of spiritual evolution. These trans-rational traditions continue today to be focused on the present and the future—so that we may each individually “Wake Up” to our role within that future. And if we were to “Wake Up” using the wisdom that has collected within the trans-rational traditions, we’d actually have much greater scientific discoveries than we have now. Because the science to which Bill Maher refers in his constant haranguing of the mythical, traditional, dogmatic religion so common among the fundamentalists is itself a product of the early mythological imagination of the medieval Christendom of Western Europe. The situation of the multi-ethnic cosmopolitan cities and cultures of present-day society which is now globally integrated in integrated flows of capital, information, value, and goods/services is much different. Indeed, the negative aspects and hidden externalities created by this globally integrated society imperil the project of human civilization if not human life or even the biosphere itself. So, we desperately need a new story. And this brings me to the second of Maher’s assumptions. In order to craft a new and better world and in order to replace the earlier mythic / traditional brand(s) of religion, we need a new story of the universe. For it’s the stories that frame our language and facilitate our communication and indeed communion with others. And if we are to build a future beyond the 21st century for the human race a new story is what we need—as well as the rituals and practices to live it out. In essence, we are still looking for the first seedlings of a new proto-religion for the Planetary Age presaging the Dawn of Age of Aquarius