Bill Maher calls Capitol riot a 'faith-based initiative,' QAnon a fundamentalist Christian movement

Focus on the Family's Jim Daly decries emerging media definition of 'Christian nationalism'

Bill Maher calls the Capitol riot a 'faith-based initiative' during his closing monologue on his HBO show Real Time, Feb. 5, 2021.
Bill Maher calls the Capitol riot a 'faith-based initiative' during his closing monologue on his HBO show Real Time, Feb. 5, 2021. | Screenshot: YouTube/Real Time With Bill Maher

Well-known late-night comedian Bill Maher described the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol as a "faith-based initiative," using his closing monologue to make the case that the riot and the QAnon conspiracy theory are products of fundamentalist Christian “delusion.” 

On Friday's edition of "Real Time," HBO host Bill Maher addressed the Capitol riot in his satirical segment "New Rules.” He proclaimed that “as long as we're going to go to the trouble of another impeachment trial, we might as well be honest about what it's really about." 

“The events of January 6 were a faith-based initiative and Trumpism is a Christian nationalist movement that believes (former President Donald) Trump was literally sent from Heaven to save them,” said the 65-year-old Maher, an outspoken atheist who frequently criticizes organized religion.

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"There's a lot of talk now in liberal quarters about how Republicans should tell their base who still believe the election was rigged that they need to grow up and move on and stop asking the rest of us to respect their mass delusion," the host continued. 

“The inconvenient truth here is that if you accord religious faith the kind of exalted respect we do here in America, you've already lost the argument that mass delusion is bad."

Maher equated the QAnon conspiracy theory, which has been criticized by notable conservative Christian leaders, with the Bible.

“Have you ever read the book of Revelations?" Maher asked. 

After mocking the final book of the New Testament, Maher proclaimed that "magical religious thinking is a virus and QAnon is just its current mutation." 

"That's why megachurches play QAnon videos. It's the same basic plot: Q is a prophet, Trump is the Messiah, there's an apocalyptic event looming, the storm, there's a titanic struggle of good vs. evil," he said. 

"We need to stop pretending there's no way we'll ever understand why the Trump mob believes in him. It's because they're religious," Maher continued. "They've already made space in their heads for sh** that doesn't make sense." 

According toAP VoteCast’s election polling conducted after the 2020 presidential election, voters who attend church once a week or more were more likely to vote for Trump, while those who say they attend church a few times a year or less were more likely to support Biden. 

"When you're a QAnon fanatic, you're also a fundamentalist Christian. They just go together like macaroni and cheese," Maher added. "It's not a coincidence that every senator who objected to certifying the electoral vote in Arizona is an evangelical Christian." 

Many conservative evangelicals have stepped forward to denounce the QAnon movement as a "political cult" and a "satanic movement." 

Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, compared the QAnon conspiracy theory to Gnosticism, which he described as "the belief that only a few, an elite, a privileged few are able to see, have inside information."  

Maher explained that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, one of the senators who voted to object to the certification of Arizona's electoral votes, asserted that the idea that the 2020 presidential election was rigged was "reality for nearly half the country.” He acknowledged that "you may not agree with that assessment." 

The HBO host attempted to paraphrase Cruz's argument.

"In other words, we have no proof the election was stolen, and you may have verifiable evidence that it wasn't, but that doesn't matter. It only matters that we believe it,” Maher said jokingly. 

"And that's when you're at religion," Maher remarked as the crowd erupted into applause. 

He expressed disgust that "you have to respect something just because people believe it." 

Maher is the latest cultural figure to attempt to equate conservative Christians and the millions of Americans who voted for former President Donald Trump with the group of protesters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, even though he argued against doing so on his program just three weeks earlier. 

Also, Maher is one of many on the political left to issue dire warnings about "Christian nationalism" in recent weeks.

A Jan. 31 USA Today editorial written by Rachel Mikva warned that "Christian nationalism is a threat, and not just from Capitol attackers invoking Jesus." 

Mikva, a Jewish studies professor and a senior faculty fellow at the InterReligious Institute at Chicago Theological Seminary, cited Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., one of the senators who voted to object to the certification of electoral votes in Arizona, as one of many elected officials who pose a "threat to religious pluralism in the United States" due to their purported support for white Christian nationalism.

According to Jim Daly, president of the socially conservative organization Focus on the Family, the increased use of the term "Christian nationalist" to describe Hawley and others is a "calculated move done with the hope of silencing those who follow Christ." 

Daly criticized Wikipedia for characterizing Christian nationalists as those who "actively promote religious discourses in various fields of social life, including politics, history, culture, and science.”

Wikipedia also describes Christian nationalists as those who "support the presence of Christian symbols ... school prayer and the exhibition of nativity scenes during Christmastide or the Christian Cross on Good Friday." 

Daly pushed back on the emerging definition of Christian nationalism, offering a more narrow definition of the ideology as "putting love of country (and our self-interests) over love of God."

He argued that just because Hawley is a "devout believer in Jesus Christ and a strong defender of his country" that doesn't make him a "religious nationalist." Daly argued that a Christian nationalist is someone who "fuses his love of God with his country in idolatrous fashion." 

“Properly understood, Christian nationalism is dangerous. If you think government and God are co-equals, you’ll be motivated by the wrong things and might even be susceptible to being swept up into violent mobs like we saw in Washington last month,” Daly said. “Conversely, good Christians are good citizens who have an obligation to serve the Republic. We engage our civic duty and privilege out of our love of neighbor.”

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