Sat 11 Oct 2008
Look out Vatican City, there’s a new Pope in town.
The film I’ve probably had the most people ask me about in the last few weeks is “Religulous”. Self-admitted non-believer Bill Maher and “Borat” director Larry Charles hatched a plan to talk with religious individuals of multiple faiths in order to determine why they think there’s a God and why they follow their particular doctrines.
As a fellow non-believer/subscriber, I figured the film would at least be good for some laughs as Maher uses his trademark sarcasm and wit to dupe people into talking in circles and hypocrisy. I was definitely right about that.
Whether it’s a group of truckers at a truck stop chapel, an ex-gay minister helping other gays “reform”, U.S. Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas (that state should be “proud”), an ex-Motown singer turned evangelist, a Vatican priest or a man who believes he’s the second coming of Jesus Christ (albeit a descendant, not the resurrection of him), Maher manages to point out the contradictions in the Bible and in faith as a whole.
Maher doesn’t limit the film to Christianity, he also has brief sections about Mormonism, Scientology and the last section of the film tackles Islam. I give him loads of credit for taking on the Islamic faith right now, especially (as the film points out), because of the violence and hatred that can be sparked by something as simple as a cartoon mocking their prophet.
Maher makes no bones about his lack of faith, repeatedly reminding us that his policy in these matters is to say “I don’t know”. Practically hiding behind this assertion, what is technically labeled a documentary is really just a joke being made at others’ expense. People with faith will probably be offended, while the rest of us will laugh and move on with our lives.
Obviously, in a film like this, one doesn’t expect objectivity and there really is none. Maher has his point of view and the film is shot and edited to support that … much like what Michael Moore does.
While I laughed myself silly in some parts, I also took offense somewhat to the film as a whole. At its core, the film is mean-spirited and the ego and arrogance of Maher shines through like a lighthouse on a moonless night. I don’t subscribe to any faith but I don’t see the need to tell people they’re idiots because they do (what I say about them in my head or to my friends is my business).
The difference is that I think most atheists/non-believers are content to let people believe what they want to. When death comes for us, if you want to believe you’re going to Heaven, great. If you want to believe everything goes dark and you don’t go anywhere, that’s great too. If you think there’s a Hell, more power to you.
“Religulous” is something I’d recommend to people I know who like to make fun of religious zealots and something I’d vehemently recommend people with faith avoid. I’m going to give it a 3 out of 5 because I did laugh quite a bit but on the flip side, I also found Maher’s anti-Islamic sentiments unsettling. While he’s right that so many people have died as a result of organized religions (and this means Islam, Christianity, and a host of others), there isn’t any way to rationally discuss something that’s irrational – because that’s what faith is, believing in something because of what you feel and not because there is scientific evidence to support those beliefs.
I think people should believe what they want to believe, as long as it doesn’t infringe on my civil liberties. When it comes to fundamentalists killing innocent people, I separate out the religion because it’s not any higher deity’s will – it’s the cracked people interpreting a book to mean whatever they want it to … much like statistics that can mean anything you want them to if you take the time to skew them.
Still, I also think watching a U.S. Senator mention that there’s no I.Q. test to get elected is damn funny. Deciding if this film is for you isn’t so simple, even for us infidels, because of its ability to offend – but somehow, I think people can tell on their own if Maher’s style of attack comedy will make watching “Religulous” an experience worth their time and money.