Movie Review: Religulous (2008)

Thanks a bunch, Bill, it needed to be said __ 8/10

ReligulousWritten by Bill Maher
Directed by Larry Charles

Bill Maher … Himself
Several: Including his sister and mother

Bill Maher: It seems, people, that this is the very spot … [Megiddo, Israel] … where a lot of Christians believe life on earth will end. The irony of religion is that because of its power to divert man to destructive courses, the world actually could come to an end.

Based on the trailers, I didn’t encounter anything too unexpected with Religulous: it’s a essentially a home movie about a man in the public eye, Bill Maher (comedian, political gadfly) who questions the standard Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, Mohammedism (Islam)—not as a theologian or philosopher might, rather as a conscientious Joe Lunchbucket might. He starts out with his remaining family, simply sitting down in a room with his sister and mother. I believe his ancestors professed Judaism, but he was raised to believe in the Catholic religion.

Many of us can identify with particularly what his mother tells him as to why they went to church: “We wanted to make sure you had some moral sensitivity, a code of values to tell you right from wrong, and that you would then grow up to be honest, caring members of society.” Or words to that effect. It’s clear from subsequent questions that neither Mama Maher or Sis Maher are intellectually committed to any specific doctrine or to the firm conviction that God exists… especially if you consider all the common sense contradictions such as the Problem of Evil (“If God is all powerful and all good, what about the crippled child next door?”).

Indeed, Bill’s mother offers the same real impression of God that my mother has: God is the “life force, that’s all.” Church is just something she fell into as a social convention. Nothing to get too excited about. Sure, the stories are mostly fairy tales, but Mama Maher doesn’t think it hurt Bill much to go to church and Sunday School, may have kept him out of some trouble.

From his familiar origins, Maher hits the road in search of answers.

One of the first settings is a Truckers for Jesus trailer where we meet a cross-section of truly amazing true believers… black and white, mostly obese, all of them disinclined to ask any deep questions of the Bible. Which is what Maher does right off the bat. He points out some of the Old Testament imperatives from the Jealous God that explicitly endorse rape, incest, bestiality, murder, torture… the list is long. Even some of the New Testament statements of Jesus assert that if you don’t believe, you will fry forever in Hell. So where’s the love?

The truckers are well-intended, but wholly clueless. A couple of them try to see the logic, but generally they have this mythical perception of Jesus in their minds, and their imaginations are impervious to the obvious questions that would occur to dimmer children. Throughout the movie, Maher’s role is to pose the simple queries a kid might consider… pose them to mothers and sisters, to truck drivers, to all manner of partisans of the God concept.

Although Maher travels the world, especially to the Holy Land, most of his movie is shot from the States and focused on literal Christianity. The documentary contains some fascinating footage of a self-proclaimed university supporting the story of Genesis, including interviews with the principals. These “teachers” have nothing on the truck drivers. Another segment takes us to a Florida theme park that has recreated the cityscape for Jesus’s birth and departure. I thought I’d seen everything, but watching some short-skirted cuties doing a line dance about the Last Supper made me light headed. For real. Not scripted. People pay to go there. Maher has an instinct for natural irony.

SupperThere’s no denying it, any time you get into the details of a religion—and the more derivative ones, such as Mormonism, are priceless—the icons break down into inconsistencies and the theater of the absurd… or at least the physically impossible. (More than once, Maher wonders about the virgin birth.) What one also realizes is the core story of the Abrahamic scriptures is a repeat; many if not all of the key elements—birth without conception, miracles, being sacrificed and ascending into sky—are recycled more than a few times from the myths of Egyptian, Babylonian, and other civilizations.

Maher isn’t revealing anything most of us don’t know. The garden variety believers, like his mother and most of human society, seem harmless enough. But unlike Bill they don’t really care to ask any probing questions, or even any simple ones. They prefer to leave the subject alone and accept a high level of the ridiculous in the name of religious tolerance. Yet, it isn’t very far from the ridiculous to the insane, and—aside from the natural, sometimes biting, humor—that’s the public service Maher’s movie delivers. Because he does locate some extremely disturbed individuals (EDIs) from every major organized superstition.

Probably half the movie is devoted to the former belief, i.e. to the ordinary silliness of day-to-day faith (in an American Christian context), but the second half gets a lot more alarming. And Maher finds plenty of examples to cause concern—from a United States Senator who believes in literal Genesis and the Rapture to a Taliban cleric who would stone women to death for sex outside of marriage, whether or not the sex was voluntary. How do you get to the crazy, murderous fanatics from the Bill’s mothers of the world? If the billions of the relatively sane did not give their casual sanction to the superstitious drivel that fires the imagination of millions of the insane, there’d be less concern for human-caused Armageddons.

Bill Maher does a fine job making the sanity argument, in a Joe Lunchbucket “what the flock?” sort of manner. Plus the whole approach of the movie is familiar and characteristically funny; you will probably learn something, too (even someone like me who has long embraced learning to face the world on one’s own two mental feet: reason and common sense). It’s a healthful movie and an insightful one. It’s also disturbing.

Even the humorist, Maher, has to lay down his witticisms and laughter upon hearing that someone’s God wants them to skewer children of the infidel or turn the world into a smoldering cinder. His closing statement is worth quoting in full:

The irony of religion is that because of its power to divert man to destructive courses, the world could actually come to an end. The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge having key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken.

George Bush prayed a lot about Iraq, but he didn’t learn a lot about it. Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction.

Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it’s wonderful when someone says, “I’m willing, Lord! I’ll do whatever you want me to do!” Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas. And anyone who tells you they know, they just know what happens when you die, I promise you, they don’t. How can I be so sure? Because I don’t know, and you do not possess mental powers that I do not.

The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that’s what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong. This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves.

And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you comes at a horrible price.

If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you’d resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here, or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let’s remember what the real problem was. We learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it.

That’s it. Grow up or die.

Okay, not quite Galt’s Speech. But quite stirring for those of us who extol the virtue of the creative, thinking, rational—or at least humbly reasonable—mind. Plus, Maher really has a first-class comic mind. [Having stated all that, Mr. Bill remains one of the major barnacles on the ass of progress when it comes to the global truth force (Satyagraha). He’s in denial with the lot of the them who deny the reality of the global pathocracy, especially its orchestration of the 9/11 attacks. By blanking out his independent judgment, Maher does the dirty work of the globalists he works for… which globalists are a prime mover and manipulator of the blind faith crowd. The globalists are who we humans need to worry about most.]

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