Posted on 4/12/10 06:44 AM
Religulous is an abrasive documentary in which Bill Maher probes various religious leaders and followers with simple yet challenging questions about their faith. At times, the film is funny. Other times, it's annoying. Despite being extremely one-sided, Bill Maher deserves credit for his fearless inquiry into the world of religion. To me, it didn't seem like Bill Maher was out to convert people to atheism. Rather, he was simply out to ask questions, or, as he states, cast doubt on the dogmatic certainty that characterizes religious belief.
Maher primarily concerns his quest with Christianity. He travels to many different places including various locations around the United States, Jerusalem, and Rome. Maher interviews religious followers and leaders, focusing his questions on some of the more mythical stories in the Bible, such as the talking snake in Genesis, the virgin birth, Moses talking to the burning bush, and other stories. His point is valid. Why do religious people think the story of Santa Claus is made-up whereas the equally implausible stories in the Bible are accepted as truth? Basically, why is Christianity granted superstitious and mythological amnesty over all other myths?
One intriguing aspect of the documentary is Maher's interest in people who converted to Christianity. For example, he interviews a few Jews who used to be Jewish but then became Christians. Maher wants to know why they converted. To be honest, they don't give a convincing answer. Also, Maher interviews a pastor who used to be a homosexual but was "cured" through Christ and has since been married and has three children. This particular interview is one of the more disturbing parts of the documentary, listening to an ex-homosexual denouncing homosexuality.
Truthfully, all of Maher's questions are fair. All other bodies of knowledge are subjected to intense scrutiny and skepticism, and they typically aren't accepted unless they prove themselves beyond a reasonable doubt to be true or plausible. However, religion seems to be exempt from these same scrutinies. Maher's endeavor of posing these types of questions to religion is admirable. For example, God spends the better part of the Old Testament wiping out cities and flooding the world and destroying things. What kind of loving God is this? The answers people give in the documentary are similar to the ones I have heard myself: God's ways are beyond are understanding. I don't know why some people find this answer satisfying.
In all fairness to the subjects Maher interviews, he does not treat them with much respect, and he constantly asks a question and then interrupts them. He doesn't really give anyone an opportunity to respond before he refutes them. On this level, Maher does himself a disservice by making himself look like an asshole, which to be completely honest, he kind of is in the documentary. Maher would argue that religious followers are closed-minded to possibilities and questions outside their religion, but conversely, Maher is pretty closed-minded to what these religious people have to say. This was my one problem with Maher's documentary: I thought he could've treated the people he interviewed with a bit more respect.
Ultimately, Religulous poses fair questions towards religion. However, the way Maher goes about asking these questions is at times unfair. But the documentary is very entertaining to watch because of many of the interesting people Maher interviews, and the way Maher maintains his cynical poise in the face of religious zealots. I think the goal of Religulous is important. Maher spends time talking about the uncountable deaths throughout history as a result of religion as well as some people's obsession with the "End Times" and the apocalypse. Though I am on Maher's side in terms of supporting skepticism, accepting evolution, and being pretty sure there is no such thing as a deity, I am not sure religion is as inherently bad as Maher asserts. In many ways, religion is pretty harmless. It is probably true that the vast majority of religious followers are good, decent people. It's the extremists that are the real problem - the charlatans, the terrorists, the ones who push their beliefs on other people.
The topics of Religulous are ones that we all have a predisposition towards. In this sense, it was hard for me to watch this film and break free from my own predisposition towards religion. Since I would rather see a world free of religion, I liked the film and felt vindicated in several instances as Maher posed his questions and made his points. However, the film reminded me of all the times I have had intense debates with my mother, who is a devout follower of Christ. Without trying to, I inevitably seem to hurt my mom when we have these debates. In this sense, I felt bad for some of the people being interviewed, because Maher was essentially attacking them. But still, I support the ideas and questions Maher is championing.
I don't think this film has the power to change anyone's mind. Whatever your beliefs are before you watch the film, you'll still maintain them after viewing the film. Basically, if you aren't religious, you'll probably like the film and feel vindicated. If you are religious, you'll probably be pissed off. I liked the film, but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.