“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 human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong!”
This is the wisdom Bill Maher offers in his film, Religulous, directed by Larry Charles (who directed Borat and Seinfeld). If doubt is humble, and Maher is the king of doubt, why is he so arrogant?
I used to watch Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, have on occasion agreed with some of his political points, got a kick out of “New Rules”, and loved the music. While I appreciate some of his sarcastic humor, at times I wonder why Maher sometime acts like he was dropped on his head. My enjoyment of Maher and his show changed this past election (2008) when he showed more of his bias and his contention blossomed towards Bush, the Republican Party and religion, specifically Christianity. Oh, and there’s that occasional slam on Jesus (“Oh, I kid”).
Since I am a Christian and sensed Maher’s aversion to religion and his contempt for Christians, I was hesitant to watch this film, but curiosity won the day. Religulous was put together with good music and terrific shots of the Holy Land, as well as random, yet strategic, Photoshopped excerpts of news coverage, old movies, photos, and satire. I found Religulous somewhat entertaining and at times humorous, but I did experience those uncomfortable moments and not just for Maher’s mannerisms and lame jokes, but more so for some of the folks he interviewed.
While Maher does mock religions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and the “marijuana dude” (Cannabis Ministries), most (not all) of the people he interviewed probably deserved to be ridiculed. Where did he find these characters? Knowing his agenda I wasn't too surprised, but was shocked that he wasn’t assaulted by one of them, which would have given him more ammunition towards his belief that all people of faith are stupid and violent!
One of the highlights of Religulous was Father Reginald Foster (Senior Vatican Priest) filmed in front of the Vatican. The interaction between Maher and Father Foster was charming and amusing especially when Maher asked Father Foster, “So how do you convince people of what’s the true faith?” Father Foster’s response: “You don’t… Forget it, you (they) just have to live and die with their stupid ideas.” Very profound when you think Father Foster was sharing his wisdom with a skeptic.
Religulous does show some of the dark sides of organized religion coupled with humor, and in Maher’s defense I can see why he has such antipathy towards religion. Maher has valid criticisms about organized religion in general because all faiths have been hijacked one time or another by crazies, lunatics, and extremists. All you have to do is take a look at the injustices, murders, travesties, genocide, and jihad committed in the name of religion. Mix in the motives behind some of the religious, like power, greed, money, and even sex (sounds a lot like politics). Follow it with hypocrisy, misrepresentation, outrageous interpretation, and commercialization, and what’s left? It’s amazing we don’t have more doubting Thomases.
According to Maher, “Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking; it is nothing to brag about.” This is coming from a comedian who brags about smoking pot and shouldn't be taken seriously, however, it is one thing to attack organized religion and another thing to infer all people of faith lack intellect.
If generating doubt in faith was the objective of Maher and Religulous, it failed in my case and has actually emboldened my faith. If his message is that people of faith should cultivate more humility, then he prevails. Motives aside, Maher does display quite a bit of haughtiness on a topic of which he is so close-minded.
In the end, I did enjoy Religulous. I also have to confess that I do like Bill Maher, he always has that “cat that ate the canary” smirk on his face.
NEW RULE: Documentaries about religion have to include more than a few characters that have more education then Spongebob and an IQ over 70.