Movie Review: Religulous
I have always enjoyed Bill Maher’s blend of politics, intellectualism, and comedy, so as soon as I heard about his new documentary Religulous I pre-ordered tickets, carefully chose my movie-going companion, and even splurged on popcorn. As a result, my Religulous experience was as close to perfect as possible. Thought provoking, thorough, informative, and side-achingly funny, this is the first film I’ve seen in a long time that I can recommend without reservation. While you may not agree with every point that Maher sets out to make through this documentary, it definitely raises questions and concepts that we should all spend at least a little bit of time thinking about.
Like 16% of Americans, including myself, Bill Maher is an agnostic. He and I agree on something that everyone should also agree on but few are willing to openly admit: when it comes down to it, nobody knows anything. Bill and I don’t necessarily believe that there is a traditional “God,” and we don’t believe that there isn’t, but we certainly don’t blindly accept any tents of organized religion as fact. Every religious text is filled with loopholes and lies that are contradictory to common sense or historically impossible. Fundamentalist organized religion, whether as familiar as Christianity or as wacky as Scientology, has been used to manipulate and control people since the beginning of time. This facet of religion continues to poison society, especially in The United States. Also, it is fair and fun to laugh at people who cannot or stubbornly will not wrap their heads around the truth about religion. Religion + Ridiculous = Religulous, get it?
Don’t misinterpret me here – the ability to have faith is a beautifully human trait, but what’s poisonous is that it’s OK for people to cover their ears whenever their own religion is questioned. Religion is the only concept in society whose tenets are automatically resistant to criticism. It is the only topic that otherwise rational people will go to great lengths to avoid questioning or debating; organized religion is ridiculously non-negotiable and anything even associated with it is tread upon lightly by us all. In this film Bill Maher makes a point of defiantly doing everything but treading lightly. However, even if you are a religious person, Religulous goes for the jugular of so many faiths that you’re bound to find humor in some set of suckers who refuse to even momentarily consider hard facts contradicting their beliefs. Interviews with charlatans such as the conked-out Pastor Jeremiah Cummings, former member of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and founder of Amazing Life World Outreach in North Carolina, will make you feel sorry for the gullible no matter what you believe. By keeping us laughing, Maher also gets away with skewering more mainstream faiths like Catholicism and Islam, in the process making otherwise frightening religious zealotry seem pretty comical. According to his reasoning, how can we laugh so heartily at the faiths on the fringe but refuse to question the faiths of our upbringings? Where should we draw the line between “religious” and “nutty”? Religulous is pretty successful at arguing that these two things are pretty much one and the same.
Religulous was directed by Larry Charles in the same traveling, “all the world is a joke” style that made his last movie, Borat, such a hoot. The editing and added on-screen text mocked interview participants in a way that was truly hilarious. I found so much of the information presented extremely fascinating, especially as Maher reported from locales such as Israel, The Vatican, and Salt Lake City. Bill and I don’t always see eye-to-eye; he serves on the board of PETA and used to date Karrine “Supahead” Steffans, so I know he can only be wound but so tightly. For example, while I’d argue that all faiths are equally possible, he would argue that all of them are equally impossible, unsubstantiated, silly, and corrupt. Maher is intentionally provocative and flippant about the faiths of others in a way that can be a little put-on at times, and he never fully addresses the need for acceptance of certain universal truths and morality. But the best part of Religulous is that, in addition to some real belly laughs, it creates a safe space to question and discuss these issues rationally and with reason.
Score: The ticket was $9.00 and it was well worth it. In fact, I’d put in a few extra bucks to have such stimulating conversation after a movie again, and a few more for Maher to delve into the rest of the world’s religions in the future. Check out the trailer…