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Movie Review: Religulous

6 October 2008 9 Comments

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…

9 Comments »

  • Qucifer said:

    AWESOME

    “e 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.”

    COSIGN TO THE FULLEST!

  • Lola Gets said:

    Man, I was going to the movies Saturday night, but I didnt feel like it after I got back from running errands. I thought I was going to see that new Tyler Perry flick, cause folks say its decent and unlike his Madea series, or the new Spike Lee joint. Now you gotta come up through here adding another movie Ive got to try to see – dammit!

    I do love me some Maher, even though I feel a litte dirty for doing so, hehe.

    L

  • Kellybelle said:

    I’m sending this review to a friend of mine who thoughtthe movie was mocking people of faith. Sounds like it was good!

  • DJStylus said:

    Once I shed the religion I grew up with and settled comfortably into agnosticism myself, I realized that religious debates are the most pointless debates anyone can have.

    How about you just do you and I’ma do me.

    But of course that isn’t human nature. And that’s the problem with religion, as opposed to faith. I just tell folks that if Jesus really wants to show me the error of my ways, he knows where to find me. He is God and therefore omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, right? I’ve got some cold beers waiting for him because we’d have a lot to talk about.

    I need to probably just get my Spaghetti Monster on.

    Or maybe I should start a Persecuted Black Agnostics support group, unless I’m the only one who has caught hell from friends, family and even strangers for eschewing religion. (but not a belief system, morals or spirituality)

    There’s a Kingdom Hall right down the street from me. The Witnesses stopped coming around years ago after I made the mistake of engaging with them one day. I flustered a whole team of them who had to call in reinforcements who met the same fate.

  • Ill Mami said:

    @ Stylus & Thembi:

    I am a reformed agnostic and after being subjected to Islam & Christianity early on, I finally decided that God exists in my adult life. but I don't subscribe to the Major Three conventional religions views of God.

    Like Maher, I too feel that the Old Testament only proves how much the people back then were trying to grasp their world and their place in it. Life was hard, and so was their image of God. As an angry, jealous scorned type who seems sort of like Lady Macbeth with all the scheming, plotting, and testing.

    I'm not going to sit here and say that having a child changed my view of faith. Hell, even my name meaning "faith" did not have the impact on me that my parents likely thought it would. What happened is that I discovered that I possess an ability that many other people don't have or deny themselves. I am speaking about being naturally psychic.

    Many will think I am crazy for admitting this or for believing that this ability is possible. But the only way I can make sense of it is to know that there is a higher power greater than me who allows me to "see" certain things. I'm fun at parties 😉

    But seriously, I am of the mind that people can believe in whatever makes the most sense to them. I do get down with Agape (www.agapelive.com) , whose tenets teach that all the faith you need is within and to not wait to make a change in your life. Heaven may not exist so make your world a better place NOW. It really is that simple.

  • Kim said:

    Thembi, thanks for this review. I definitely plan on seeing it. I too am a huge Maher fan and agree on many of his points on organized religion. Personally I go back and forth on what I believe. In general, I believe there is a higher power but I just don’t believe that the Bible is the absolute word of God. Heck he didn’t even write it. Neither God nor Jesus has written their autobiography and for anyone to say they truly know either deity is lying. I totally agree with you, we don’t know anything. But I do believe there is something higher than us.

    My dilemma comes in what to say to my daughter when those questions about God come. What’s funny is we have enrolled her in a Christian Academy — a Baptist one and sometimes I chuckle at some of the worksheets they send home with the Alphabet. While learning the letter ‘A’ there is an apple, an alligator and Adam (a white one at that).

  • BorisUK said:

    HAHAHAHA
    u finna go to hell thembi
    no white heaven for u
    just kiddin

    i agree with u tho
    religion has been abused n fucked up thru the ages. wtf was up with poor people being put in the back of churches. and that story where God told that guy to kill his son, i would like heeeeeeeeeell no im not kilin my son

    ahaha for bible bashing fuckery look at this bible basher forum:

    http://www.landoverbaptist.net/showthread.php?t=14865

  • DJStylus said:

    @Kim:

    You can tell your daughter that the universe is vast, complex, awe-inspiring, beautiful and painful. And there are many ways that people try to make sense of it, all of which are on equal footing.

    You can make fun history and culture lessons out of exploring them together. Even if you’re not Christian, the Bible is a great collection of stories. And when I was a kid, my favorite book was a huge compendium of mythology (that word is kind of derogatory but oh well) of world cultures. Comparing Native American creation myths to West African orishas to Greek and Roman gods is a turbo boost to the imagination.

    Then you can tell her to fully engage with people and the world around her and then listen to her heart to find her own personal truth.

  • Dara said:

    i feel you thembi. i saw it sunday and it was grrreat.

    one thing i didnt like, though, was that although he pointed out alot of negative aspects of the three major religions, he only focused on violence in islam…just too easy and fed a stereotype im clearly sick of.

    however, i wouldve paid a few extra bucks for the reactions of folks asked to explain how adam and eve and other parts of the old testament could possibly be true. a river in egypt, perhaps?

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