REVIEW: “Religulous” (film) with Bill Maher
Directed by Larry Charles, starring Bill Maher
CHALLENGE(S): Social Justice Challenge
In the absence of any clear direction re: this challenge, I thought I’d watch Religulous as part of my Activist participation this month. I remember when this came out in America a lot of the atheist online communities that I frequent were really excited about it. I also remember that much of that excitement turned to disappointment once they actually saw the film, and quite apart from Religious Freedom month, I was eager to see for myself whether it lived up to the hype.
I have to say, I wasn’t all that impressed. My father watched it before I did and said it was hilarious, but I didn’t really get the humour. Basically, Bill Maher tours the world poking his nose into religious sites and asking people various questions, apparently in an attempt to press home two points about religion. The first point is that people believe all sorts of really weird stuff. He spoke to a man who believes he’s the second coming of Christ; he visited the Creation Museum. He even used That Video (briefly, thankfully) of Kirk Cameron and NZ’s very own Ray Comfort discussing bananas. If you don’t know which video I’m talking about, look it up on YouTube. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll laugh.
Unfortunately, Maher fails to try to understand why people believe the things they do; in fact, he’s more about mocking them for believing in anything. Throughout the film he came across as smug and arrogant which made it pretty difficult to watch with anything other than a pained grimace on my face.
I’m hardly averse to pointing out the flaws of religion. I do it all the time. However, there’s a difference between mocking religion and mocking religious people which I don’t really think Maher understands. There were several times through the film where I really felt he was sniggering behind their backs, which made me annoyed on their behalf. In particular, I remember one instance when he was talking to a group of truckers who worshipped in a small church by the road, saying, “You’re smart people, how can you believe in angels etc.?” when it was quite clear he was thinking “You guys are idiots.”
The second point of the film was that religion is dangerous and needs to be curtailed before it causes mankind to destroy the world. I agree that having government officials who think that nuclear war is not a bad thing and who are living more for the afterlife than for this world is not a good idea; I wholeheartedly believe that religion should keep the hell away from politics and that when people start blowing each other up in the name of their god(s) they lose the right to call theirs a religion of peace. In fact, I agreed with a lot of Maher’s points. But the attitude, once again, had me grinding my teeth. Was it really necessary to be so very condescending? Really? It was frustratingly lacking in objectivity and any real coherent argument; instead it seemed to be trying to convince through shock tactics and/or emotional appeals. Oh, and music. Lots of music. I have to say, I now have “Walk Like an Egyptian” stuck in my head, which I don’t altogether appreciate…
Ultimately, I think this film was aimed mostly at preaching to the choir. It didn’t provide me with any arguments that I hadn’t already heard before, nor did it make a serious attempt to convince or educate – it was mostly inviting me to chuckle at the stupid Christians and the crazy Muslims and the weirdo Jews, while feeling smugly superior because I don’t believe in any of the same bizarre things. I felt that the underlying message was that Religious People are Stupid and/or Crazy, which was something I objected to. I also didn’t appreciate the crudeness of the humour at points and the attitude towards women that seemed to undercut the film. Honestly, all it really did for me was convince me that Maher is kind of a jerk. Hm. Not the effect he was going for, I think.