I have never been religious. Similar to Bill Maher, I grew up with one Jewish and one Christian parent, though neither of them practiced either faith outside of childhood. I’m often distressed by all the violence committed in the name of God, or anyone related to him. I have often found myself confused and baffled by the strength of what to me seem to be insane and, as Bill Maher puts it, somewhat fairytale like beliefs. This is what originally drew me to Bill Maher’s Religulous. I thought I would be walking into a discussion of belief, how it began, why we have it today, and why so many hold so tightly onto a god that for me has always seemed so obviously manmade.
However, this was not the movie I found myself watching. In Religulous Bill Maher flies himself around the world with a small crew and ‘interviews’ many different people (mostly men) in many different religions and locations. What he seems to find so hilarious is that all the people that he interviews are completely positive, at all times, that they are right. They refuse to listen to anyone else.
Interesting, because Bill Maher hardly let’s someone finish a sentence before he calls them out on their so called ‘bullshit,’ and walks off camera in a huff. At the end of the film he says what exasperates him so is the ‘arrogant certitude’ that these people have about their religion, and that we should remember that ‘doubt is humble’.
I agree, doubt is humble, which is why I find it absolutely maddening that Bill Maher can stand atop the stones in Meggido, Israel yelling about the stupidity of faith. And that he can look down upon all those who claim to be religious, when he has spent an hour and forty minutes not listening to anyone, and preaching the gospel of Bill Maher. The very last picture we have of him is at Meggido, atop a small cliff with the camera looking up at him; this puts Maher in a very god-like position. It would seem, after watching this movie, that the one with the most ‘arrogant certitude’ is Bill Maher himself.
This brings me to ask: What exactly is the point of this film? I mean, besides making everyone who has a faith look like a complete idiot, is there one? The end of the movie is very apocalyptic, as Maher suggests that the end of the world is being caused by religion, and that we (the atheists I presume) must band together to stop this. How is this different than any other religion feeling the need to go door to door converting every sinner? It’s not.
So, I have to wonder, who is this film really geared towards? Bill Maher’s not stupid. He knows the people he’s interviewing aren’t going to be the ones to pick up a DVD, so who is this really for? My guess: middle class, well educated, atheists. If there’s one thing people love, it’s feeling smart. If you aren’t religious, then you already agree with a lot of what Maher’s already saying and you probably already knew a lot of it too. But, when he says it and films the opposing side looking like a regular country-bumpkin nincompoop, well, then we can feel quite good about ourselves. Thank god, we’re not like them, right? But now we have a ‘we’ and ‘them’. Funny, because Maher seems to think this sort of divide only occurs inside religious boundaries.
But these days, with movies like Religulous and Borat, we can see a lust for creating a divide between ‘the well informed’ and ‘the ignorant’. If you are in the ‘well informed’ party you’re probably enjoying the film a lot because (as I said before) they make you look pretty good. In fact you look better, in an extreme way, than those other people, right? But what about those other people? The movie seems geared towards trying to educate them, but is it? Or is it just another good ol’ laugh for the educated middle class?
One of the scenes in Religulous that positively kills me is when Maher goes to a tiny church (and when I say tiny, I mean smaller than the bedroom of my in-law apartment) for truckers. If you are unaware, truckers are the people who sit in a massive truck for hours, usually alone, driving truckloads of merchandise, through all hours of the day and night. Bill Maher walks into this tiny place and starts asking questions. Great, that’s what an interviewer is supposed to do. But what bothers me is when he starts to laugh at them for their beliefs, which to him are completely ridiculous, so of course he does his darndest to make them feel and look ridiculous. ‘Aren’t these little people with their little beliefs so hysterical?’ type of thing. And at the end of his interview he says, “I think being without faith is a luxury for people who are fortunate enough to have a fortunate life…. You’re in a fox hole, you probably have a lot of faith, right? So I get that, but you guys aren’t dumb. You’re smart people. How can smart people, how can they believe in the talking snake and the 900 years old, the virgin birth and that’s my question.”
Yes, clearly these people in the rollaway church the size of a hallway are filled with luxury, Bill. And I’m sorry, did he just basically say: if you believe in God, how can you possibly be intelligent? Very judgmental for someone who later says: “That’s a pretty big judgment for a Christian…. That’s not a judgment that you are sitting here telling these people that you don’t even know that they are incomplete because they’re not like you.” Yes, the guy he is talking to is being absolutely ridiculous (it’s a ‘heterosexual’ man who used to be gay but now has seen the light of God, blah, blah, we know the rest. But basically now he believes homosexuality is a choice and those who have fallen astray are ‘incomplete’ as men or women. Which as most of us hopefully know, is insane.) However, I find it pretty hysterical that Bill Maher states (quite high on his horse) ‘that you are sitting here telling these people that you don’t even know that they are incomplete because they’re not like you.” Aren’t the people Bill Maher interviews portrayed as somewhat incomplete? They’re missing something, right? A few less brain cells, perhaps? I’m just in awe that someone could blindly make a film this hypocritical.
Maher has a lust for tearing people down without any interest in building something in their place. He is a documentary Godzilla destroying everything in his path with little respect or interest in discussion. If you want to see a film make fun of people who are at a disadvantage, and who get Maher’s joke tested on them like helpless lab rats, be my guest. Otherwise, I’d skip. I will, however, take Bill Maher’s advice on doubt, and doubt that I will ever watch this terrible film again.