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Religulous (2008) R 101min

October 26th, 2008 by Maxim · 1 Comment · 10,784 Views


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Stand-up comedian Bill Maher, who now works at HBO, has had this documentary in mind for many years and finally it seems he could not keep his thoughts to himself anymore. He spoke about religion and absurdity of it and all the problems that come with it for a long time on his stand-up comedy tours, but only now have his thoughts matured into a feature-length documentary. Director: Larry Charles (Director of Borat, Producer of Seinfeld and Dilbert).

The plot: In “Religulous” (as in Religion + Ridiculous) Bill Maher goes on crusade. He travels through the United States’ Bible Belt, Salt Lake City, Vatican, Jerusalem and Amsterdam to question the religious views of all sorts of people – scientists, regular people on the street, Islamic scholars, Vatican establishment and ex-Mormons. He takes on all religions of the world. Maher, who was brought up as a catholic by his catholic father, in the beginning of the movie questions his own family since he only recently discovered that his mother was Jewish, which explains why she never went to church on Sundays when the rest of the family was there.  Next, he attacks religion as an impediment to science and progress. He makes a point that religion has an answer for everything (God willing), so religious scientists or scientists who try to connect science with religion (like Creationism) are in fact lousy scientists since religion impedes their ability to question things and forces them to twist scientific facts to be twisted or even disregarded in order to fit into their religious views.

Maher then questions the premises and stories behind famous religious documents, such as Old and New testament, Koran, The Book of Mormons and other religions like Scientology. For example, there’s a fascinating and really funny interview with a senior Vatican scholar, principal Latinist for the Pope Father Reginald Foster who, to everyone’s surprise… agreed with Maher on all points: “Hell, Virgin Birth – all ridiculous old stories”. He also said that of all saints the Italians address in their prayers, Jesus was in the 6th place, statistically. Maher quickly followed up with a question whether it is a polytheism, by definition. Another shock – Father Forster agreed again, adding, “it’s good for business”.

Maher then moved on to televangelists, accusing them of corruption and twisting the Christian message for personal profit, and they answered that “God wants them” them be rich, or rather “blessed” with wealth.

In other interviews Maher visits “Trucker’s Chapel” (a trailer converted into a chapel) where he asked his usual questions and found amazing stubborness from the congregation – some members felt offended by his questions, some angered, but most of them just decided that he’s a “lost sheep” and… prayed for him.

He also quickly talks about similarities between known modern religions. For example the birth of Savior on December 25 also happened on the same date in three other world religions. The virgin birth, baptism and beheading of the baptist, the miracles of walking on water and healing the sick and blind are also present in ancient Egyptian religions, 3000 before Christianity.

Maher also questions a brain scientist about possibly biological factors that make people religious and if religious believes affect people’s biology, brain function in particular.

Islam, the most populous religion (1 billion Muslims on the planet) were not spared either. “Why does God, who is so almighty, just doesn’t tell people, “here’s what I want you to do” but picks some obscure location and a single guy [the prophet] to deliver his message?”, Maher asks.

He also visits Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) in his Capitol office, and questions him about his belief in Creationism and the literal interpretation of the Bible. This was one of the scariest segments in the movie, but with a comical relief in the end when we see that in a moment of wisdom the Senator had just realized what he said, but the damage has already been done.

The movie is full of great punch lines that viewers [and movie critics] would love to quote. The film is edited very well. Bill Maher is no Michael Moore – he wasn’t setting people up and then coming up with a “gotcha” – Maher was just asking the right questions.

By the end of the movie, after all the satire and sarcasm, Maher gives a warning, that unless atheists and agnostics raise up to stop the spread of religion into all aspects of society including government, the rational thinking will be replaced with blind following of the word of God (or whoever delivers word of God to the crowd, be it Ayatollahs, gay priests or politicians using God and religion for their goals), the society, nay, the entire humanity is in grave danger.

The summary: Very clever and thought-provoking documentary/comedy, well edited too. Maher, like Vladimir Lenin nearly 100 years ago, calls religion “opium for people” that poisons brains of weak-minded people, yet instead of saying that he’s an atheist he picks a rather safe and comfortable position of being agnostic: “I don’t know. My religion is “I don’t know”. I reserve the right to question everything”. In the words of Steven Colbert from his book “I am America and so can you”, “Agnostics are atheists without balls”. Religion is a very very complex subject, and a 100-minute documentary that takes form of a comedy to better appeal to the masses cannot possibly answer all the questions that the humanity is trying to answer for all its existence, but unlike religion it does not accept anything as given and questions everything. Humor is a good way to popularly explain the problems with the basis of the world religions. He repeatedly asks in disbelief “how did they were able to convince millions and millions of people over thousands of years to buy this invisible product”. Humor and satire are a great way to deal with a complex problem. Maher takes on self-proclaimed prophets, the basics of people’s religious views that appear entirely irrational, the crooks who sell the eternal life to their congregations and the danger of religion in government and politics. A lot of questions, but very few answers.

Memorable quotes:

“The one thing I hate more then a prophecy – is a self-fulfilling prophecy”.

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Rated 4/5 on Oct 26 2008
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Tags: Comedy · Documentary · Movies · USA

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Kevin // Dec 4, 2008 at 6:45 am

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    I have just watched the film and I think it is by far one of the best documentaries of my time. Bill Maher is a friggin’ genius.

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