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Thanks a bunch, Bill, it needed to be said __ 8/10
Written by Bill Maher
Directed by Larry Charles
Bill Naher ... Himself
Several: !ncluding his sister and mother
Bill Maher: !t seems, people, that this is the very spot ... |Negiddo, !srael|
Bill Maher: ... where a lot of Christians believe life on earth will end. The irony of
religion is that because of its power to divert man to destructive courses, the world
actually could come to an end.
Based on the trailers, ! didn't encounter anything too unexpected with Religulous: it's a
essentially a home movie about a man in the public eye, Bill Naher (comedian, political
gadfly) who questions the standard Abrahamic religions-Judaism, Christianity,
Nohammedism (!slam)-not as a theologian or philosopher might, rather as a
conscientious Joe Lunchbucket might. He starts out with his remaining family, simply
sitting down in a room with his sister and mother. ! believe his ancestors professed
Judaism, but he was raised to believe in the Catholic religion.
Nany of us can identify with particularly what his mother tells him as to why they went
to church: "We wanted to make sure you had some moral sensitivity, a code of values to
tell you right from wrong, and that you would then grow up to be honest, caring
members of society." Or words to that effect. !t's clear from subsequent questions that
neither Nama Naher or Sis Naher are intellectually committed to any specific doctrine or
to the firm conviction that God exists... especially if you consider all the common sense
contradictions such as the Problem of Evil ("!f God is all powerful and all good, what
about the crippled child next door?").
!ndeed, Bill's mother offers the same real impression of God that my mother has: God is
the "life force, that's all." Church is just something she fell into as a social convention.
Nothing to get too excited about. Sure, the stories are mostly fairy tales, but Nama
Naher doesn't think it hurt Bill much to go to church and Sunday School, may have kept
him out of some trouble.
From his familiar origins, Naher hits the road in search of answers.
One of the first settings is a Truckers for Jesus trailer where we meet a cross-section of
truly amazing true believers... black and white, mostly obese, all of them disinclined to
ask any deep questions of the Bible. Which is what Naher does right off the bat. He
points out some of the Old Testament imperatives from the Jealous God that explicitly
endorse rape, incest, bestiality, murder, torture... the list is long. Even some of the New
Testament statements of Jesus assert that if you don't believe, you will fry forever in
Hell. So where's the love?
The truckers are well-intended, but wholly clueless. A couple of them try to see the
logic, but generally they have this mythical perception of Jesus in their minds, and their
imaginations are impervious to the obvious questions that would occur to dimmer
children. Throughout the movie, Naher's role is to pose the simple queries a kid might
consider... pose them to mothers and sisters, to truck drivers, to all manner of partisans
of the God concept.
Although Naher travels the world, especially to the Holy Land, most of his movie is shot
from the States and focused on literal Christianity. The documentary contains some
fascinating footage of a self-proclaimed university supporting the story of Genesis,
including interviews with the principals. These "teachers" have nothing on the truck
drivers. Another segment takes us to a Florida theme park that has recreated the
cityscape for Jesus's birth and departure. ! thought !'d seen everything, but watching
some short-skirted cuties doing a line dance about the Last Supper made me light
headed. For real. Not scripted. People pay to go there. Naher has an instinct for natural
There's no denying it, any time you get into the details of a religion-and the more
derivative ones, such as Normonism, are priceless-the icons break down into
inconsistencies and the theater of the absurd... or at least the physically impossible.
(Nore than once, Naher wonders about the virgin birth.) What one also realizes is the
core story of the Abrahamic scriptures is a repeat; many if not all of the key elements-
birth without conception, miracles, being sacrificed and ascending into sky-are recycled
more than a few times from the myths of Egyptian, Babylonian, and other civilizations.
Naher isn't revealing anything most of us don't know. The garden variety believers, like
his mother and most of human society, seem harmless enough. But unlike Bill they don't
really care to ask any probing questions, or even any simple ones. They prefer to leave
the subject alone and accept a high level of the ridiculous in the name of religious
tolerance. Yet, it isn't very far from the ridiculous to the insane, and-aside from the
natural, sometimes biting, humor-that's the public service Naher's movie delivers.
Because he does locate some extremely disturbed individuals (ED!s) from every major
Probably half the movie is devoted to the former belief, i.e. to the ordinary silliness of
day-to-day faith (in an American Christian context), but the second half gets a lot more
alarming. And Naher finds plenty of examples to cause concern-from a United States
Senator who believes in literal Genesis and the Rapture to a Taliban cleric who would
stone women to death for sex outside of marriage, whether or not the sex was
voluntary. How do you get to the crazy, murderous fanatics from the Bill's mothers of
the world? !f the billions of the relatively sane did not give their casual sanction to the
superstitious drivel that fires the imagination of millions of the insane, there'd be less
concern for human-caused Armageddons.
Bill Naher does a fine job making the sanity argument, in a Joe Lunchbucket "what the
flock?" sort of manner. Plus the whole approach of the movie is familiar and
characteristically funny; you will probably learn something, too (even someone like me
who has long embraced learning to face the world on one's own two mental feet: reason
and common sense). !t's a healthful movie and an insightful one. !t's also disturbing.
Even the humorist, Naher, has to lay down his witticisms and laughter upon hearing
that someone's God wants them to skewer children of the infidel or turn the world into a
smoldering cinder. His closing statement is worth quoting in full:
The irony of religion is that because of its power to divert man to
destructive courses, the world could actually come to an end. The plain
fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late
to be able to indulge having key decisions made by religious people. By
irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a
compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken.
George Bush prayed a lot about !raq, but he didn't learn a lot about it.
Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. !t's nothing to brag
about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are
intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and
nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction.
Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don't have all
the answers to think that they do. Nost people would think it's wonderful
when someone says, "!'m willing, Lord! !'ll do whatever you want me to
do!" Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void
is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and
agendas. And anyone who tells you they know, they just know what
happens when you die, ! promise you, they don't. How can ! be so sure?
Because ! don't know, and you do not possess mental powers that ! do
The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is
not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt.
Doubt is humble, and that's what man needs to be, considering that
human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong. This is why
rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of
the closet and assert themselves.
And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need
to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion
brings you comes at a horrible price.
!f you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as
much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as
religion is, you'd resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a
mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy
from the billions of their fellow travelers. !f the world does come to an
end here, or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the
effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let's remember what the real
problem was. We learned how to precipitate mass death before we got
past the neurological disorder of wishing for it.
That's it. Grow up or die.
Okay, not quite Galt's Speech. But quite stirring for those of us who extol the virtue of
the creative, thinking, rational-or at least humbly reasonable-mind. Plus, Naher really
has a first-class comic mind.
2010 January 28
Copyright © Brian Wright | The Coffee Coaster™
Religulous | Bill Maher | Religion | Atheism | God | Agnosticism | Reason
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