Friday, October 3, 2008

Religulous (***1/2)

Directed by Larry Charles


Bill Maher is not someone who is confused about his ideals. He has spent a career in stand-up comedy, and most recently, hosting his HBO show 'Real Time with Bill Maher', blasting everything he could think of from politicians to sports. But he has notably come under fire for his attacks against religion. Particularly, he was vilified for labeling the Catholic Church as nothing more than a cult led by a former Nazi and child molester. People wanted him fired, and were even willing to cancel their HBO subscriptions to prove their point. Maher's response? An 100-minute doc which continues to lambast every religion he can think of, all with a smirk.

Maher has claimed he is not an atheist. Atheism, he says, is against his true belief, and that is that it is impossible for human beings to know the truth about the universe's creation, and it is even more absurd for them to make up stories about it. Maher doesn't know, and the way he sees it, there is nobody on Earth who is mentally superior enough to know. So he travels throughout the world, visiting various religious havens, and he asks people questions. These questions get varying responses. At a truck stop church, one man walks out in the middle of a Q&A, and later Maher walks out on a rabbi who doesn't recognize the Holocaust.

The film spends a good amount of time on Maher's own religious history. He was born from a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, and attended church every Sunday--his mother usually absent. They stopped going to mass when Bill was 13, mostly because his father was using birth control, which was considered a sin. Even more interesting, though, was Maher's confessed connection with God when he was in his 40's (he's currently 52). He said he made a deal with God to stop smoking, and felt obligated to keep it, even feeling happy with his connection to God. Further proving that Maher is not totally atheistic in his thinking.

Realistically, this film is about as objective as a Michael Moore documentary--which is to say not very much. The two have a lot in common. They are both, at their simplest, comedians, and they both feel strongly about taboo issues, and don't mind rubbing people the wrong way. They both are manipulative in their editing techniques, and construe events to make the subjects look bafoonish, and when they are called upon, their reply is usually "I'm a comedian". In this film, specifically, Maher edits in questionable scenes from films and TV shows which add humorous but damning effect, and numerous times uses subtitles to undermine the speakers.

Not to mention, the way Maher conducts the interviews. He interrupts, talks over, and sometimes flat-out does not listen to his subjects--though sometimes you can see where he's coming from. He interviews a bevy of eccentric characters including gay Muslim activists, a formerly homosexual man who found God and is now married to a formerly lesbian woman, and a grand Vatican priest who reveals an interesting statistic: in Italy, when a poll was taken to see who most people pray to in times of crisis, Jesus Christ only placed sixth.

There are two particular locations that stick out in my mind. One being a Genisus Museum, in which all of the exhibits work to show history the exact way the Bible describes it. Among other interesting images, we are shown statues of toddlers playing with stones as dinosaurs stand idly in the background. Another being a religious theme park in Orlando. The park is themed completely on the New Testament, and involves a bi-daily performance of the Passion in front of crowds of Christians who clap and cheer as the Jesus actor is whipped, beaten, and pinned onto the cross. I guess now we know the audience which forked over so much money to see Passion of the Christ.

Maher is an equal party offender. He spends equal time on Christianity, Judaism, and Muslim, and finds time to research more obscure religions such as Scientology and another one which is based totally on getting stoned on marijuana (this one doesn't have a name). He meets a man who believes himself to be the second coming of Christ: a Puerto Rican man who preaches, among other things, that since Jesus died for our sins, we can now live free of fear of the fires of Hell, because come on, its just more convenient that way.

Okay, okay, I realize that all these people are easy targets for an intelectual the size of Bill Maher, and to be fair, he does go out to speak to people who are relatively sane, but he is able to find baffling contradictions within the Scriptures and the Koran to throw them on their heels. He points the finger at Christians for their constant judgement of others, which seems very un-'Christ'-like. Islam, in arabic, literally translates to 'Peace', but this same religion advocates serious forms of mysogyny and intolerance for others who are not members. Maher is searching for an explanation to all this but is unable to get it.

At the end of the day, Religulous is quite brilliant. For many people, these religions stand as something on which they've built their entire lives upon, and Maher blows down their house of faith like a big bad wolf with iron lungs. Sure, it's manipulated, but it cannot be called unfair, because every theology is represented. At the core of his argument, Maher claims that religion is dangerous, and has prevoked more genocide than anything else in written history, and it worries him that the powers that be (*cough*...the Bush Administration...*cough), continue to preach the ideals of Christian values. I don't know if I would have liked the film if I didn't completely agree with him, but I should have.

1 comment:

Triss Teh said...

I want to hijack my churches overhead projector, for like, 2 minutes, then become a Canadian citizen.