Well, tonight I saw “Religulous” and it was a strange mixture of unbelievable hilarity and horrifying sadness.
The film travels around the world from dumpy little podunk “truckers churches” of the American South, to the Middle East (Israel and Jerusalem in particular), to Amsterdam and London. Maher is quintessential Maher, being able to easily illustrate the irrationality of religious beliefs, and to strike out with incredibly witty comments that may or may not be off-the-cuff (I think they are off the cuff).
The film does precisely what we expect it to do. It exposes the delusional thinking of theists, and its greatest strength is actually to let the theists speak for themselves, thereby getting hoisted on their own petard.
Critics and believers will clearly think Maher is being condescending and mocking. This is a reaction to be expected, because the fact is, such beliefs are literally ridiculous, and shining a light on such beliefs underscores their lunacy.
But Maher scores some excellent points throughout. In response to an enormous and clearly threatened (and threatening) trucker who states clearly, “You question my religion, and you’ve got a problem”, Maher says calmly, “I’m just asking questions.” After the hostile trucker stomps away, he continues to talk with the others who are much more open to at least listen. At the end, one of them says, during the laying on hands and asking Jesus to come into Maher’s heart farewell (it’s a prayer), “Lord help give the answers to this man who asked questions we cannot answer…” I found that to be a plaintive moment of honesty. Maher thanks them for being “Christlike” rather than “Christian”. It’s a good moment.
Other moments are somewhat stranger, and there are too many to enumerate. But one of the finest is when he speaks with Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor about some of these beliefs, and how as a leader, it’s frightening to think that people close to power are believing in what amount to fairy tales, and Pryor states, “Well, there’s no IQ test you have to take to be a Senator” (and, thinking it’s funny, looks with a grin to Maher, who is clearly unimpressed with the comment—maybe outright stunned by it—and Pryor’s face drops the grin like a light-switch was thrown).
Other memorable moments:
Maher doing the Hyde Park soap box thing and playing out Scientology tenets in public (and in disguise).
Discussing Islam’s claim to be a “religion of peace” juxtaposed with footage of a clear lack of peaceful behavior (this has been done before, but where this becomes memorable is when Maher discusses a theory that the Muslims know they are lying about this “peace” nonsense, but will not discuss it with “outsiders”).
The discussion with Jesus at… “Holy Land Theme Park”. It’s priceless as Maher keeps saying, “But Jesus, tell me this…”
Confronting Ken Ham at the Creationist Museum in Kentucky—and pointing out that nothing resembles this perspective of theism so much as an episode of the Flintstones.
And my favorite sequence, a discussion with a hilarious Senior Priest of the Vatican who literally ridicules every major tenet of Catholicism, and of core Christian values and beliefs, such as the existence of Hell. this one will be on Youtube in the very near future, I’m sure.
Underneath this all is a sense of utter dread. It seems hopeless. People are so deeply infected and/or intrinsically married to these beliefs that it’s hard to see how they will stop and analyze what they believe. It’s horrifying how many people of influence are not only believers of a “coming soon” Armageddon, but are looking forward to it. It is nothing less than a global epidemic, and it’s hard to see what the cure might be.
What’s great about the film and what reasonists and non-believers will be relieved to hear, is that the questions themselves are actually being raised, and not only are they being raised, but they are done so in the spirit of inquiry, and it’s in a major motion picture that’s released around the country. There’s a sense of amazement that this film even got made at all, but people of our stripe will be overjoyed that those obvious questions are actually being asked.
On a side note, the theater I went to in Burbank CA was filled to capacity, and the responses ranged from appreciative laughter, to gasps of shock at some of the things being exposed. Some people left, but those were very few, and at the end, the applause was loud and sustained for quite a bit of time.
Finally—the ending is poignant and scary. It’s simply a recap, with Maher sermonizing about religion’s impact; and where we are headed. It is opinion, but it’s well reasoned, solid and in the end, very scary opinion. I doubt too many here would disagree with it, and indeed, I’ll bet theists won’t disagree with it as far as they can accuse other religions of being a part of the problem, while at the same time they absolve their own theism from being a part of the problem.
Go see it.