Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: Religulous

I finally got the chance to see Bill Maher's new movie "Religulous". It was hilarious, but would probably only be so to the "choir".

Which "choir" am I talking about? Well, to give you an idea, there were only about 15 people in the theater at the 8 o'clock showing, including the five in my party. What did all the members of my party have in common? We are all atheist or agnostic, and I would bet a large sum of money that they other 10 people in the theater are as well.

A theater filled with 15 non-believers. We knew what we were going to see. And we got what we wanted. Maher practices the Michael Moore technique of crash interviews with all sorts of different religious folks, and he's not shy about expressing his views or asking difficult questions. The comedy often comes from the interviewees themselves, as when a U.S. Senator admits that you don't have to pass an I.Q. test to get into the Senate. Occasionally, the laughs are provided by text or images being spliced into the footage that call out the irrationality or outright craziness of the answers Maher is receiving. The film is sometimes shocking to the sensibilities, and sometimes employs a little silliness, but all of that comes together to provide nearly two hours of laughs, giggles, and gasps at what one of my friends called "the stupid."

Maher's pull-no-punches style would make most religious individuals fume rather than laugh. I can't imagine a devout Christian or Muslim or Scientologist sitting through the whole film unless they were paid to review it. Their core beliefs are raked over the coals, although not on an intellectual level. Maher isn't trying to convince the non-believer; he's ridiculing religious belief. He's pushing a boundary that most in this country insist must not be crossed. That is intolerable to most, if not all, believers. But it's an important task. If we, as a society, are every going to finally evaluate the truth of religious claim on a grand scale - that is, if we are ever going to grow up and examine our beliefs in an honest way, we must first take them off the pedestal they have been placed on. For too long religious beliefs have been given a special position in which they receive no scrutiny and they are not forced, as other ideas are, to brave the brutal gauntlet of the marketplace of ideas. It's time that we put religious beliefs through the same scrutiny, intellectual and otherwise, that all other belief systems must face. That is obviously one of Maher's key goals in this film.

Most of the film is dedicated to clever mockery of religion and some interesting inquiry about the approaches we take to religious belief (particularly Islam). It isn't until the end that Maher's second goal becomes apparent. The last ten minutes of the film are a brutal reminder of the power that religion can have, and the risk we take in allowing it to continue to drive those in power. It was a bit too much for me, to be honest, but I suppose that is exactly what Maher wants, since it is clear that he is attempting to move the non-religious to "come out" and make their own voices heard.

Well, I'm already doing my part. Are you?


Tea said...

Can't wait to see it!

Maybe you should post part of the fourth paragraph on that Facebook debate we've been invited to by Ken - you know, the one about the new *athiests* ;)

I don't know if it's really going to get any response, though... It's a weird "debate" when people don't even answer questions directed specifically at them. Oh well... I suppose they have their own "atheist-but-nice" choir (think Nisbet and that other guy whose name I can't remember because I just got up). :(

Artemis311 said...

It was indeed awesome. Mark and Dan loved it too.

I haven't actually been participating in the debate about those new *athiests*. I should probably get over there are say something.

I gather that a number of the GW History folks are Christians, since a chunk of them erroneously hold that the US was founded as a Christian nation. We had a huge argument about this at your going away party. It left me wondering if they actually teach history over there. Many of them didn't know about the Treaty of Tripoli, and pulled the standard non-philosophers response of "I'm not going to address your actual argument". Seems, from what you've said, that that's the trend in this debate too.