Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I went to see Bill Maher's Religulous last night. With characteristic mean-spiritedness, Maher takes on organized religion and spirituality, but it's a foray into a conversation worth having -- or a first volley in a rationalist/spiritualist war.

Maher begins by suggesting that he wants to know what makes Religion -- principally, the largest three monotheistic religions (though he ventures into the c*nnabis religion , Scientology and Mormonism briefly) -- tick. But he doesn't, really -- in Maher style, he wants to tick Them off. And he does.

Along the way, he meets the man some believe to be the antichrist who concedes that if Satan had told him he was his representative, he would have done that job just as well. He meets a former soul-singer preacher with lizard shoes and lots of bling, who argues that Jesus was "rich" and dressed well.

But first, he meets a trucker, in the trucker's chapel, who prays for Bill, asks for God's blessing on Bill. Bill thanks him for being not just a Christian but Christ-like.

Bill goes places I've written about here -- places I want to see/don't want to see: Creation and Holy Land theme parks. The Holy Land's "Jesus" is remarkably articulate. Bill never acknowledges that Pascal's Wager is not just for idiots, but for Blaise Pascal as well -- he never considers Pascal's thinking on uncertainty, that even uncertainty in all things is not certain. He's that sure of his skepticism.

He short changes the director of the Human Genome project, one of the small percentage of non-atheists in the basic sciences. He has a fantastic conversation with the director of the Vatican Observatory. He insists that the most horrific things ever done have been done in the name of God -- but he forgets that the most beautiful and wondrous have been, too.

And then, standing on the place in the Holy Land where many people believe Jesus will return, Maher pleads for skepticism -- to save the world. With a montage of nuclear bombs and scripture from Revelations and the Qu'ran, Maher reminds of one of his earlier complaints -- there's nothing he likes less than prophecy, except self-fulfilling prophecy. We can't have someone who actually wants this world to pass to hold the power to make it so. But in the end his target is not "extremists," but those moderates he decries as collaborators.

I can't recommend it -- I left the theater with blues I can't shake -- but I'd sure love it if you'd join in the conversation.


mia said...

I have to see this one. It sounds like something I would actually enjoy. lol

Just out of curiosity who is he defining as the moderates? I assume in this context he means the "followers"?

abebech said...

He means anyone who self-identifies as "moderate," any one who practices a religion without being entirely sold on all elements of it (the religion or the faith) as moderates. (I think, for example, ALL of us who are Episcopal are probably "moderates" in his terms, some Catholics who practice while rejecting some tenets, etc).

Paragraphein said...

Huh. Haven't seen it but you've definitely got my interest piqued.

Did he touch on Hinduism, Buddhism, or Daoism at all... or did he leave them entirely out of it? Would be interested to hear his thoughts on them.

abebech said...

He didn't, really. There's a very brief mention of Hinduism, but nothing about Buddhism at all.

I'd love to hear your take on it.

Paragraphein said...

Okay... saw it on Saturday!

My general feeling:

It was propaganda just from the opposite viewpoint. I didn't like it, as a movie/documentary, because it was... shallow. (Well what do we expect from Bill Maher, right? Still I was hoping.) From a literary standpoint, it was no masterpiece, that's for sure.

BUT. I have to tell you that I felt a surge of appreciation that this thing exists at all, that he bothered to make a movie that says some of the things I think but almost never dare to say in public.

I just hope that this is only the first--not the last--and that the ones that follow it are better.

Paragraphein said...

P.S. Posted my own review and musings, and linked to yours. =)

joy said...

I am curious, sincerely, this is not a sarcastic comment at all.

What are some of the beautiful things done in God's name?

I am drawing an aboslute blank.

abebech said...

Joy, I doubt we'll agree on this, but the architecture of the ancient and medieval churches -- some of them anyway. When I visited the Vatican I was not bowled over by a sense of the place's holiness (its richness disturbing instead), but a few days later we visited a monastery on a hill outside Florence and I was awed by it. There is a local chapel here, too, and when the light shines through the highest window, it makes me sigh. One could say these things are art for art's sake, and the church merely provided the money -- but a religious person would remind that the first person filled with the Holy Spirit isn't actually in the New Testament -- it's the architect of the Temple in the Old. More practically, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, Palliative and Hospice Care, Community Building in the African American church, Dr.King's dream . . .

joy said...

Oh I have been to some beautiful churches too. My appreciation of their beauty has always been marred by the understanding that they were built on the backs of the indentured, and the use of how that money could help the local communities, and esp. in Mexico how terrifying they must seem to little children who live with dirt floors and no roofs over their heads.

I was really thinking about this, the things that I think that are so beautiful that can be attributed to God, the trees outside my window for example, weren't done "in his name" as much as simply an expression of the force of nature. The moments that have witnessed that are of real beauty to me between other people have exclusively been out of love for another, empathy, or compassion, I have never *seen* anyone invoke God's name before say, transcending their ego. Only the opposite.

But I am no theologian, not even amaturely, I could be missing a big obvious part of this.

The one thing that Bill Maher said that really struck me, is that to be an let's say agnostic, is a luxury, it means you aren't in the foxhole, or something to that extent. I think there is some real truth in that.

abebech said...

N., I don't have the password for your blog, but I would like to read your review.

Paragraphein said...


Tried to post this a few days ago but it got eaten. Here goes again:

Paragraphein is still shut down--not blogging there anymore--new blog can be found at:

Review of Religulous is several posts down now.