Religulous (2008)

Rated: R for some language and sexual material.
Length: 101 minutes
Grade: CDJB=F
Budget: $2.5 million
Box Office: $13 million (13 U.S., 0.3 Intl., DVD)

Written by: Bill Maher (Politically Incorrect)
Directed by: Larry Charles (Executive producer for Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, The Tick, Dilbert, Mad About You, and Seinfeld; Director for Curb Your Enthusiasm and Borat)
Starring: Bill Maher

Bill Maher tries to show how dangerous religion is and how stupid Christians in particular are by interviewing a variety of B-grade (at best) religious figures.

Entertainment Value: C
Naturally, I expected to hate this movie, and I pretty much did. But I have to admit at the same time that Maher had enough content here to keep me wanting to watch it, if for no other reason than that I wanted to be aware of the totality of what he was going to do and say here. Also, though I certainly can’t endorse watching it, he does raise a handful of legitimate and (I daresay) even valuable questions.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity D, Violence D, Language D, Illegality NA
This movie is surprisingly vulgar in unexpected moments. Every profanity is used, but sporadically. Maher smokes a joint in a hash bar in Amsterdam. There is one scene of nudity, a scene of gay porn, footage from a gay parade, and several sexual references plus scenes of terror violence, religious self-flagellation, and nuclear war. It’s definitely rightly rated R, although to be fair, it’s not a hard R like some movies, perhaps because it’s a neo-documentary. Nonetheless, be prepared that the coarse parts of the film will arrive unexpectedly.

Significant Content: J
Religion is evil. Doubt is the only virtuous intellectual disposition. Religious people, especially Christians, are fools and weirdos.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
From the perspective of generating discussion, this is certainly provocative and, therefore, must be given better than average art marks. At the same time, I think this movie profoundly misfires on its clear intention. The choice of interviews, the painfully obvious bias, and the pathetic alternative Maher himself embodies actually mean that only the strangest and most ignorant person would find this movie particularly compelling. But I guess if that’s who Maher thinks Christians are, then I suppose it’s at least consistently fashioned. Instead of detailing more of what I found in this movie, let me just present it all as questions, and there are obviously many.

Discussion Questions:
~Why do you think Maher chose to interview these particular people instead of any mainstream or well-known religious experts such as from seminaries? What percentage of the total interviews he solicited do you think people declined? What percentage of the interviews he actually conducted do you think he left out on purpose? What percentage of the interviews which he did show were actually shown? Were the selections he used representative and fair of those interviews or did they seem deliberately edited so as to make the interviewees look as stupid as possible? If Maher actually believes his own position is so strong, how would he justify the decision to be so yellow in his journalism (both in the sense of bias and cowardice)?
~Did it seem to you that Maher was picking on people who were clearly his intellectual inferiors, especially in the trucker church? What does this say about him?
~Knowing that Maher is much more interested in making punchlines than he is in making truth, do you think it was a mistake for anyone to agree to participate in this film? To what degree is it dangerous for stand-up comics to pretend to be journalists?
~Did the Christians in this movie seem like an accurate sampling of your own experience of Christians? Did you ever cringe at them? Do you think you could have done better? Do you think the editing process would have allowed you to look like you had?
~Maher clearly thinks that religion is awful, but what alternative is he offering? Based upon his own life and demeanor as shown in this movie, do his alternative seem particularly appealing? Do you envy him? Pity him? Does he seem happy?
~Assuming that Maher’s purpose here is to actually get the vast majority of religious people to listen to his concerns and question their religion, would you say this movie an example of savvy marketing or not? Is Maher more interested in reaching people or in having his say in his way? How does his own pride blind him to the flaws of his own project? Do you think that less ridiculous representatives of liberalism, atheism, or even journalism cringe at this particular effort by Maher in much the same way you cringe at it?
~Would you say that this movie actually winds up endorsing religion as opposed to what Maher intended because of all these relatively obvious problems?
~Were there any elements of this movie where you think Maher actually got it right? Did you ever react against the people he was interviewing because you know they do not represent true religion? Would it be more accurate to say this movie is a critique of cults and aberrations than it is of mainstream religion?
~To what degree does this movie prove the proverb that bad representatives of anything push people away from that thing?
~Why does Maher gets so irritated and frustrated with the anti-Israel rabbi? Why is this ironic? What insight does this give you about him and bullies in general?
~This movie claims to be pro-thinking, but given the constant barrage of ideas, does it wind up giving you time to think and process or does it actually discourage real thought? Is this a fair thing to expect a movie to be able to do?
~Maher says he is selling doubt over certainty, that doubt is his product. To what degree is he certain about his doubt? Can doubt be coherently offered as a dogma like this? If it could, by what criteria might we evaluate it as a life view in comparison with religion?
~What are Maher’s idols?
~Maher claims that doubt is humble. Does he seem humble in his doubt? If he were truly humble about his doubts, why would he feel the need to proselytize into accepting them?
~When Maher laughs about people always correcting Jonah’s whale for a fish, what is he laughing at here? Why do people do this? Which deadly sin is involved here?
~Maher seems to think that the people in his movie are hopelessly produced by their religious culture, but presumably he views himself as his own man, formed by nothing outside himself. Is this assessment correct?
~The construction and editing of this movie would seem to require enormously deep, even seething, hatred. How do you think Maher and Larry Charles would defend themselves against this criticism, especially since bigotry is one of the main things they charge religious people with? Are they bigoted against religion? How might they justify their refusal to portray any of the favorable elements of religion in this movie?
~Consider the following objections raised by Maher and how you might answer them.
~~“No one is smarter than I am, and I don’t know. Therefore you can’t know either. “
~~“Why isn’t the virgin birth in all four Gospels?”
~~“Given the similarities between Jesus and other ancient deity stories, how can you know His story is real rather than just plagiarized?”
~~“Jesus clearly criticized the rich, but many Christians these days seem to have forgotten that.”
~~“Religion holds too much power for anyone to safely be in charge of it.”
~~“If you were a member of a club associated with as much evil as religion, you’d quit in a moment. So why do you stay?”
~~“If we don’t outgrow religion, we’re going to destroy the planet.”
~~“Faith turns ignorance and not thinking into a virtue.”
~~“Nationalism is incompatible with Jesus’s teachings.”

Overall Grade: F
Nonetheless, given the length of this review, I obviously found it an interesting exercise in critical thinking. So although I can’t recommend it, I do think it could be useful for small groups of Christians to discuss.

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