Online Exclusive Film Watch: Religulous

By | Oct 03, 2008

Read the current issue’s Film Watch on Sixty Six, here.

“Religion must die for mankind to live.”

When Bill Maher resolutely declares this in his new documentary Religulous (a subtle blending of the words “religion” and “ridiculous”), you can’t help but cringe. Whether or not you consider yourself to be religious, it’s something you just don’t say out loud. It’s just wrong, right? But of course, it’s a concept that many have secretly questioned at some point. Wouldn’t things just be so much easier if religion didn’t exist?

The film is full of cringe-worthy moments, as Maher bombards each person he interviews with intense questioning, often to the point where the person becomes so flustered that Maher is asked to leave. He’s on a quest to call into question people’s blind faith. Maher just doesn’t understand how intelligent, otherwise rational-thinking people can take the stories in the Bible literally. He prods people with the questions they don’t want to talk about or find themselves struggling to answer: Why is faith important? Do you believe in evolution? And, specifically to Jesus (or at least the actor who portrays him at Holy Land, a biblical theme park in Orlando, FL): “Why doesn’t he [God] just obliterate the devil and therefore get rid of evil in the world? What is he waiting for?”

Maher travels the world to meet with a wide variety of religious folk. He talks with a Christian man who used to be gay and now works to help others who are “incomplete” as homosexuals (who at one point threatens to kick Maher out), an ex-Jew for Jesus (Maher laughs at and questions the specific instances the man explains as miracles that turned him to Christ) and even a Hasidic Jew who has met, as an anti-Zionist, with Ahmadinejad (who, in frustration, Maher actually walks out on in the middle of the interview).

The movie is extremely funny, as Maher turns their responses upside down and wonders how people can completely believe in one religion but think another religion is crazy (An example he demonstrates in the movie and in several talkshow interviews: The tenets of Scientology might sound crazy, but what about the story of the son of God “going on a suicide mission”?)

Only at the end does it take a pretty dramatic turn. Throughout the film he expresses his ideas about religion (and how religious people essentially have a “neurological disorder”) but at the end he really drives home the main point about how religion is actually quite destructive to our world and how “solace and comfort come at a terrible price.” “Religion is detrimental to the progress of humanity,” he says, with a cautionary conclusion of, “Grow up or die.”

Photo by Predoca.

—Maxine Springer

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22 thoughts on “Online Exclusive Film Watch: Religulous

  1. Kim R. says:

    Awesome review, Maxine!

  2. Rosanne Wechter says:

    wow- finally someone has the courage to say out loud what i’ve been thinking most of my life and never could put into words to anyone- thanks for a great review maxine!

  3. Nonna says:

    I want to see this one!

  4. hel says:

    Sounds great. If you want to see a fictional movie on a similar theme, an english telemovie called The Second Coming, stars Christopher Eccleston as man who is found wandering along the beach with no memory except that he is Jesus, and he must help people come up with a new religion to save the world. Sorry, I’ve given a crap description, but it’s really clever and has a great twist at the end (which I can’t imagine would go down well in the States…)
    It’s written by Russel T Davies (Dr Who and Queer as Folk)

  5. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie as an atheist. I’m not sure if I’m ruining the movie for myself by reading all the reviews first, but it’s good to hear your take on it. Plus I’m a glutton for punishment…

  6. anchit says:

    what the f**k!

  7. clancop says:

    I find Bill Maher hard to stomach these days. He has really gone off the deep end with this film and it is very upsetting that he forces his world view on the movie’s audience. It goes to show you that Atheism more often than not isn’t simply not believing in a higher power, but attacking those who do.

  8. naushad says:

    Thanks, Finally someone dares…to speak out which is the key solution to end the wrong things going everywhere in this world…..

  9. thewordofme says:

    Logical end to a very illogical phenom. Just stop believing in nonsense.

  10. David says:

    Ok, so if religion is the evil of the world how does the enlightened Mr Maher explain Starlin killing millions upon millions, not to mention Polpot, and Hitler (no, he wasn’t a Christian) killing 6 million Jews to try and create a new world order eh? Secular destruction on the world has been far, far worse than anything “religion” can dream of (and most especially when you are talking of Christianity). Much of the so called Chrisitan violence is not what it seems to be either. For example, the Spanish Inquisition that lasted over 300 years killed less than 2000 people. The Salem Witch Trials killed 19. And in Northern Ireland the old joke tells the story: A man has a gun to his head and is asked “Catholic or Protestant”…he replies “Atheist”…to which the gunman replies “Catholic Atheist or Protestant Atheist”.

    It seems that in this liberal country of tolerance, tolerance only applies to you as long as you aren’t Chrisitan.

  11. Shane says:

    Funny I was just about to blog about this very subject and I log onto wordpress to find your article as the top article on the front page of WordPress. Excellent review. I found the documentary quite informative as well as ridiculous!

  12. frankright says:

    its about time

  13. asowma says:

    As a christian I too must concede to the fact that all human beings have their right to their own beliefs and opinions. But from where I am standing, I often see that it takes just as much work and non understanding to NOT believe as it does to believe. Scientifically plenty of things can’t be explained in this or any lifetime. It’s not the matter of growing up, it’s a matter of having a more open sense of what’s going on around us. I think many people’s in tolerence is just as bad as those crazy christians who aren’t tolerant of non.

  14. Matt Thomas says:

    Looking forward to seeing this one. I loved it when, on his show, Bill referred to his religious beliefs as “Rationalist.” I can’t think of a better way to describe my own similar beliefs.

  15. julianwebb says:

    Why does he care if people believe in religion? Why do we feel like we have to take people’s core morals and belief away?
    Everyone knows that the more you try to force people or destroy their beliefs the more stubborn and shut in they will become.
    There are things religion can’t explain, there are things science can’t explain…and anyone who thinks that their extreme is the only way to think is incompetent and in the exact same pool of people that they themselves confront and despise. Those who despise deserve to be despised…

  16. alegna75 says:

    I am on the fence as to whether or not I want to see this. Mostly because all the reviews I read portraysthe movie as a focus on Christianity. I am not Christan and consider myself to be quite religious. There are so many other religions out there besides Christianity I just wonder why he would focus on the one aspect? No doubt are all religions man made but that is because their are those of us (and there re alot of us it seems…but I don’t trut statistics) who feel complete with our reasons for being here and so forth and so on. If that means I have a neuroligical disorder (oh wait, I do) then that’s cool by me!
    I have to say that this review is probably the least biased I have read and was actually a joy to read!

  17. clancop says:

    A movie review from someone who doesn’t share Maher’s hatred of religion. He makes a point that the 20th century’s evils were committed by the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Mao, men who share Maher’s view on religion.

    Silly athiests, they don’t study modern history.

  18. There was an interesting review in the WaPost last week about Michael Novak’s recent book on Atheism.

    The really compelling question asked by this book goes something like this: How can God’s existence, which is so abundantly obvious to believers, seem so incomprehensible to nonbelievers?


  19. e-rock says:

    I think its funny that religious people are so offended that Bill Maher “forces his world view on the movie’s audience. It goes to show you that Atheism more often than not isn’t simply not believing in a higher power, but attacking those who do.”

    As an agnostic (which, by the way, is what Maher calls himself, not an atheist) I am constantly attacked for my beliefs, or lack thereof. The vast majority of this country is religious and forces that down upon those of us who don’t share those beliefs. I dont recall such a stir from the atheist/agnostic community over The Passion Of The Christ. If you do not care to hear the argument for the other side of religion, don’t see the movie. But considering God is everywhere from the dollar bill to the pledge of allegience, who is really shoving views upon people?

  20. @e-rock: i agree for the most part. the relationship between nonbelievers and believers needs a bit of perspective. both sides too often take it too far. i think if we could think about it as simply as we thought about other differences of opinion we would be better off.

    then again, millions of people have been killed for “differenecs of opinion.” i guess that’s the larger problem.

  21. steven says:

    to David ! You idiot hitler and stalin did not do what they did because they where athiests or did not believe in a god they did it because they where bad people. bad people you can find anywhere in any religion or in no religion, But there are far more people that have done bad things in gods name.

  22. Baylee says:

    David, what is the difference between killing 1 person for not believing the same as you and 3

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