Thursday, October 9, 2008


Bill Maher's Religulous was almost exactly what I expected and worth seeing. He makes no attempt to be comprehensive, cherry picking from among the wealth of religious extremists in the Abrahamic traditions as well as some more mainstream folk. The movie is often hilarious and just as often makes you wonder how our species has survived. He presents an even balance between examples of all too scary reality and the "are you kidding me?" moments.

Maher asks most of the Atheist 101 questions that non-believers consider when either rejecting the religion of their childhood, or attempting to understand theist positions at all. Sometimes, he is just being Bill Maher, a snarky comedian poking fun at the fringes and speaking out against perceived hypocrisies and injustice. Other times, his questions strike at the heart of human need for what religion has to offer and how churches often pervert that desire to gain power and control. Engaging were his own autobiographical narratives, outlining his own religious journey.

For the most part, I agree with Maher's conclusions. The only caveat I would add, which you loyal readers know from my previous posts on dis-organized religion, is that I believe that we can create a religion without the faults of organized religion but that provides people with the loving, covenanted community that can heal, sustain, and transform us into better people and toward a better society. Maher heads toward the conclusion that many atheists adopt, which I believe throws the baby out with the bath water.


Joel Monka said...

If "He makes no attempt to be comprehensive,...", exactly what makes it worth seeing? If I want to be ridiculed for my belief in tthe Divine, I need only mention it at coffee hour. Why should I pay for it?

Jeff Liebmann said...

Joel, let me respond to your two comments separately. First, he makes no attempt to be comprehensive because (1) that would require 100 hours of film and (2) he makes no pretense of being an academician. He is simply a person with questions trying to get answers - like many of us.

Second, you are right in that many people will feel that Maher is ridiculing their belief in the Divine. However, he says repeatedly in his interviews with willing participants that he is not ridiculing them. He is asking them questions about their beliefs, especially when those beliefs run counter to scientific fact, hisotrical proof, and the common sense beliefs of many people in this country. That said, of course he is at most a psuedo-journalistic comedian making a film intended to turn a profit.

If you are content in your beliefs, then you probably don't need to see the film. But, if you are like many people who find little comfort in the conflicting messages of their religions, then Religulous lets you know that you are not alone in your doubt. If you are a UU (which I assume from the chalice graphic), then no one should be ridiculing your belief in the Divine. However, our commitment to the free and responsible search for truth and meaning also requires of us some degree of healthy skepticism about the human interpretation of the Divine, especially by those in positions of power or by those willing to impose their beliefs on others by intimidation or force.