Sunday, October 5, 2008

Just saw Religulous

There may be some spoilers in this entry for those of you who are planning on seeing it. If so, you might want to skip this one and come back to it later. I'll try not to be too specific and give away any of the funnier bits though.

For those of you who don't know, Religulous is Bill Maher's movie where he basically makes fun of religious beliefs. For the most part, he goes after the Christians, but the Jews, Muslims and Scientologists aren't spared either. The Buddhists are left alone, and so are the Hindus. I'd imagine that he didn't bother with them because it's intended for an American audience, and neither one of those religions have a big enough of an impact on our society to really matter.

In many ways, the movie was better than I thought it would be. I was actually surprised as to how the film portrayed religious people. The concept is basically just Maher going around and asking questions about religious beliefs, and sometimes the answers that he receives are funny enough on their own, but sometimes little humorous clips and subtitles are added for comic effect. Surprisingly enough, many of the religious people he speaks to don't come across as being completely nuts. Oh sure, the things that they believe are nutty, but the people themselves come off as pretty decent. He manages to avoid being condescending, and many of the segments end with him sharing a laugh with the people. Of course, there are some people who are just so intractable that he can't get anywhere with them, but overall most of them come off as good, reasonable people who just happen to have a few unreasonable beliefs. (Ironically enough, considering the flack that Maher has given Catholics in the past, there are two Catholic priests who come off as being really reasonable in the film, as they tended to reject Biblical literalism and various nonsensical dogmas.)

Of course, there are a lot of people out there who are going to judge this film without seeing it. Also, there are some people who are going to hate it for the very fact that Maher does what everybody should be doing - he asks questions. Also, from what I could tell, he doesn't misrepresent anybody's beliefs - which is a favorite tactic of the right in order to discredit their opposition. When he points out that the "good man" Lot offered up his daughters to be raped by the crowd, he's not making that up. I've read that part of The Bible; I know it's there. When he talks about how Mormons believe that the Native Americans are a lost tribe of Israel, and that they believe in magic underwear, he's not making that up either. When he talks about The Bible talking about a person living in the body of a whale (or "big fish" - like that makes more sense) for three days, he's not twisting things around. It's not his fault that those things sound crazy when you actually say them out loud.

A really good question that he had was when he asked somebody if their parents had raised them to believe that the Jonah and the "big fish" story was a fairy tale, and the story of Snow White (that might not be the exact fairy tale that he referred to - but the point is still the same) was religious truth, would they be able to tell the difference? Is there something about the Jonah story that's more logical where you'd be able to discern that there's something inherently different about it than the average fairy tale? Of course, nobody could give him a straight answer on that one - or if they did, they didn't include it in the movie. If you have a straight answer, then I'd love to hear it.

The most disturbing thing in the movie was when the Passion was being enacted at a Bible theme park in Florida. Every time Jesus would get punched, kicked, slapped, etc., the audience would applaud. What the hell? Look, I understand Christian theology (well, I don't understand it, but I know what it is). I get it that his death was an act that allowed us all to be forgiven. Still, is the appropriate response to applaud every time he gets a beating? I'd think that maybe one should be reverent and thoughtful or something - but applause? What the hell is wrong with these people?

One other good point that he had was regarding those Christians who insist that we're living in the end times. While that's all good and fine, and people can believe whatever they want, should we really feel comfortable with people like that running our country? As he asked, what's their motivation for making this world a better place if they think that it's all going to end soon anyway?

Lastly, I thought that he said something pretty insightful regarding Muslims and the violence that stems from the religion. While the vast majority of Muslims are indeed peaceful, they don't want to discuss the shortcomings of their religion with outsiders. I think that a lot of Christians are like that, but it makes sense that Muslims are particularly defensive, as they obviously don't want to associate themselves with the Bin Laden-types out there.

Overall though, I doubt that it's going to do much for those who already true believers. It exists to make people like me feel like we're not alone in this country - that there are those who are willing to question the sacred cows of our society. It will probably also help out those who are sitting on the fence realize just what the heck some of these religious folks believe.

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