Move Review: “Religulous” by Bill Maher, 2008
Religion has played a large part in the offensive by the U.S. right-wing for many years, since Operation Rescue started picketing clinics in the 80s. Christian fundamentalism forms the ideological core of the Republican right. The other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam, have been used by the Israeli right wing and the fundamentalist Jihadi Islamic right wing to justify their politics too. In essence, religion is being used as politics by other means, while claiming to be ‘God’s word.” This, of course, is not a recent development.
Bill Maher, the left libertarian comic who use to pray to ‘God’ to get him out of fixes in the 90s, has now turned against his former ‘get out of jail free’ card. His father was Catholic, and he grew up that way until the family left the church due to the prohibition against birth control. Only much later did he find out his mother was Jewish, which was why she didn’t go to mass.
This movie is like Michael Moore or Borat going to the Creation Museum in Nashville – an extension of the left-wing confrontational documentary. Maher stuns, as he doesn’t always interview people like a polite shmoo. When he rams them upside the mind with an agnostic comment, they are usually rendered speechless. This happens over and over again, like him asking the fundamentalist Christian who ‘saves’ gays if he got a hard-on embracing Maher? Or coaxing a Congressman to say that “You don’t need an IQ test to get in the Senate” after the congressperson endorses creationism. Or catching an Islamic guide at the Dome of the Rock mosque feigning tolerance, while forbidding Jews from visiting the mosque. Or an ex-Jew for Jesus hoping the world will be destroyed so ‘he’ can be with Jesus. And don’t get Maher started on Mormonism – which doesn’t have a single historical or archeological fact to support it. He interviews two former Mormons who had to suffer banishment from their families to leave the church.
Maher doesn’t look into Hinduism or Buddhism or Shinto, as probably it would make the film twice as long, but he does interview dozens of practicing Western religionists to highlight their absurdity. Maher’s own position is ‘agnosticism’ – as he says, his position is ‘doubt.’ However, there is not much doubt that God does not exist. God is a hypothesis, that, while possibly true, has no evidentiary backup, as they say. Maher is a comic and social critic, but not a hard-core atheist, so his ‘get out of jail’ free card in US society is this ostensible ‘doubt.’ However, when was the last time in recent U.S. history that ANY public figure was allowed to doubt God? We’d have to go back many years to Paine, Twain, Ingersoll and the broad tradition of American freethinkers to find anything comparable. For instance, Sam Harris is hardly recognized in the U.S., and rarely interviewed – so more power to Bill Maher. When old Larry King talks to Bill Maher on CNN about religion – that is remarkable. Of course, if Bill wasn’t funny, he probably wouldn’t be on.
Atheists and agnostics are now 16% of the population – about 48 million out of a population of 300 million. More than Jews, Muslims, gays, African Americans – even more than the 41 million Latinos in the U.S. Yet they are invisible, ignored and disliked by the mainstream political parties. Quelle surprise!? Well, they never interview peace activists or union activists or socialist economists either. No surprise at all. It is part of the political homogeneity enforced in this suffocating culture.
For the stumbling centrist Christian who doesn’t understand why the agnostics and atheists are PISSED, this is a good film. Maher calls them, at the end, ‘fellow travelers’ to the fundamentalists of all stripes. His ending point is that what we now experience as religion in the public field is a ‘counter-indicator’ for human survival and peace. (As if it has ever been much else.) Since the middle ages it mostly throttled human progress, and not much has changed to this day.
Red Frog – 10/13/2008
And I did not buy it at May Day books!