I hadn’t seen Religulous (2008) before last week, but found it on Vimeo, so apparently it’s not a violation to host it.
I found it pretty funny, scathing, and, while not a masterpiece, certainly a worthwhile way to spend an hour and forty minutes. Roger Ebert, a pretty vocal atheist himself, deliberately avoided taking stands on faith in his review, but nevertheless gave the movie a thumb up:
Many of Maher’s confrontations involve logical questions about holy books. For example, did Jonah really live for three days in the belly of a large fish? There are people who believe it. Is the End of Days at hand? A U.S. senator says he thinks so. Will the Rapture occur in our lifetimes? Widespread agreement. Mormons believe Missouri will be the paradise (“Branson, I hope,” says Maher). There are even some people who believe Alaska has been chosen as a refuge for the Saved After Armageddon. In Kentucky, Maher visits the Creation Museum, which features a diorama of human children playing at the feet of dinosaurs.
His two most delightful guests, oddly enough, are priests stationed in the Vatican. Between them, they cheerfully dismiss wide swaths of what are widely thought to be Catholic teachings, including the existence of Hell. One of these priests almost dissolves in laughter as he mentions various beliefs that I, as a child, solemnly absorbed in Catholic schools. The other observes that when Italians were polled to discover who was the first person they would pray to in a crisis, Jesus placed sixth.
But, while trying to look objective at the end, Ebert deliberately shows his hand:
I have done my job and described the movie. I report faithfully that I laughed frequently. You may very well hate it, but at least you’ve been informed. Perhaps you could enjoy the material about other religions, and tune out when yours is being discussed. That’s only human nature.
In contrast, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle didn’t like it:
In the end, Maher reveals his serious intent, to put forth the idea that not just fundamentalism but religion in all forms is a danger to the survival of civilization. Agree or not, that’s a serious idea, but the obnoxious interviews and the zany treatment undercut it. Certainly, if his intent was to persuade anyone of his view, well, fat chance of that. (If anything, Maher is obnoxious enough to make people want to get religion.) In the moment, the message of “Religulous” is that everybody who believes in God is stupid, cowardly or intellectually dishonest. That’s a sentiment better expressed in a single wisecrack, not a feature-length documentary.
You can see it on the tiny screen below:
or watch it on large screen at the Vimeo site. Reader opinions gratefully received.
UPDATE: In the comments below, reader Mark Joseph has a transcription of the end of Maher’s movie. It’s quite good and I thought it deserved to be put up here (thanks, MJ!):
“The irony of religion is that because of its power to divert man to destructive courses, the world could actually come to an end. The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge having key decisions made by religious people, by irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken. George Bush prayed a lot about Iraq, but he didn’t learn a lot about it. Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It’s nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don’t have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it’s wonderful when someone says, “I’m willing, Lord! I’ll do whatever you want me to do!” Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas. And anyone who tells you they know, they just know what happens when you die, I promise you, you don’t. How can I be so sure? Because I don’t know, and you do not possess mental powers that I do not. The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that’s what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong. This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you comes at a horrible price. If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you’d resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here, or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let’s remember what the real problem was. We learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That’s it. Grow up or die.”