Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Religulous – Where Bill Maher Empowers the Anti-Intelligence Conservatives

I am presenting this as I wrote it in 2010. It’s even more true now, and I think a lot less of Maher now than I did when I wrote this.

Let me start out by saying I am Christian who regularly attends church. That said, my denomination is fairly liberal. We don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God and we believe the Holy Eucharist is symbolic.

Which is why I had difficulty with Religulous. I used to like Bill Maher in general, and thought it was pretty unfair what happened to him on network television. First of all, he unfortunately falls into the trap that many both inside and outside the media in this country do. He’s developed in his head one image of what Christianity is and bashes everyone who’s a Christian based on that image. It’s an image I don’t like either, and I try to point out to people that when you look at denominations like the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the UCC, you get quite a different picture from the Fundamentalists in the Bible belt.

Religulous starts off promising as Maher points out that when the book of Revelation was written only God had the ability to destroy the planet, and now man does as well. However, he almost immediately launches into his disdain for anyone who is Christian by saying otherwise intelligent people believe they are drinking the blood of Christ on Sunday mornings. Well, we all don’t. Many of us feel it’s symbolism and we drink wine (not blood) as a symbolic gesture accepting the gift that God and Jesus gave us.

It’s not just the misinformation here that’s offensive, though. It’s also the tone Maher adopts, that if you don’t agree with him, you’re an idiot. It’s a tone that is really of-putting about certain people who tend to be categorized as liberal, and Maher makes the case for those who say that people on the left tend to think anyone who doesn’t think like them is stupid.

The opening credits show clips from various newsworthy moments, all the way from the television preachers to newspaper clippings showing how people have fought over religion over the centuries. Maher is not a stranger to his attitude about religion. Clips from his early years of comedy show it was something he talked about early on in his career.

I actually agree with Maher on the subject having doubts about what we’re taught in regard to religion, but to me that makes my faith stronger. He also questions a group of Christian truckers on the inerrancy of the Bible. Maher brings up the corruption in Christianity, particularly in the case of the televangelists who were often begging for money and living lavish lifestyles.

Maher makes a point when he debates people about the issue of gays and lesbians. I’ve used some of the same arguments with people that he uses as he is debating with a “reformed” gay man, now running a ministry for people who no longer want to be gay.

However, not everything Maher states here can be taken at face value. He cites the story of Horus as being the tale that he states Christians coopted their story of Jesus from.  I can find no evidence of what he states ( and have to wonder if he is just as guilty of looking for convenient answers for his side of the argument as some believers are for their side of the argument. There’s also a huge difference between being turned off of organized religion and not believing in God and/or Jesus. Maher doesn’t seem to differentiate between the two.

However, the best line of the film came when Maher is in a mosque in Amsterdam and the mullah says “Bill, it’s all politics”. That is when this film is good, but it misses out on this potential with too much of Maher posturing as the man who is more intelligent than those he is talking to. I would say trying to talk to , because most of the time from what I’ve seen here there isn’t a conversation going on. It’s just Maher taking pot-shots rather than trying to have a conversation. Some targets are easy for that, but others weren’t and I thought all around, he was pretty unfair and at times downright mean to those he was sitting with.

After watching the entire film, it seems like he’s looking to break it down to something simple like everyone who is religious is dumb. I think that’s an incredibly naive supposition on his part. When I listened to the commentary, though, I actually felt he actually thinks he’s more important than he really is. He sees the lack of a nomination for an Academy Award for this film as a result of the fact that he questions faith. Both he and Larry David seem to feel they are entitled to an Academy Award for this picture, and even state that the awards are becoming less relevant because they didn’t get one. I don’t think it’s about them questioning faith at all – I think the film is more filled with holes than most Michael Moore films and at least they are partially entertaining. Listening to them I was really blown away (and not in a good way) by their sense of self-importance.

“More people are not ready to hear it” – no, you are not preaching something to us. You are not giving us some truth we need to hear. If your atheism is fine for you, more power to you. But what I see here in Religulous is as much insecurity in his non-belief and his need to covert others to it and force it on others that I see from those on the religious right in their fervent beliefs.

I really expected more from Maher and after watching this film, including the commentary, I am less of a fan of his. Not because of his views of religion, but due to the air of conceit and self-importance he projects. Come on, Bill, you’re better than this. Here, you’re just as guilty of the same things you’re accusing your target of.


• Commentary with Bill Maher and Director Larry Charles
• Monologues from Around the World
• Deleted Scenes

3 replies »

  1. I’m not a believer. I have no problem (in general) with people of faith until they try to tell me what to believe, how to act, or what should be taught in school. I believe everyone should be free to live to the dictates of their conscience, provided they don’t intrude on the rights of other. I know easier said than done. 🙂 But what Mahar does in the flick is set his viewpoint up as some sort of standard all thinking people should adhere to. Yeah. And isn’t it fun to laugh at those who haven’t seen the light yet.

    • I don’t have a problem with people who don’t believe. I have a lot of friends who are atheists or agnostic. I’ve even moved more to the UU position since I wrote this. I believe in a higher power, but humans have no way of understanding it. I say it’s like trying to describe a color you can’t see. There’s truth in all, but none of them have it “right.”

      Maher has become so self-righteous, and even moreso in recent years. I found it ironic how much of this registers with who he’s shown us he is, since I wrote it in 2010.

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