Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Preaching to the unconverted

By Edward Copeland
I enjoyed the hell out of Religulous, even if I have to doublecheck the spelling of the film's title each time I write it. Then again, why wouldn't I? Often, people who embrace rationality over faith or superstition feel as if they are isolated and here is a film that says, "You are not alone." However, I have to wonder what effect the movie would have on someone who does believe. In my eyes, it makes its case well in several spots, but my mind was decided going in. Would it be possible to challenge the assumptions of the faithful?

While it would be understandable for the religious to steer clear of this film, assuming comedian Bill Maher will just hold them up to ridicule, there is very little of that and Maher seems to get along well with most of the faithful he meets. Neither side is out to change the other's mind and Larry Charles' documentary (or any documentary on the subject) likely would run into the same brick wall.

It reminds me of the different reactions to Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Fundamentalists hated and protested Scorsese's film without ever seeing it while the late film critic Gene Siskel, a devout Jew, said it caused him to seriously contemplate Jesus in a way he never had. Then, those same fundamentalists dragged their young children to Gibson's film with its subtle anti-Semitism and unrelenting violence that really made it the most expensive snuff film ever made.

Maher, son of a Jewish dad and a Catholic mom, was raised as a Catholic. He doesn't preach atheism, he preaches uncertainty. As a sentient being with the ability for rational thought, Maher just finds it puzzling that otherwise reasonable, intelligent people can believe in something for which there is no proof.

Still, since I share Maher's point of view on the subject, the film plays as if it were made for me. Additionally, I learned things I didn't know, such as the stories of many gods that pre-date Jesus but whose stories share remarkable similarities such as how he was born, miracles he performed and resurrection.

I also didn't realize the discrepancies between the Gospels of the New Testament. I urge anyone from the most ardent atheist to the most pious follower of any religion to watch Religulous.

You'll at least laugh and even if no minds are changed, perhaps those minds will be forced to think. Of that, I'm certain.

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"I have to wonder what effect the movie would have on someone who does believe."

That's a good question. Like Maher, I'm a nonbeliever. Or perhaps I should put it this way: The only thing I know, is that nobody knows.

Anyway ...

The frustrating thing about "Religulous" is that it tweaks a few facts for its benefit, which is silly. It's like Nixon breaking into Watergate: he's got enough material to do it honestly.

Still, presuming that those slips by Maher don't allow the believers to render the entire exercise moot, I wonder if the effect is like the wind on a tree: No tree topples from one gust. It is slowly weakened over time.

Religulous certainly isn't the storm to bring down the tree of belief. But considering this is a topic that usually receives no wind at all, it's a start.

Still, the fact is that belief in God is actually a lot like chemical addiction: logic is no match for it. I imagine many believers will watch and laugh when Maher picks apart other religions, only to then feel he's got it all wrong when he uses the same techniques to pick apart their belief system.

That's why they call it faith, I guess.
This is a film I watched during the last part of the 2008 Presidential campaigns and I credit Maher and this film for keeping me somewhat sane and he made me laugh when I needed a laugh.

I am sure this film was only allowed to play in a fraction of theatres in the country based on the subject matter, and only a tiny portion of the population probably got to see this film, but it's a start.
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