Jewish Journal


August 27, 2008

Early thoughts on ‘Religulous’


Well, my suspicions were correct: Religion comes off as looking at best ridiculous in Bill Maher’s new film “Religulous.” But the early buzz has also been correct: Brilliant.

And so I’ve spent the past 13 hours wondering if there was something wrong with my enjoying the movie. It’s Maher’s timing and clever criticisms that make the film so good and his message so salient. The intellectual-elitist diatribes of The New Atheists and the self-righteous cynicism of someone like PZ Myers only go so far in shaking the faithful. In fact, they don’t really go anywhere at all; they often simply preach to the choir.

But it’s difficult to dismiss Maher’s message on the same grounds. He’s not abrasive, though he is argumentative, and it’s clear that he’s not so much bothered by religious belief as he is religious fundamentalism—by beliefs that incite violence, afflict the powerless and inhibit human progress. And even those who finds life’s meaning in religion—I would include myself in this category—can agree with that.

Unfortunately, Maher doesn’t ever really call the religious folks he’s dealing with—Ken Ham of the Creation Museum; the Muslim rapper Propa-Ghandi, who praises suicide bombers; Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, an anti-Zionist activist who two years ago attended Iran’s Holocaust-deniers conference—fundamentalists.

This casts a negative pall over all religion, not just the right-wing fringe—known to those of us who obsess over who believes what—that is featured in “Religulous.” This omission adds justification to Maher’s monologue at the end of the film, much of which offers fair criticism but also includes the most misguided statement in the film. Based on a mountain of evidence indicting religion as a thorn in human history, Maher says:

“The plain fact is religion must die for man to live.”

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