My Review of Maher's Religulous

Oct 13, 2008

After seeing the trailer for Bill Maher’s new movie, Religulous, my initial reaction was similar to the way I feel when someone messes with my kids: protective; defensive. First, I didn’t want to see the movie at all, but then I decided to go and just see where Mr. Maher was heading with this. I know that Maher is a comedian, an equal opportunity mocker, so I assumed that my spiritual convictions were going to be irreverently trampled underfoot.

There were only two theaters in St Louis that were showing Religulous. Ironically, I viewed the movie at the Wehrenberg Ronnie’s 20 Cinemax on the corner of Lindberg and Baptist Church Road.

The first few scenes of the movie caught me by surprise. Though I knew the movie was going to tear down religion, I kept sensing that this was Bill Maher’s personal quest for truth. At age 14, Maher’s family stopped being Catholic. During the interview with his mother about his childhood in a Catholic / Jewish family, Maher finds out the reason his family “stopped believing.” Maher pleads with his own mother, “What do we believe? You’re my Mother! Instruct me.”

Maher shows how religion is rife with contradictions: in beliefs, religious writings and how “believers” misquote, misinterpret or ignore the parts that don’t align with their personal beliefs. I certainly agree with Maher on this point. Christian denominations, as well as Jewish and Muslim sects, are formed precisely because of disagreements in the meaning of their sacred text passages.

Interestingly, though, Maher doesn’t attempt to negate God even though he finds fault with EVERY religion he encounters. It is the defining of God and defining what one must do in order to believe in God that Maher goes after.

Christianity and Catholicism are dealt with as separate religions, so the followers of Jesus are roasted for almost an entire hour of the 101 minute movie. But there is more than enough ridicule to go around as Mormon, Jewish and Muslim religions hit the spit.

Maher brings out the very strange—and often funny—things that go on in the name of religion, but honestly, very strange and funny things do go on in the name of religion. He did mostly focus on the fringe groups within each religion rather than the mainstream. Like weird (and not distant enough) cousins that show up for family reunions…outsiders do associate the mainstream with the fringe groups.

The end of this movie ruffled my feathers a bit as Maher’s monologue challenged the “rational people, the anti-religionists, to come out of the closest” and join him in his quest for a world without religion. His premise that the world would be a better place without religion, I certainly cannot agree.

Strangely enough, I enjoyed the movie except for the content mentioned below. I think Maher’s challenge of religions is good to consider. Will this movie change my beliefs? Like the late Professor Flusser, a Jewish scholar on Early Christianity, encourages: I write my doctrine in pencil so as to remain teachable. I am always willing to evaluate my definition of God and my religion, though nothing in this movie challenged me to that point.

I am confident of one thing…this movie will NOT change God.

WARNING: This movie is rated R for a reason. There are several rants of cursing and perverse language, nude and suggestive images, marijuana use and a gross and blatant mocking of religious tenets.