I guess I'll never be President, either....
If you are a devout person of any religion, this review may offend you, because I plan to be blunt. Just a warning...
As I grew older my critical thinking about religious beliefs was reinforced. At university, I studied ancient history and learned how, basically, Christianity was a hodgepodge of every pagan religion circulating around Rome in the time of the Caesars.
Virtually every ingredient we think of today in terms of Christ's "origin" story -- from the immaculate conception to the wandering in the desert wilderness, to the crucifixion itself -- had been assimilated from a dozen older historical sources to formulate Christ's "new" story.
So if Christ's story were a movie, I'd call it a rip-off. Or at least a pastiche.
Maher's documentary Religulous points this out, by cleverly noting the numerous "parallels" between Egypt's Horus and Jesus of Nazareth.
And then there's the Bible. It's supposed to be the Word of Almighty God, but again, my rational mind can't accept it as such. After all, the Bible was written, re-written, and translated into new languages...by fallible mankind. By men with agendas. Passages have been suppressed, erased, written-over in palimpsests and mis-translated both intentionally and unintentionally.
So that means the Bible that most Americans use in 2009 is akin to a Japanese Godzilla movie...dubbed from the original language into English. In other words, some things seem a little...off, even if you get the general idea.
And as much literary value and beauty as I find in many passages of the Bible -- and as truly as I admire the teachings of Jesus the Man (particularly his stance on money, wealth and poverty) -- how can I overlook a thousand years of interference in this supposedly sacred text from monks, popes and other avaricious schemers? Perhaps it is my failing, but I just can't believe that those men left no footprints. Christ's nature may be divine, but human nature is something else entirely.
Perhaps I would harbor more respect for Christianity if every worshipper dedicated themselves to the study of Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. If they took the "text" of the Bible on its original terms and attempted to discern the meaning in the actual language of the Bible. If Christ should be followed with such unblinking, mindless devotion -- why trust others to translate His Gospels for you? If the Bible is so important, how about bending a little knee yourself to understand what was actually written in the first place? If you are "learning" from the Bible and Christianity hatred for homosexuals, masturbators, Jews or Muslims, then you are duty-bound to know what the Bible really says, it seems to me.
Bill Maher makes this case far better than I can (or would dare to...). His (scathing) approach here is straightforward and simple: he confronts people of various religions (Christians, Muslims and Jews) with the cold, hard facts about their clearly irrational but deeply-held spiritual beliefs. His message ultimately comes down to two things. First, belief in religion is actually a narcissistic mental disorder (so says the neurology expert, whom he trots out...).
And second: we're never going to mature as a species if we don't surrender our irrational religious beliefs...which invariably lead to even more irrational hatreds and bloodshed. Maher narrows this second point down to the explicit warning:
Grow up or die.
I was particularly happy to find Maher and Religulous confront the ridiculous, pervasive and historically inaccurate belief that America was founded as a "Christian" nation. Maher provides a litany of quotations from the Founding Fathers which prove unequivocally that Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and the others had about as much use for religion of any stripe as they did...for the office of the Vice Presidency.
But the test is even more simple than that: Find the name "Christ" anywhere in the U.S. Constitution.
Seriously. Go ahead. I'm waiting.
Find me even one tiny instance of the name Jesus Christ appearing in our Constitution. Not "God." Not "The Creator" either. Because Jews and Muslims have a "God" and a "Creator" too, don't they? Nope...there's absolutely nothing enshrined in the Constitution that creates a special or prominent slot for Christianity in America. On the contrary, America was founded on the very basis of escaping Christian extremism. When people misunderstand this, they are forgetting history, or worse: willfully rewriting it to serve a pernicious agenda.
Maher's approach in Religulous is fact-based, but undeniably caustic and brutal. As a fellow atheist, I certainly sympathize with his irritation and anger.
He is outraged with an America where the Crucifixion is re-enacted in cheesy amusement parks as overweight patrons sip their super-sized colas and munch popcorn.
He is angry with an America where Presidents arrogantly use the name of Christ to justify nationalistic war, when Christ is supposed to be The Prince of Peace.
He is troubled by an America where prominent presidential candidates (of one party in particular...) don't believe in evolution, despite the scientific consensus.
And he is judgmental of an America where religious icons like Ted Haggard preach hatred and disrespect towards gays while secretly indulging in gay sex.
He is befuddled with a world where innocent cartoons can merit death threats from "true believers." With a world where the "us" vs. "them" mentality kills people each and every day.
The world is sick, and religion is the disease killing it. At least from Maher's perspective. It's a perspective I share.
Bill Maher approaches religious belief from a state of doubt...a state of questioning, rather than a state of certainty. He exposes "faith" as a trick to make gullible people accept that which is blatantly unacceptable on rational grounds. Ever have a "rational" argument with a devout person? When they can't beat you on the facts, they tell you to take it on faith. Two words: cop-out. I outgrew that nonsense on the kindergarten playground.
If Christ, why not Santa Claus? If Jehovah, why not Thetans? If Allah, why not the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
Sometimes, it takes a comedian to speak truth to power; to break taboos, to puncture the protective force field of propriety, and ultimately that's the "miracle" Bill Maher achieves in his entertaining and illuminating documentary. The results are funny, but Religulous is also sad, and truth be told, depressing. It's both amazing and disheartening to watch intelligent, resourceful people attempt mental gymnastics in the defense of beliefs that are wacko.
And If you agree with me, I'm preaching to the choir. If you don't...you're already praying for my immortal soul.