Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Movie Review: Religulous (2008)

The latest anti-religious documentary to hit cinema screens is Bill Maher's Religulous. The word "religulous" is a neologism (made-up word) that combines religion and ridiculous. That pretty much sums up what Bill Maher thinks of religion.

Religulous is ostensibly a documentary that surveys current religious beliefs and practices in the world today. Unfortunately, it's actually about how "smart" Bill Maher is at ridiculing and mocking religion using the worst possible cases of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish fundamentalism he can find. On the rare occasion it is slightly humorous and ironic (for example, the Muslim rapper who believes in freedom of speech and tolerance for himself but not for anyone who disagrees with Islamic beliefs). There are also the couple of absolutely delightful and intelligent Roman Catholic priests, one of whom is a scientist and the other a high official in Rome.

Bill Maher is a controversial comedian, actor, writer and producer who is most famous (apparently) for a US late night show called Politically Incorrect. You will note that theologian doesn't appear in this list of qualifications and Religulous proves that Maher knows nothing about religion than some sort of school yard version that is naive, primitive, and completely lacking in any nuance.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the obvious ignorance that Maher displays about religion is his clear lack of ability to listen. Sure, most of the people he "interviews" are complete nut cases or blind fanatics. In the entire 101 minutes, he only "interviews" two or three people that sound remotely intelligent or informed about their own beliefs. Even so, if you are going to interview someone, there should probably be more of the interviewee speaking than the interviewer. In Bill Maher's case, he clearly thinks he is smart and funny and condescendingly interrupts with mocking comments and questions that I think are supposed to impress the viewer.

By the end of Religulous, we come to realise that Bill Maher is as dogmatic and myopic as the people he has interviewed. The film ends with him ranting against religion with apocalyptic images flashing on the screen suggesting that the world will end because of religion.

In addition to the self-opinionated, self-congratulatory Maher, according to the Internet Movie Database, while the movie was being made it was called A Spiritual Journey so that interviews could be arranged with religious leaders without them knowing the type of "documentary" being made. Until Bill Maher arrived for the interviews, people did not know he was involved in the film. Clearly, Maher was setting his interviewees up so that he could control what happened and capitalise on their confusion to make them look stupid. So his whole approach is premised on deception from the beginning. That, along with a highly selected sample weighted toward the fanatic or self-deluded, results in a film that is not really of much value at all.

Please understand — I think religious fundamentalism is dangerous. But when Maher's Religulous is put alongside other productions like Andrew Denton's God On My Side, Religulous pales into complete insignificance. The alleged humour is not even funny. Even Richard Dawkins's Root of All Evil? which I heartily criticised is better than this! Even Michael Moore is better!!

Religulous is little more than a slightly amusing promotion of Bill Maher as he uses (often ill-informed, uneducated, dogmatic, fundamentalist) people to have us all look at him and think how clever he is. Don't watch it to learn anything. Actually, don't bother to even watch it for entertainment.

Note: The entire movie can be viewed online by clicking here.


  1. It's funny how the other side was crying "foul" because Expelled was interviewing people under false pretenses, but Maher comes along and does the same thing. I am not saying it was right for the former to do, but there seems to be a double-standard.

    I guess this shouldn't come as all that much of a shock, though.

  2. I thought the movie was both funny and tragic. I think you missed the point of how moderate believers are enablers of the fundamentalists within their own groups. They sustain the credibility of the violent messages contained within their own scriptures.

    Moderates, fortunately, do not carry out the violence taught in these stories or statements. Moderates seem to have the ability to do the mental gymnastics required to make these statements seem reasonable to their own minds, but they are never willing to throw the statements out because they are connected with the words of their god or his prophets.

    That's the main point of the movie and I think he presented his argument very well.