Thursday, November 20, 2008

Religulous Review

Religulous has been out for a good while now, but I finally got around to seeing it last night. My overall impression of the movie wasn't overly impressed.

That being said, I think a good subtitle for this movie would be "Bill Maher preaches to the choir."

The large majority of this movie is going around to various religious people and showing that they (a) believe in things that are completely nuts like the virgin birth, or (b) are stunningly ignorant about their own religious history.

The reason that I say Billy is preaching to the choir is that it isn't likely that anyone that is religious sees anything wrong with this. They either see bogus miracles as truly miraculous, or are equally ignorant. As such, anyone that doesn't already agree with what Bill is saying probably won't get it.

And Maher doesn't even seem to care. Instead of trying to explain just why these people are ignorant, and trying to actually teach the audience something about what he's talking about, he just tosses things out there with no explanation. A perfect example is when Bill is talking to a Muslim about the view of many Muslims that anyone who challenges their religion should be killed. The Muslim says this isn't true and that it allows for discussion. Maher brings up the case of Salman Rushdie, and asks whether or not he deserves to be killed. The Muslim tries to waffle his way out and gives a non-answer worthy of the Discovery Institute.

I know who Salman Rushdie is. Maher knows who Salman Rushdie is. The Muslim Bill is talking to knows who Salman Rushdie is. But does the audience? Not exactly likely. I only know because SOMA brought him to KU a few years back. But Maher doesn't even try to take a bit of time to explain the situation. If you already know, then it makes sense. If you're not part of the choir, well, that part's probably lost on you.

Maher also seemed to use quite a few silly tricks when interviewing people. He'd ask a serious question and inevitably, the religious person would have to stop because they couldn't answer it. Of course, the way the editing was done, it makes me genuinely curious as to how many of the dazed pauses were legitimate and how many were edited in. I'd like to give the benefit of the doubt here, but some just looked staged.

Another trick Maher used to force people to slip up was to ask a legitimate question and then, when they tried to answer it, make a joke out of it. The natural response to this is to stop and wonder, "How do I respond to this? As a serious question, or to the joke?" Those forced pauses I'm sure were abused as well.

Maher also tended to go after some people with pathetically weak education and theology. Showing up to a trucker's church? Yeah. Insightful theology there Billy.

There were some highlights of Bill meeting with some better religious authorities. As usual, former head of the Vatican Observatory, Geroge Coyne impressed me with his honest and informed answers. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, was better than most but still made himself look like a twit without Maher even having to try. But perhaps my favorite person Maher talked to was a Catholic priest just after Maher got kicked out of the Vatican. This guy admitted that most of the religion was full of hot air and was extremely laid back about the whole deal. Why can't we get priests like him in the US?!

So overall, the show had its high points and low points. It was 90% Bill showing that religious people are, by and large, at least compartmentally stupid. But as I said before, to those that would see this as such are people that would already agree. Those that can't see this are the ones being made fun of.

But what about that other 10%?

This last little bit was what I think the real highlight of the movie was. It was mentioned right at the beginning, and then was the main point at the end. One quote summed it up pretty well. I know this isn't quite right, but the notion is, "It's a shame that humanity developed the ability to destroy the world before it developed the ability to be rational."

This is the point that I agree with wholeheartedly. For the first time in human history, we have the ability to destroy our entire species. With this horrible threat, we can no longer practice the naive rituals of non-thought, however comforting they may be.

I really wish this theme would have been worked far more throughout the film, and stronger connections drawn with the lack of critical thinking and the consequences its already wrought. Instead, Maher left the cause and the effect only connected with a tenuous slippery slope. I think the message is solid, but this movie did not do a good job of showing it. The only thing it did do, was provide a bit of schadenfreude for those of us that already get it.


FZ said...

I like your quote about destroying the world: basically sums up everything.

It's also a sad realization.

Badger3k said...

Not sure of the editing, but considering the movie was done by the guy who did "Borat", and the Expelled-style setting up of interviews...they may not be accurate. I haven't seen it, but is Maher, the anti-vax kook, saying people should be rational?

Unknown said...

Actually I like the approach of simply making fun of these people. Too much obtuse, carefully crafted language designed not to offend does nothing whatsoever. Neither does trying to reason with someone who has long forgotten what the word means. But when they see people openly making fun of just how incredibly ignorant the whole thing is (even if just in the trailer) perhaps it might just cause a doubt or two to rise to the surface.