Thursday, 01 October 2020
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Thursday, 16 October 2008 00:00

ThumbnailOddly, Bill Maher preaches with as much fervor as the religious zealots he interviews in the new documentary Religulous. The difference is, Bill isn’t preaching any particular brand of theology, and he doesn’t expect to be worshipped because of it. In his own words he’s spreading a message of “doubt”. As in, “I doubt there’s a Supreme Being, but if there is I bet He wouldn’t want us fighting wars and torturing people in His name” kind of doubt. And I have to say he raises a valid point.

Maher is half Jewish and half Catholic, with a traditional upbringing in the latter, and his current, unflattering definition of faith is to call it a “neurological disorder”. Judging by the people he interviews it isn’t hard to see why. No one, from Vatican Priest to Jesus impersonator is safe from his insightful and insulting tongue and each of them puts foot-in-mouth to varying degrees. One has to hand it to Maher that his beef with religion seems to lay in the unquestioning, blind faith that these people possess rather than with the deity himself. He questions the connection between violence and religion, and the blind faith people place in The Bible or holy book of choice.

It’s entertaining and hilarious (or infuriating, depending on which side of the fence you sit) to watch Maher roast followers of all faiths from around the world. Though his disdain sometimes gets the better of him, for the most part he just sits back and lets his subjects do the talking… often a far more effective form of ridicule than any snide remarks even he could sling at them. For instance, take Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor who fumbles for an answer when asked how people who “believe in talking snakes” could be running the country. He finally comes up with one of the best lines in the documentary, and perhaps the one that best illustrates Maher’s point: “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate.” Wow! And you should see the look on his face after he realizes what he’s just said!

ThumbnailMaher’s bullshit detector rats out people’s ulterior motives, including that of a televangelist covered from head to toe in expensive clothes and gold jewelry who claims not to receive a salary from the church. “You take it right out of their pockets” retorts Maher; and we all know he’s right. Or in his interview with Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda who claims to be the second coming of Christ, and not just because he shares the name Jesus. If that was the case, Maher points out, he could be the reincarnation of Carmen Miranda. “Maybe you should have fruit on your head, instead of in your head.”

It’s quips like these that show Maher’s film isn’t really about seeking answers. Instead of taking an evenhanded approach, he is truly trying to antagonize and, for lack of a better phrase – raise a little hell. But whatever he does, it works. It makes the audience think and puts a lighthearted spin on a subject that has become all too touchy with the current state of events, not to mention the current Bush administration.

In his closing monologue Maher points out that he doesn’t want to preach atheism or any lack of spiritual or moral seeking. He simply wants people to own up to their beliefs, to challenge their intellectual sides and understand exactly what they are putting their faith in.