Sunday, October 05, 2008

"Religulous" Misses Its Own Point

Bill Maher's "Religulous" is exactly the anti-religion rant that it appears to be. He interviews religious people to make them look ridiculous. He takes sensible, caring, mainstream parts of a faith and mixes it indiscriminately with the extremist parts. He evangelizes for his own faith, secular rationalism; then, when challenged, retreats to the claim that "I'm just asking questions." "Religulous" is the film equivalent of Richard Dawkins' or Sam Harris' anti-religious books of the moment.

Maher tells us that his own religious education ended at about 13. His Jewish mother did not attempt to educate her children in her faith, and his Catholic father raised his two children as Catholics until he had a falling out with the church over birth control in young Bill's early adolescence. Maher's strong anti-religious zeal now is a relatively new development, as he was a wishy-washy "recovering Catholic" for decades. Recently, though, he has turned to a faith in rationalism beloved of many adolescent boys, myself included at that age. It is the faith that the vast majority of people on earth on ignorant, superstitious fools, and the world would be a better place if everyone were rational like me.

Yet early in the film Maher makes a different, better point. In a "gotcha" visit to the Trucker's Chapel at a truck stop in North Carolina, Maher admits that his faith is a luxury of the rich. He allows that if, for example, a man in prison said "I've got nothing in here except Jesus," Maher could respect that view. But people who are as favored as Bill Maher -- rich, famous, smart -- have the luxury of rejecting God and religion.

I believe that Bill Maher hit the nail on the head right there, as he sometimes does. He just failed to be as critical of himself as he is of everyone else through the rest of the film.

8 comments:

Drew said...

Interesting here on the last point since it sounds quite like Stark and Bainbridge's argument of reward versus compensation. So to that end he is right. Now what I would like to ask him are the existential questions that still permeate even the wealthy perspective on religion. That is, why do people who seem to have everything and are educated go to church if its not for a just reward on earth?

On Lawn said...

To your own self be true.

This piece was much more courteous and respectful. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

A much more counter-cultural documentary could be made in which the pseuds in the entertainment industry are questioned about their knowledge of Hume's critique of induction, the real claims of Einstein's theory of relativity, the current state of evolutionary theory in biology, etc. In my opionion, what would become clear is that the half-educated American secular elite's faith in scietism is actually less well-informed than most orthodox Christians (and Jews and Muslims, etc.) faith.

Playing 'gotcha' with these half-wits would be certainly worthwhile, though I doubt that it would be a contender for an Oscar.

Anonymous said...

why do people who seem to have everything and are educated go to church if its not for a just reward on earth?
I thought they went to get a reward in heaven.

Gruntled said...

For God?

Anonymous said...

"Hume's critique of induction, the real claims of Einstein's theory of relativity, the current state of evolutionary theory in biology, etc. In my opionion, what would become clear is that the half-educated American secular elite's faith in scietism is actually less well-informed than most orthodox Christians (and Jews and Muslims, etc.) faith."

These aren't matters of faith (with the possible exception of Hume), so it would be a very different movie indeed. Instead of actually trying to find out what people believe (as I assume Mahrer was doing, I haven't seen the movie) you would just be playing point at the dummy who doesn't understand quantum mechanics (even though they don't claim too).

Anonymous said...

The scientism which informs most pseudo-intellectual commentary on religion is every bit as much a matter of faith as the most fundamentalist tenets on biblical literalism.

Anonymous said...

"The scientism which informs most pseudo-intellectual commentary on religion is every bit as much a matter of faith as the most fundamentalist tenets on biblical literalism."

That means you don't know anything about Science. Immaculate conception and Relativity are not equally faith-based concepts. You are hiding behind generalities for the 'fun' of propping up your own narcisism. Fundamentalism and Faith have meanings, don't muddle up English with banalities that don't pass the smell test.