So I saw Religulous yesterday. This is a brief review – I didn’t take notes, and in any case telling you details would spoil the actual film. But I will say that it’s very funny. And worth seeing.
Maher gets his laughs by just asking various religious people to explain and justify their beliefs. All he needs in addition are a few snarky words and comedic glances to camera combined with some subtitled comments and sharp editing. It’s hard to name my favorite piece, but one that does stick out is the interview with creationist US Senator Mark Pryor, who actually said that humans didn’t know it was wrong to kill people before we got the ten commandments. But to his credit, Pryor did go on to point out that you don’t need to pass an IQ test before you can be a US Senator. Thanks for clearing that up.
Although most of the movie was comedic, the end contained the serious message Maher obviously intended the movie to make. With scenes showing nuclear explosions and the like captioned with quotes from the Book of Revelation, Maher laments that we developed the tools to annihilate life on Earth while some of the people with their fingers on the trigger still believe in the biblical End Times. He calls on the anti-religionists to come out of the closet and assert themselves. He also has a message for those who consider themselves moderately religious – examine your faith to determine if it's really worth the cost. Or to put it another way, the moderates provide cover for the religious nut cases who could really do some damage. The serious end was at odds with the rest of the film, but at least the message was clear.
Some have criticized the film for just going for the soft targets – the less sophisticated religious rather than religious scholars. For example, American Thinker suggested that Rick Warren would have been a better opponent for Maher. Well, considering this example of Rick Warren’s piss poor logic, I have to disagree. Warren would have been no better than most of the people Maher used in his film, but he would certainly have been less funny. The fact is, religion makes no sense when you examine it critically, no matter how much you’ve studied its nuances. This criticism is little more than a courtier’s reply – if you’re not interviewing experts in the design and manufacture of invisible garments, you’re not entitled to point out that the emperor has no clothes. I think Maher was perhaps a little mean with the blue collar workers at the truck stop church, but most of his interviewees were fair game. Remember, he did try to get interviews at the Vatican and with representatives of the Mormon Church but was thrown out of both locations.
Others have criticized Maher for not being honest in describing the film’s intent when booking the interviews. For example, Maher’s name was never mentioned in advance, nor was the true name of the film. It has been suggested that this is similar to the way the producers of Expelled hid the true meaning of their film from Dawkins and others. But those interviewed in Expelled were never told the true intent of the film even during the interviews. No one being interviewed by Maher could have been in doubt of his true intent for very long.
So overall, a good film. Some religious people are predictably complaining that Maher was unfair, and that he won’t convert anyone with this film, but that wasn’t his intention. The film is aimed (in my opinion) at weak believers and non-believers, and for them it will hit the mark.
Now, if Maher could only learn to apply some of this kind of critical thinking to his wacky beliefs about “western” medicine, vaccines and germ theory, I might start watching Real Time again.