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“Religion must die for mankind to live.”
When Bill Maher resolutely declares this in his new documentary Religulous (a subtle blending of the words “religion” and “ridiculous”), you can’t help but cringe. Whether or not you consider yourself to be religious, it’s something you just don’t say out loud. It’s just wrong, right? But of course, it’s a concept that many have secretly questioned at some point. Wouldn’t things just be so much easier if religion didn’t exist?
The film is full of cringe-worthy moments, as Maher bombards each person he interviews with intense questioning, often to the point where the person becomes so flustered that Maher is asked to leave. He’s on a quest to call into question people’s blind faith. Maher just doesn’t understand how intelligent, otherwise rational-thinking people can take the stories in the Bible literally. He prods people with the questions they don’t want to talk about or find themselves struggling to answer: Why is faith important? Do you believe in evolution? And, specifically to Jesus (or at least the actor who portrays him at Holy Land, a biblical theme park in Orlando, FL): “Why doesn’t he [God] just obliterate the devil and therefore get rid of evil in the world? What is he waiting for?”
Maher travels the world to meet with a wide variety of religious folk. He talks with a Christian man who used to be gay and now works to help others who are “incomplete” as homosexuals (who at one point threatens to kick Maher out), an ex-Jew for Jesus (Maher laughs at and questions the specific instances the man explains as miracles that turned him to Christ) and even a Hasidic Jew who has met, as an anti-Zionist, with Ahmadinejad (who, in frustration, Maher actually walks out on in the middle of the interview).
The movie is extremely funny, as Maher turns their responses upside down and wonders how people can completely believe in one religion but think another religion is crazy (An example he demonstrates in the movie and in several talkshow interviews: The tenets of Scientology might sound crazy, but what about the story of the son of God “going on a suicide mission”?)
Only at the end does it take a pretty dramatic turn. Throughout the film he expresses his ideas about religion (and how religious people essentially have a “neurological disorder”) but at the end he really drives home the main point about how religion is actually quite destructive to our world and how “solace and comfort come at a terrible price.” “Religion is detrimental to the progress of humanity,” he says, with a cautionary conclusion of, “Grow up or die.”
Photo by Predoca.