If you’ve seen the trailer, you know what to expect: Bill Maher
travels around the world, interviewing people about religion, and
basically letting them show how ridiculous their beliefs are. And
that’s basically it, plus some film clips thrown in for comic effect,
and some lines that you’d expect to hear on Real Time or
in his stand-up routine, rather than in a serious documentary.
The film does slow down in the last third, but not enough (IMHO) to
drag, and ends on a down note. In the meantime, it does manage to
raise some important questions about religion, though probably not the
ones one might expect.
Spoilers and ranting below the fold.
It’s been said that Michael Moore doesn’t make documentaries, but
rather advocacy films: nonfiction movies intended to promote an agenda
or point of view. Similarly, Religulous doesn’t pretend
to be fair or balanced, and probably belongs in a subcategory of
advocacy: movies designed to take the piss out of something. The point
is not to document religion, but to take it down a notch.
The important questions I mentioned earlier are not of the “How can
believers and non-believers coexist peacefully?” variety. They’re much
more blunt: “You’re a grown-up: how can you possibly believe a book
with talking snakes?” “How is believing in Jesus more reasonable than
believing in Santa Claus?” “Have you even read your holy
book?” “How can you claim to be in favor of free speech when you won’t
repudiate the fatwa against Salman Rushdie?”
If Religulous is the cinematic equivalent of drawing
moustaches on church posters, it also advocates the view that it’s
okay to treat religion like any other topic.
One comment that was raised during the discussion afterwards, and
which is sure to be raised elsewhere, is “Why can’t Bill be more
respectful people he disagrees with? By tarring moderate theists with
the same brush as the extremists and wackaloons, isn’t he making
enemies of people who could be our allies?”
My personal answer is that we’ve tried to be polite and conciliatory,
to just nod and smile and not say anything for the sake of not ruining
Thanksgiving dinner. And see where it’s gotten us. I, for one, am
tired of it. I’m going to call bullshit when I see it. Women’s
suffrage was not won by polite quiet housewives writing letters to the
editor, but by suffragettes going out and getting all up in people’s
grilles. Segregation was brought down thanks to “uppity niggers”.
Without those who are here, queer, and who we should get used to, we
wouldn’t currently be debating the desirability of gay marriage.
As for whether Maher’s approach makes enemies of moderates, well,
maybe they need a wake-up call themselves. Fred Phelps and Tom Hanks
both call themselves Christians. Osama bin Laden and the taxi driver
who tracked you down to return your wallet both call themselves
Muslims. Tom Cruise and… actually, I can’t think of any non-crazy
Scientologists, so forget about them. The point is, if sane moderates
want to distance themselves from the crazy wackaloons, they need to
speak up, especially since in most cases, it seems that the crazies
are the ones who take their religion most seriously.
So yeah, I’m tired of making excuses for the moderates. Let them speak
up for themselves, and tell the Dobsons and Robertsons and ayatollahs
that they’re full of shit and don’t speak for them.
Can I get an amen?