Religulous

Last night some folks from MBCC went and checked out Bill Maher’s film entitled “Religulous.” In it, Bill combines wit, sarcasm, film clips and interviews to support his two main theses:

1. Doubt is good.
2. All religion is detrimental to society. If society is to move forward then religion must be done away with.

I’m good with the first one, and less good (depending on how one defines “religion”) with the second one, but I found the film an overall interesting, bordering on positive experience.

Things I liked/found interesting:
1. Bill is open about calling himself agnostic and admitting he doesn’t know. Unfortunately, the so-called “Christians” he interviewed acted as though asking questions was the worst form of blasphemy. Some of them walked out on his interview and refused to speak to someone that would have the audacity to question their faith.

2. Bill seems to have a soft spot for Catholicism in general and Jesus in particular. He was often countering some of the responses and attitudes he saw with the words and actions of Jesus and he was dead on.

3. The scene with the trucker church. He spoke with a group of men who were passionate about their faith but who blinked a lot when asked the more difficult questions. However, and this probably has to do with editing, Bill was silenced when one man spoke of his personal experience of conversion to Christianity from being a Satanist priest. Try as you might, you cannot argue with personal experience. When Bill was leaving the truckers he thanked them for being “Christlike” and allowed them to pray for him. It was an island of vulnerability in a sea of derision.

Things that I didn’t love, but didn’t necessarily hate:
1. With a couple of exceptions, he only interviewed Christians who’d checked their brains at the door, which, in my experience is at least half of them (mostly the evangelical half). Particularly horrifying was “Jesus” from the Holy Land Experience Theme Park in Florida (that hot mess is a post unto itself). Bill came at “Jesus” with very valid questions and “Jesus” answered with standard Sunday School cliches that wouldn’t stand up to even the most gentle questioning from an eight-year-old. The few interviews he had with intelligent, reasonable Catholics were cut very short, I’m guessing because there wasn’t room in his argument for that. He stayed in the Bible belt and interviewed Southern, dyed-in-the-wool Christians who have probably never had to defend their faith because the culture is so churched, and he didn’t speak to any mainline or progressive Christians. It is his documentary, and as long as he’s not under the impression that it’s journalism, he’s allowed to only support one point of view. But I’m also allowed to not like it.

2. Bill is as intolerant of people who disagree with him as he believes the religious people to be of him. Got that? He was open with his distaste of Orthodox (particularly anti-Zionist) Jews and his negative views of Islam were thinly veiled if at all.

3. One thing he did, which I have a tendency to do, is that he used his intellect as a blunt instrument on those less intelligent. When he spoke with Catholic scholars he was gentler with his questioning than he was with the Bible-belt Christians.

4. Bill constantly interrupts people. He walked out on the one person who wouldn’t let him interrupt. Rude.

Like I said, it was a pretty good film. While I am on board with Bill’s doubt and questioning, I disagree with his method of finding people to support his thesis and then use that lop-sided “evidence” to make general proclamations about eliminating all religion from society. I think we need to eliminate stupidity, intolerance and recalcitrance, but those things don’t only exist in religious contexts. There’s a lot of hubris in anyone who says their way/interpretation is the only way and Bill is one of those people. Last I checked, the only person who had the corner on the way, truth and life is Jesus. There are a lot of us who are doing our best to follow Jesus and we would do well to admit that we do it imperfectly and could learn from those who have different views.

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