'Borat' Director Debunks Religion with Bill Maher in 'Religulous'

Maui Time | September 30, 2008
Bill Maher takes a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel approach to questioning the validity of all religious beliefs and comes up with a cinematic breath of fresh air. Borat director Larry Charles follows Maher around the world to locations like Megiddo, Israel (where the "end of days" is due to ignite) and to the Vatican -- where Maher got tossed out for filming inside while he tried to track down the Pope. Maher questions his own Jewish mother and Catholic sister (his father was Catholic), Christian parishioners in North Carolina, ex-Mormons, Hassidic Jews, Muslims, a Catholic priest, and other religiously-connected figures in a sincere attempt to discover how their beliefs were formed and more importantly how they are sustained. The movie contains plenty of well-researched points of its own, like the Christ myth's existence in several different variations of Mediterranean mythology 600 years prior to the story made popular in the Bible. Religulous is a funny, debate-provoking movie that dares to question fundamental beliefs that have been foisted on societies in order to enable brutality and prejudice in the name of a higher power. It's a call for humanity to grow up. "There is no Easter Bunny."

Part of the film's satirical genius is using Maher, as the polished stand-up comic voice of straight talk, to engage in would-be logical discussions about the veracity of religious truth. Maher comes off as a smart guy pleasantly challenging the roots of people's religious beliefs. There are plenty of graphics, movie clips, and comic sidebars that inform on a secondary level of commentary and historic context to effectively debunk all religions. Without getting into a history lesson about how religion has been used to subjugate and manipulate the masses for thousands of years, the film expresses the situation through its environments and choice of interviewees that range from an Hasidic inventor of rule-bending contraptions to a self-professed descendent of Jesus.

"What do you believe?" "Why do you believe it?" and "Why do you need to believe it?" are some of the fundamental questions Maher poses with a humanitarian aspiration. There's no question that the filmmakers didn't choose an oddball smattering of religiously affiliated individuals to left-handedly chastise for their flaunted hypocrisies. It's a litmus test approach that allows for some refreshing candidness from the film's subjects. Is it an obvious set up to interview an actor playing Jesus Christ at a Biblical theme park in Orlando, Florida? Of course it is, but Maher is willing to listen, and so are we.

Religulous is a movie designed to stir social discussion. For me it had the effect of letting me hear something confirmed that I've rarely before heard so enjoyably pronounced; that not believing in organized religion is a highly responsible social position to take. Atheism, or at least agnosticism, might just save us all.

Rated R. 101 mins. (A-)

Maui Time

Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
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