Preaching to the choir


“The Christian God can easily be pictured as the same god as the many gods of ancient civilizations.”

“Question with boldness the existence of God.”

“My mind is my own church.”

“Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religions.”

“I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue.”

These all may seem like the inflammatory ramblings of the Right Wing’s favorite whipping boy Bill Maher, and not quotes from our Founding Fathers (Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, George Washington and Ben Franklin, respectively. Look it up.). But they serve sort of the thesis statements for Maher’s documentary “Religulous.”

Now whether you wish to take theological advice from a former actor whose previous cinematic body of work includes the Mr. T opus “D.C. Cab” and “Cannibal Women and the Avocado Jungle of Death” is your own call.

The topic of religion has been a frequent target for Maher’s “Real Time” talk show, and he makes no attempts to conceal his disdain for organized religion of any kind and the harm done to humanity in its name. In “Religulous,” he sets out on a global nomadic quest in an attempt to understand why his belief in non-belief is so marginalized.

He has hired “Borat” director Larry Charles to accompany him on this religious crusade…( hmm, maybe “crusade” may be the wrong word when talking about Christianity… how about “deity safari?”). Maher overturns stones of such fringe-dwelling pit-stops of faith as a Trucker’s Chapel, The Creationism Museum and a “gay conversion” center as well as attempting to tackle the big boys such as the Mormon Tabernacle and the Vatican.

Maher’s past as a comedian comes in handy throughout, as his wit certainly cuts through some of the deeper discussions. But his trademarked snark is exactly what may cause the film to fail to convert anyone who does not already worship at Maher’s altar. He is not aided much by Charles, who edits the film that often leaves it open to criticism that he is stacking the deck in his star’s favor.

Granted, many of the subjects are far out of Maher’s comedic league, and it is doubtful that he needed any help decimating certain guests who willfully jam their own feet in their mouth.

The results are frequently hilarious, make no mistake.

But by choosing this filmmaking method, Charles leaves Maher wide open to the oft-cited criticism of Maher’s smug, self-satisfied delivery is too off-putting to welcome new members to his congregation, which is obviously the film’s intent.

And if that does not seal the deal, Maher’s strangely serious polemic rant at the film’s conclusion certainly will. As Maher himself begins the film, he admits that he “does not know” the answers, but preaches to the masses just like so many of the religious charlatans he spent the past 90 minutes railing against, with absolution and certainty.

“Religulous” does open doors to conversation, which is always healthy. But when you preach with condescension that your view is the only valid one on the table, you sound exactly like those you mock.

~ by usesoapfilm on October 7, 2008.

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