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Ridiculous Religion?

October 14, 2012
First published October 9, 2008

Bill Maher in a scene from Religulous

Or is the word-play, “incredulous religion”?

Some of you may have heard of the new documentary – although it’s not what I would call a documentary; there is no objective presentation of more than one side in it – titled RELIGULOUS. It is produced and hosted by American Comedian (and anti-religionist) Bill Maher.

The film claims to look at the more absurd things people do in the name of religion. Instead, the film proposes the religion of doubt and invites the atheists of the U.S. to unite and fight back against the “religion fanatics” who are taking over their country, because “religion must die for man to live”.

I am serious. That’s the conclusion of the film. Sorry to have spoiled it for you.

Still, the film has its funny moments, I must confess, I laughed out loud a few times. But there is no substance to the claims it makes – just good for a few cheap laughs.

Bill Maher goes to a Holy Land-themed Park in Florida and exchanges some thoughts with a young actor playing the part of Jesus. Jesus-the-actor talks about that “God-hole in our hearts” that only God can fill. He also explains the Trinity as water: sometimes it’s liquid, sometimes is ice, sometimes its vapour. He was not bad. Still Maher didn’t let him get very far.

Maher goes to the Mormon Temple and shows the more hard-to-believe aspects of Mormonism. He questions the opulence of the Vatican and pokes fun at the violent tendencies of Islamists. He wonders about speaking in tongues and rolls his eyes at a preacher who believes to be the second coming of Christ and the anti-Christ, all-in-one. He dismisses creationism and challenges the strict “no-work-on-Sabbath” law that prohibits orthodox Jews from even pressing an elevator button. He even questions a Christian U.S. Senator (who will remane nameless) on his religious beliefs: “I have a problem with people leading my country who believe in talking snakes”. The Senator answers, thanks to the magic of editing: “You don’t need pass an IQ test to enter the Senate”. Oh boy, there must some law-suits coming.

But, Bill Maher never interviews anyone who can stand up to his wit and quick tongue – for that matter, Bill Maher never interviews anyone who knows much about their own Faith. Or if he did, he certainly edited out any good, valid and credible answers anyone gave him. (Maybe that’s why the film was released a whole year after its proposed release date: too much time in post-production.)

Except – Maher interviews the former director of the Vatican Observatory, Fr. George Coyne. He is definitely the best thing in the film. Why? Well, he is the only one who gave Mr. Maher something he wasn’t expecting. Why did it not get edited out? I’m not sure, perhaps to make all the creationists look bad (yes, Catholics believe in the story of creation in Genesis is symbolic).

Creationism is presented as absurd, however the film doesn’t poke fun at the absurdity of the belief that once there was cosmic stuff floating around in nothingness, that somehow, accidentally, by chance became living molecules and those in turn, with time, became single-cell organisms, which in time became either plants or fish, then amphibians, and so on, eventually becoming you. But, that’s what rational Mr. Maher believes. (He also believes that eating meat is comparable to the Holocaust – but that’s another story.)

I am not proposing that anyone go see this film. If you’re curious, wait until it comes out on DVD and then borrow it from the Library. Still, while I don’t think it’s a good film (from a film point of view – even though it has its entertaining moments), it does present some interesting questions – questions that alot of people have – that all of us should know how to answer.

There is a notion out there among all those who believe to know Christianity better than those of us who actually are Christian, that we are all irrational, fundamental, bible-literalists. Mr. Maher can’t figure out how we can believe in the “fairy-tale” of a talking snake in the Garden of Eden or that Jonah could’ve lived inside a fish for 3 days. Could you explain those two bible stories to someone if they asked? Could you explain to someone that the Bible is not a scientific document and that science is mere theories that only take you so far? (This is what Fr. Coyne so brilliantly explained.)

Why don’t the 10 Commandments address real evil things like rape and incest? If someone asked you, could you explain that the 10 Commandments are sort of “umbrella” categories that cover everything you can imagine. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” is not just about cheating on your wife – it covers rape and incest too.

Could you explain to someone if they wanted to know why all-powerful God doesn’t just obliterate evil? That never gets answered in the film. I guess they would’ve had to talk about free will.

You see, Maher is catering to our quick-fix, instant-gratification, one-line-theology culture. Can you explain the mystery of good and evil in one line? Can you explain what the Bible is and its significance in one line? Can you explain why we believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist in one line? The Immaculate Conception in one line? Not very easy to do, which is why the Church has an even bigger challenge in our day than it did a hundred years ago.

RELIGULOUS is not presenting any new ideas. It’s all been said before. It’s all been questioned before. We are not against doubt – you need some doubt in order to have Faith – and questioning is what makes us find the answers. But we don’t propose to have all the answers either, if so, we wouldn’t need Faith. But some answers are available to us. We just need to find them before we give up for not finding an easy and quick answer. That’s just lazy.

On Thursday, October 9th, Catholic Focus takes a look at some of these questions. I sat in the studio with Sr.  Marie-Paul Curley, Daughter of St. Paul, and with Christopher Giardino, Producer of the show LISTEN UP, both screenwriters, to talk about some of the questions the film poses. We hope you will tune in and help us begin to learn how to intelligently verbalise our Faith. If we can’t explain our beliefs, that’s not much help to others, right?

In a scene at the beginning of the film, inside a truckers’ Chapel, at a truck stop somewhere in the U.S., one of the truckers says he knows God exists because he used to be a Satanist Priest. He knows evil. He had drugs, women, money. Maher looks at him and says, with the look that says, “are you serious?” that he is so good at, “let me get this straight, you had drugs, women, money… so what was wrong?” I’m sure the trucker responded intelligently, maybe not. Sadly, if he did, that response did not make it into the film.

It’s very simple, Bill Maher: he wasn’t happy and he knew he was dying. God wants nothing more than for you to be happy and to live. Deep down inside we all long for perfect happiness and life. We long for unconditional love, perfect justice, ultimate truth and perfect beauty. That’s what God is: Unconditional Love, Ultimate Truth, Perfect Justice, Perfect Beauty and Life, and because I long for it, I know it exists. Therefore, I know God exists.

Be sure to let me know your thoughts, either on the film if you saw it, or on some of these questions. We love to hear from you – we love that you’re watching Salt+Light TV.

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From → English, Opinion

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