I finally got to see this today. It’s a pretty funny film in which the comedian and talk show host Bill Maher travels the globe and shines a light on the crazy beliefs of religions. I’d hesitate to call it a documentary. Maher uses the word ‘roast’ which up to a point is the most apt description.

The film is always funny because folks are queer, with religionists very queer indeed. If you’re an atheist you can laugh at everyone in the movie, and if you’re a religionist, well I guess you can laugh at all the other religionists and just ignore the bits that are roasting your particular flavor of kool-aid. It’s not a film I’d recommend if you’re sensitive about your religion; there’s nothing good said about any of them.

There were several times where I laughed out loud, the interview with the evangelical US senator is one, because some of the interviewees were given just enough rope to make themselves and their beliefs appear really foolish. I wish there had been more clever moments like that in the film because Maher too often lets his dislike of religion get in the way of the interview. Because of this some interviews are much better than others, whereas I think there was potential for all of them to have been excellent. Every single person had something worth listening to, even if it was just for the WTF value, but some of the interviews never got deep enough.

I also wished we’d seen more of the really intelligent people he got in front of the camera. He interviewed Francis Crick and at least one Vatican scientist, but we spent more time with a roadside chapel for truckers. In this way the film lost out what I’m sure was really informative interviews to the comedy of religionists who say silly things to justify their loopy beliefs. Maher himself is very funny and always has a quip, but again sometimes those quips cut too close to the interviewee and he or she shuts down when there seemed to be more to mine if Maher hadn’t offended.

So Maher is the films strongest point yet also it’s weakest. The director of “Religilous” is Larry Charles, and he was also the director of “Borat”, which is probably the funniest film I’ve ever seen. “Borat” works better in letting people just keep on talking way past when they should have realized to stop, and “Religilous” had similar potential, but Maher too often went in with preconceived notions that he slammed the interviewee with. Still, as I said, it’s always funny.

Much of the humor comes from some fantastic editing with the juxtaposition of the interviews and stock footage and fake subtitles. The songs peppered throughout are also toe-tapping while also giving a sly wink to the audience. In the final 15 minutes or so the humor drops away as Maher looks at violence and religious extremism. While I’m less negative than Maher about the future of the world because of religion, I do agree with him that non-religionists should be active in promoting a world without the prejudices that inevitably occur from beholding to a religion. As Christopher Hitchens said, “religion poisons everything”. “Religilous” humorously shows why.

5 thoughts on “Religilous

  1. Nathanael Small

    Looks like its worth a view – thanks and sounds like lots of missed opportunities that are probably on the cutting room floor.
    My reply to Hitchens has and always will be “people poison everything”.
    If we’re truly free agents and able to choose our responses, then religion or non religion is an irrelevant smokescreen.
    I could say Atheism has poisoned everything and we’re in an immeasurable, zero-sum game tit for tat race to the bottom.
    Relationship with truth is the arbiter.
    Hitchens throwaway doesn’t trust people to to think for themselves – which says that he doesn’t think people can be trusted.

    1. winstoninabox Post author

      My reply to Hitchens has and always will be “people poison everything”.

      And I’d reply that people with religion poison everything, and they justify it by their religion.

      If we’re truly free agents and able to choose our responses, then religion or non religion is an irrelevant smokescreen.

      You do certain actions solely because of your religion, You refuse to do certain actions solely because of your religion. You’ll agree or disagree with others based solely on your religion. While I personally find your religion irrelevant, there’s probably very few important decisions you make that aren’t based on it. When your religion-based decisions negatively affect others, then it becomes really important.

      I could say Atheism has poisoned everything and we’re in an immeasurable, zero-sum game tit for tat race to the bottom.

      You could say that, but there’d be no race. You’d just be wrong. Remember we had this conversation last year. Atheism means doesn’t believe in gods. It doesn’t mean be evil, be a moral relativist or any other boogie man you might imagine, There’s no justification in not believing in gods for any kind of action, any more than being a vegetarian is justification for blowing up McDonalds. I tried to have that conversation recently, and it seems to have petered out when people were asked to bring any evidence for it.

      So while I agree that religious extremism is often a perversion of the beliefs behind it, those extremists still find justification for their beliefs directly from their religion. They’ll often be able to point directly to passages from their holy book that they believe gives justification.

      If you’ve really got anything to show that a disbelief in gods has poisoned anything, bring it.

        1. winstoninabox Post author

          While you may feel it is justification, there is nothing in vegetarianism itself that prescribes coercing others to take it up. Vegetarianism is not eating meat. There’s nothing in that about evangelizing, coercing, missioning, mentoring or terrorizing others to doing likewise. Atheism is not believing in gods. There’s no imperative in that either.

          The major religions sadly don’t take such a passive stance. They are only too vocal about informing others of the consequences of not believing in their good news.


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