Movie Review: Religulous

Bill Maher knows he’s right about religion.  He does.  He knows that the world would have a net improvement if we scraped off the superstition-based philosophies that hold sway in society.  It’s just that he sometimes becomes less effective at selling it when he shows that and this movie is, above all else, about marketing that idea.

Truth be told, I agree with him in principle.  The question is not whether he’s right, though, it is whether he created an effective and entertaining vehicle to market the fact.

My wife, and I, went to see Bill Maher’s new movie Religulous on opening day.  This is particularly interesting because it was her idea and she’s Catholic.  It was an early show, so we didn’t expect the attendence to be high, it wasn’t.  There were about a dozen people in the most popular multiplex in town.  That was OK.   My disappointment?  No protesters.  I really wanted them.  Maybe when they make a movie called “All Religions are Stupid and Should be Abolished”  I’ll get my protesters.

So, you know what you’re going to get, right?   Bill Maher making faith and people of faith look silly.  Yes and no.

The movie is a mix of interviews and ruminations.  All of it is peppered with movie clips that are, at best, hilarious.  Sometimes the clips are a little too biting, too denigrating.  Enough to make an avowed rationalist cringe a bit.

Where did Maher go to ask questions about religion?  Where didn’t he go?  Israel, Rome, England, The Netherlands, The South and Washington D.C.   He visited a trucker church, a mosque, the Vatican and a Jesus theme park.  He spoke to priests, ministers, lay people, Jesus impersonators and Jesus (well, he thought he was Jesus).

We was definitely most effective when he was questioning sincerely and listening to the answers.  I think he found the men at the trucker church earnest and endearing. He treated them well and got great stuff in return.   His interview with Senator Mark Pryor from Arkansas was excellent, he let Senator Pryor express his own views.  (He seemed like an decent guy, who just bought the wrong bill of goods.)

Not so effective was his time with an anti-zionist Jew who met with Ahmedinijad and was in clips hugging the nutty Iranian President.  I was left feeling there was a great deal to the interview we didn’t see.  Certainly, there wasn’t enough to justify Maher’s curt reaction to him.  This was one of the segments where, even if you agress with Maher, you’re left feeling like he was acting a bit dick-ish.

There were some very funny subtitles during other interviews which reminded me of “The Word” segment from The Colbert Report.  Those were funny and informative.  Very effective.

Surprisingly, other than not allowing him an official interview in the Vatican, the Catholics came of pretty well.  This might be due to Maher’s Catholic upbringing which was discussed in personal reminiscences with his mother and sister.  Father Coyne, former head of the Vatican observatory, was typically eloquent, knowlegable and reasonable.  Also, there was a very amusing and liberal priest who was interviewed outside the Vatican.  Clearly, he didn’t represent the Vatican’s policies, but he was funny.

Maher closing argument was well thought out and delivered poignantly.  Punctuated with imagery of violence, it was effective and moving.  I thought it was perfect.

So, how was Religulous?  It was good.  It could have been great.  Bill Maher is funny and he has a clear message to deliver.  It is mostly well delivered.  Unfortunately, it isn’t the unbiased, graceful delivery that would be most effective at getting people of faith to listen.  He’ll be preaching to the faithful.  They’ll enjoy it, as I did.

My wife enjoyed it as well.  We talked about the movie afterwards.  I think it is definitely a conversation starter.  She commented that it was amazing that this movie was made and in pretty wide distribution.  We thought that was a pretty hopeful sign.

“We need more people speaking out. This country is not overrun with rebels and free thinkers. It’s overrun with sheep and conformists.” – Bill Maher


May 1st: National Day of Reason

The Naional Day of Reason is held on the first Thursday in May to coincide with the National Day of Prayer.

Sure, it was established to counter the National Day of Pretending to do something useful but it is the way it is observed that makes it cool.  Instead of a day of protesting the waste of public funds for politicians et. al. (OK, that happens too) , the preferred way to spend the day is in service.  Yes, actually doing something good not WAITING for some invisible friend to get it done for you.

So get out and give blood (that is what I am going to do), volunteer, plant a tree, donate time or money.  Be a good HUMAN!

Admiring his crops, a farmer asks his friend how his corn grew so high.

In reply his friend told him, “I have to give God all the credit. I pray every day before and after I go to work the fields”.

“That’s amazing!”, the farmer said, “What happens when you don’t go to work?”


Added to Atheist Blogroll

I’ve added “Something to Say” to the Atheist Blogroll.

This was not done through any desire for self-promotion or aggrandizement.  It is just a little bit of giving back to a community, or movement if you will, that has provided me with a much needed sense of belonging.  Through the Internet and the many blogs, podcasts and resources available I’ve come to the realization that I’m not alone.  Far from it, I am part of a thriving community that is no longer silent and isolated.

If only to say, “I’m here too”, I thought it was important to be listed.  Please visit one of the sites in the sidebar under “Atheist Blogroll”.

“The genius of any slave system is found in the dynamics which isolate slaves from each other, obscure the reality of a common condition, and make united rebellion against the oppressor inconceivable.” — Andrea Dworkin (1946 – 2005), American Feminist and Author


The World Ends in 2012! Can I have your stuff?

In the last couple of days I’ve heard people mention the belief that the Mayan Calendar foreshadows the end of the world in 2012. They Mayan culture is long gone, why has this meme come to the surface now?

Well, there have been a spate of news articles about the end of the Mayan Calendar in 2012. The quesion, as posed by USA Today, “Does Maya calendar predict 2012 apocalypse?”.

If you hit looking for books and such on the subject you get quite a variety with titles like, “The Mystery of 2012: Predictions, Prophecies and Possibilities” and “The Mayan Code: Time Acceleration and Awakening the World Mind”. Some might dismiss this as typical New Age bunk, but there is always a portion of the credulous who will have anxiety after learning of apocalyptic predictions.

What makes the Mayan apocalypse any different from The Millenium, The Great Disappointment of 1844 or any other prediction of the end of the world? Well, I think it has a lot to do with some of the mystique of Pre-Columbian Meso-American cultures like the Aztec, Inca and the Maya.

Honestly, when you hear someone speak of the Maya, what is the first image that comes to mind? Is it of an long lost advanced civilization with lost knowledge we have yet to recover? Is it of ancient astronauts?

The Mayan culture was extensive and advanced, but it seems unlikely they had any prescient knowledge of the end of the world. I think it would be great if we could ask them. Unfortuntely, this advanced culture with foreknowledge of the end of the world collapsed over a thousand years ago.

So, if you are convinced the world will end in 2012…. Can I have your stuff?

“The End of the Universe is very popular, people like to dress up for it, Gives it a sense of occasion.” — Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”


The Out Campaign

I’ve chosen to advertise my support for Richard Dawkins’ “Out Campaign” on this site. I was initially reticent to do this. But I have changed my mind.

I originally felt that The Out Campaign and the stylized red letter ‘A’ was the kind of ostentation required for a philosophy that cannot stand on its own merit. Seriously, while it seems to be quite necessary to repeatedly avow devotion to a chosen superstitious life philosophy, it doesn’t seem to me that the same protestations are necessary for attempting to base your life on reason. Shouldn’t this be the default? Thus leaving spirits, magic and other nonsense to the fringe. Why should it require advertising?

Well, in a time when there indeed seems to be religious test for the office of President of the United States, I can comfortably say there is a real need for this kind of grass roots marketing of reason and I am happy to be part of it.

“But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” — Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1782)