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Monday, October 13, 2008


So how many Wavers are planning on getting out to see Bill Maher's new film, Religulous? Initially, I thought for sure I'd go see it but the more I read about it the more I balk at Maher's fish-in-a-barrel take on something that he believes is beneath contempt - faith. It seems easy to lump people of all faiths together into one raving, dogmatic loony bin and I'm not sure if I can handle the cringe factor of that.

Most documentarians enter into their project with one, overarching question: why? But Maher has not made this film to mine for some kind of truth. Rather he is serving up his own truth: Religious people are stupid. He has not made a documentary, he's made a polemic diatribe. To be fair, I doubt Maher is describing his film as a documentary, it's like some kind of Christopher Guest/mockumentary/opinion piece. Which he is entitled to. But I ask - where is the value in this project? What can we learn about ourselves and about humanity?

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate Maher. I don't like him, but I appreciate him. He is a provocateur and a dissenter and I find that refreshing. I don't care for his biting, sarcastic, smarter-than-thou style, however. I find him utterly lacking in compassion or understanding Plus this thing about Anne should not believe everything one reads on the internet but if that little tidbit is true, I think I'll lose my lunch.

Normally, I'd make myself go see the film just to stay informed and maybe I will - but I tell you, these days, I'm mightily turned off by negativity. And funnin' people of faith and intimating they are stupid is not only greatly unappealing, it's just embarrassing for everybody involved.

I recently watched Paris Je T'aime and my favorite segment was directed Alexander Payne. It was about a dumpy American tourist who goes to Paris and in voice-over, reads a clumsy book report about her trip. Her French is terrible, her pronunciation is terrible, she wears a fanny pack and is in every way the epitome of the Dumb American. And yet, in those short five minutes, Payne humanizes her, finds compassion for her and causes us to reflect on how the laughter dies in our throat uncomfortably. Because this Dumb American is a human being. And she may have an unsophisticated way of communicating and being in the world, but at the same time, deep down we are all her. Awkward, entrenched, flawed, unsophisticated and human. It is a masterful short film.

In these difficult times of political and economic chaos, and in a time, I must point out, during which the religious right has lost its choke hold on DC, I don't see the merit or relevance of this film. Entertaining - sure, if you like laughing at people. But a valuable addition to the national conversation? I don't think so. Let's call it what it is - mean-spirited, self-aggrandizing film making. How does Religulous lead to compassion and greater understanding? How does it bring us together rather than tear us apart, jeering about our differences along the way? What is the thematic upshot of the film? That smart people are better than dumb people and that you have to be dumb to believe in God?

So, no, Bill, I am not interesting in watching you humiliate, mock and feel smug and superior compared to those with dogmatic, religious views of the world. I don't happen to share the fundamental, religious belief systems of your subjects, but I still acknowledge that matters of personal belief are not intrinsically stupid just because I don't share them.

Color me unimpressed.

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Eddie M said...

I don't care for Bill Mahr, but in an interview I heard him say this film is coming from an agnostic POV. That the intent is not to tear down religion, but to try and find out why believers can believe what they do. To someone not "raised" in a religion or to someone who hasn't "found" God, a lot of religion does seem pretty ridiculous. And I think most agnostics aren't so by choice... they'd like to believe -- just can't.

I'll probably check it out on DVD, the same way I might watch a show about religion on the Discovery or History Channels, for entertainment and the slight chance I might find something meaningful in it.

just me said...

I don't think all religious people are stupid, either.

...Just the ones who hand out gum by the F train and then when you take it chaise you down the street asking if you want to join them in prayer.

Gnasche said...

I think Larry Charles likes capturing the less appealing aspects of human nature.

We all try to be insightful and matter-of-fact when we get a large focus of attention. I'm doing it now, and I'm no less innocent than a Real World'er in the confessional. Can you see how I express myself as if I'm imparting great wisdom?

We all need to laugh at how seriously we take ourselves. There's some value in that aspect.

E.C. Henry said...

"... Mahr... is a provocateur and a dissenter..."

America has too many of "Mahrs" in my opinion.

I appreciate your honesty sharing your trepidations cc. Bill Mahr, Julie. I find his voice grading. And highly doubt he's seeking a greater understanding or anything even remotely noble. From what I see Bill Mahr is all about taking cleverly crafted pop shots. And he's crafted a Simon Cowell of "American Idol" appeal for those with a political bend.

Our church is going through a series entittled, "The Truth Project." It central cornerstone is that Jesus came to testify to the truth. "The Truth Project" is designed to educate the flock and give them a Christian, bible based worldview in contrast to the other the other worldviews in play in our world today. "The Truth Project" is very much like a college level philosophy class. But I LOVE it. I'm all into the deeper things, and as a writer am very currious WHY people believe what they do.
"The Truth Project" is put out by Focus on the Family (from Boulder, Colorado).

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Julie Gray said...

Whoops - I spelled Maher incorrectly earlier, sorry guys.

@EC - I have to disagree with you on one thing - I don't think America can ever have too many provocateurs and dissenters - it's what makes our country unique; provocateurs and dissenters founded this nation and have been its philosophical lifeblood. The day we say that Bill Maher has no right to say what he has to say is the day I move to Canada. I just don't care for his biting style. But I thank god for him, I really do.

Numb Frog said...

Yes, Bill Maher hates religion. But in this comedy film (which is what it is) he just asks "why are you so sure?"

He doesn't say their is no God, he says he doesn't know and neither do you.

He think religion is stupid because it's man made. God he isn't sure about.

That's a big difference.

He's making a movie that asks questions about something 99% of people say you can't questions about.

Julie Gray said...

Thanks for your point of view and insights, Numb Frog :)

DougJ said...

Julie, you forgot to capitalize "god". You better fix it before he notices.

I mean, He notices.

Sorry. (bowing and backing away)

NYCWriter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I don't know if Maher hates religion. He sure hates what it does to people who are so sure about their God. I did learn something from the movie. That there are many Gods around the world that have a son from an immaculate conception with the same birthday, killed by the people, and risen from the death. It's like the story was told by the same author. Interesting!

hoeft13 said...

I'm wondering at what point does a comedian decide to start taking themselves a bit too seriously and believing they are the smartest person in the room?

We've seen it time and time again: Garafalo, Olberman, Rosie O, Maher.

I won't see the movie because I don't find poking fun at someone who has faith as being funny. There are certain issues that all of us have that aren't funny and probably will rub us wrong if someone goes after them.

To your point about the film numb frog: "Yes, Bill Maher hates religion. But in this comedy film (which is what it is) he just asks "why are you so sure?"

What I would say to Mr. Maher is that is why they call it "faith".

I do agree with the point that he can say and do what he wants. I agree with that point so strongly I put my life on the line to defend it. That doesn't mean I have to agree with it and that's what makes this place so cool.

Thanks for indulging my blathering.

Just_Hiltz said...

Julie, I couldn't agree more with you on all points. But more importantly I want to say thank you for the insight you always seem to impart on the RW. I try to RELIGIOUSLY go to RW first thing in the a.m. because you always give me something to think about related to film...and I love films with a RELIGIOUS ZEAL. If I never sell a script or direct a feature, I won't ever regret having tried and I'll always be grateful for being involved with other people who share the passion.
Now, I'm getting back to work...

Julie Gray said...

@Just-Hiltz - that means a lot to me, thank you. Many a day I stare at the RW with absolutely nothing to say and someway, somehow come up with SOMETHING. So it means a lot that my efforts to keep the RW an entertaining place to come visit are appreciated. Thank you. :)

Gnasche said...

Julie, if you're ever at a loss for a subject, I think you can make a lot of people happy by talking about how to get an agent. Even if it's stuff we've heard before.

Numb Frog said...

Good posts. I'm mostly on Bill Maher's side, but he does some crazy things like declare that he can't get sick. Pretty much blames people that get sick on eating corn syrup... so I agree with most of what he has to say.

And yes he's a bit of a jerk, but he's on my side on a lot of issues, so he's my jerk. He's still a snob and proud of it. Point is, I'm not agreeing 100% with him. I don't have blind faith in him.

That brings me to my point and I think his. Religion has done more harm than good.

Now I believe most people are good people. And to me a real Christian or Jew or Muslim (they have the same father Abraham so its' the same but slightly different) should be for peace. For all God's creatures.

That's what I don't get. I don't believe in religion, yet I feel more for my common man than people that hide behind religion and do horrible things.

I don't understand how people are pro life, but kill doctors. Didn't God make the doctors?

I don't understand why people hate gay people, as if they choose that lifestyle. Why would they choose to be hated? And again I think if you believe in a higher power, he made the gays too. It's not a choice.

The bible are just good stories about being nice to your common man. But bad people have taken them out of context to justify wars.. .the holocaust... 9/11.

And I fear that in 50 years no religion will be the new relgion and that can be just as destructive.

As a writer I think look how powerful words can be. Just look at the bible. It's man made. Humans wrote it. So people can say they are the words of god, but it's not.

If there is a God, why does he let bad things happen?

I don't believe in the things happen for a reason. I think people just give reasons to make themselves feel better.

I take a great quote from HOUSE from season one, THREE STORIES talking about life/death.

Cameron: "You find it more comforting to believe that this is it?"

House: "I find it more comforting to believe that this isn't simply a test."

I think you should do your best on Earth because heaven isn't promised. Maybe if people though their actions here matter more, the world would be the place it should be. The place it can be.

Julie Gray said...

thank you Numb Frog - another great comment. Here's a quote I love:

Religion is for those afraid of hell. Spirituality is for those who have been there.

Anonymous said...

Yes, If we could all MOVE ON to spirituality to stop with the-my way is THE way. That's what maher is really hitting at. Really! He would not make a film on those crazy spiritual people because they would all not have dogma and rules-like..... I don't know--- blacks can't marry whites or men can"t marry other men. Hello?
Second- Maher and Kovorkian are way, way, ahead of their time. They get personal choice and freedom to say "my body, my control". That is what this country is getting torn in two about and the other half tends to be religulous. That's not faith, that's ego.

Luzid said...

@ Numb Frog:

That's because you care about others based on real compassion, not because you expect some mythical reward for doing so and punishment for not.

Happily, I feel fairly certain that atheism will never become a religion, just as not collecting stamps has never become a hobby. Can't really base a philosophy on the lack of something (i.e., the lack of belief in unproven gods).

Gnasche said...

Speaking of quotes, one of my favorites is: "Teach a child one religion and you indoctrinate them. Teach a child many religions and you inoculate them."

Sam said...

Hi Julie, this post certainly got people talking (as religion is wont to do)!

The thing that touched a nerve with me was the bit about the American girl in Paris.

It reminded me of a few weekends ago in Rome and an encounter with a bloke from New York ... I wrote about it on my blog samsramblings which I sporadically update if you want a look (although I'm sure you are up to your eyeballs in stuff to read).

Thanks for all the good and sane advice you impart daily! I find it so helpful and encouraging.

Take care,