There’s a new documentary that came out in theaters recently (Oct. 3) called Religulous (“religion” + “ridiculous”). Bill Maher stars as the film’s “host,” guiding viewers on an exploration of organized religion in our world today – offering plenty of his opinions along the way – and it was directed by Larry Charles, who also directed Borat … so you probably already know enough to determine whether this documentary will be wildly, or simply mildly offensive to you.

Apparently aware of the film’s potent potential for offense, the front page of the official website offers visitors two options; the typical “enter site” link (which happens to be on the left side of the page) and the unusual “enter kosher site” link (which just happens to be on the right). I’m not Jewish, so I entered the regular site and watched the trailer. For what it’s worth, the website does boast that it’s “one of the funniest and most offensive documentaries ever made.” At least they’re honest, right?

Let me be clear on a few things: I’m serious about my faith and I consider myself part of a religion. Maybe it’s because I try not to take myself too seriously, but this film looks really funny. If I end up seeing it, I’m guessing I will find myself nodding in agreement with a lot of the jokes being made on religions and religious people…even the ones about Christianity (and it’s not all a spoof on Christianity by the way, Maher takes shots at other religions as well).

Going beyond a just an awareness of his irreverance, Maher seems to take pride in his atheistic/anti-religion stance. While I can’t speak for other religions or Christianity as a whole, if Maher’s goal was simply to expose that uncertainty must be involved for any system of faith or belief to work (or make sense), then I would agree completely with him, but I haven’t seen the movie yet to know if that’s one of the points that he is trying to make. (I have seen this clip of Maher on Larry King talking about religion, this new movie, and even Rick Warren.)

Although Religulous probably fits best in the documentary genre of “look how stupid those [fill in the blank] people are,” from what I have seen and read so far it seems much more Bowling for Columbine and much less Jesus Camp. I mean, sure, Maher pokes fun at religious fanatics (like the guy who plays Jesus at the “Holy Land” theme park in Florida) and if the movie poster is any indication, I’m guesing they mock a few examples of light-hearted religious ridiculousness (like the stories in the news a few years ago about a man who burnt a fish stick and thought it looked like Jesus or the woman who reportedly sold a grilled-cheese sandwich on eBay that bore the image of the Virgin Mary…final bid: $28,000), but clearly, the film is about much more than just making fun of sacred sandwiches and Christian theme parks (since religious folks wouldn’t be offended by a movie that only makes fun of fanatics and others who have found ways to pimp religion to make a few dollars).

If nothing else, Religulous offers a slap in the face to religious leaders and people of faith – whatever flavor of belief they prefer. The film provides humor as a way of helping people realize that it might be a good idea to be capable of responding to basic questions about their faith and, although it’s not necessarily a requirement to “validate” their faith (depending on the religion), we should all possess enough understanding to express what we believe in a way that doesn’t make us sound like the butt of a joke. I’m definitely not saying people need to act like they have it all figured out – since I don’t believe that is possible – but at least take some time to think things through, being honest with yourself and others about what you think and believe so that when/if the questions are too big or your understanding is too limited, you have the marbles to say “I don’t know.” Because let’s be honest, that’s where faith comes in…not as an excuse for not knowing things, but as a way of admitting the limits of our understanding and the vasness of God’s. It also forces us to put trust and faith in a God who reveals himself to us in ways that are often mysterious at best, since the reality of life and faith seems to be that sometimes, we’re simply left wondering in awe at the mystery of God, but even this confusion is an expression of faith and worship. Having doubts is okay. Not having all the answers doesn’t mean we don’t believe, or even that we believe less. Doubts and confusion simply remind us of our need for faith…our need for God.

So what is the point of Religulous? Why did Bill Maher decide to point out that religious people don’t have things figured out any more than other people? I’m not sure yet, but I think he’s probably right in a lot of ways, he just doesn’t happen to be a person who can get over the fact that believing doesn’t always mean knowing (and he’s a guy who likes to know stuff).

Here’s the trailer:

Would you pay money to watch this movie?

2 thoughts on “religulous

  1. In case anyone clicked on the link to the Jesus Camp website and stayed long enough to hear the song playing in the background, you may have heard a really cool track that, if you’re anything like me, were totally surprised to discover there. I didn’t even realize the film had a soundtrack, but sure enough, I went on iTunes and there it was. I discovered the entire soundtrack is by a group called Force Theory and the song from the movie’s website is “Breaking of the Cups.” Check it out if you haven’t already. It’s a really mysterious/eery song, yet it’s still somewhat hopeful. You’ll definitely like it if you’re into obscure/electronic stuff like Sigur Rós, Múm, Imogen Heap or Postal Service.

  2. Great site and article Andy! I will probably see “Religulous” with the understanding that it will be very one sided. I am a fan of Bill Maher, I think he is hilarious and can be insightful. He is also great at making people look foolish for some of the things that they do or believe. As a Christian I am sometimes offended by Maher’s comments, but I am also offended by things that some people do or say in the name of Christ. I hope that those who watch “Religulous” will understand how easy it is to make people look foolish or ignorant when you catch them on the street and have an editing room for finishing touches. I also hope that people will seek out intelligent and thoughtful Christians or (insert your faith here) for input and discussion regarding some of the questions and doubts that Maher poses.

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