Here is my first entry in my new blog. I hope to import my AOL blog but I am not sure if it will work! Keep an eye on this space!
Here is my take on Bill Maher’s film:
Late night HBO comedian Bill Maher’s (Keeping Time with Bill Maher) signature new film is a “mockumentary” that lampoons organized religion. Actually, the people he interviews lampoon themselves because they are mostly unable to articulate their faith according to Maher’s often ill-informed questions. Maher is a skeptic – he asks a lot of questions. But he in a profound cynic as well. Faith in organized religion is a neurological disorder to Maher; God is absurd and so are people who believe in God. To Maher, religion only leads to death and destruction.
Maher, raised a Catholic (the son of a Catholic father and Jewish mother) until he stopped going to Mass at the age of 13, has dumped everything he knows (some things he does know; other things he doesn’t bother about) regarding Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, Mormanism, and Islam (and the “church of cannabis” in Amsterdam) into a wearying stew. For example, he makes no distinction between evangelical believers who interpret the Scriptures literally (the talking snake in Genesis) and Catholics or mainstream believers who do not. He doesn’t get it that everything in the Bible is true and that some of it actually happened. He does make solid points about the need for believers to ask questions about what we believe and why. The film shows what a challenge is is for many believers to explain their faith for the current age, to articulate well the hope that is in them.
Most of all, however, I think that Maher is afflicted with laziness, a victim of acedia. Acedia is the eighth deadly sin that was left off Pope Gregory I’s list of seven in the late 6th century and was then pretty much absorbed by the other sins, especially sloth. Acedia is spiritual sadness stemming from and/or contributing to spiritual laziness, the unwillingness to begin the spiritual journey, to grow, and to change. Acedia is a state where one just flips off the effort to engage in spiritual… work. It’s as if Maher is saying, “Why should I bother? God doesn’t mean anything anyway. ” With this film, Maher joins the ranks of mainstream contemporary atheists (though he doesn’t specifically deny God’s existence), who also suffer from acedia, such as Christopher Hitchens (God is not Great) and Richard Dawkins. After seeing Religulous, I would say Bill Maher doesn’t want to expend any energy to really listen and study the very questions he asks and to search for real answers – because it might mean he will have to move from his comfort zone, his lampoon post.
As I mentioned above, Maher’s conviction that religion is poison is reinforced by the way the filmmakers juxtapose some images with the interviews. Many of these folks end up looking pretty stupid (reminiscent of director Larry David’s 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhastan). Some of the images in Religulous are obscene and offensive.
Maher only sees the negative side of religion, he never acknowledges the great good that has been accomplished and is done in the world in the name of God.
The brightest (most intelligent) moments in the film are the interviews with two priests. One is with Father George V. Coyne, SJ, the former head of the Vatican Observatory. He affirms that the Church accepts evolution and that there Scripture does not contain science. Then Maher chats with Carmelite Father Reginald Foster, the Pope’s principle Latinist, outside of St. Peter’s Square in Rome. I got the feeling that Maher was surprised at how down to earth and real Foster was. But instead of making the effort to follow through with Coyne and Foster’s views, Maher moves on. Nothing seems to stick.
Religulous evokes some good laughs because the things that some people do with religion is absurd (remember Frank McCourt’s grandmother in Angela’s Ashes?) But Maher doesn’t bother to find and talk to people who know the difference.
While most believers will be offended, people engaged in pastoral ministry and religious education may find this film a point of departure, so to speak, for framing a fresh, authentic, and well-articulated explanation of the faith. More than anything, however, the challenge is for believers to walk the talk which is more convincing than any treatise.
So, no, I don’t think Bill Maher is a bad guy but I do think he’s lazy. And if this film is supposed to pass for some kind of objective journalism, worse still. At the end of the day I wonder why Maher even bothered to make such a ridiculous film.
Or is it much ado about … something, after all.
A note on Religulous as a postmodern film and Bill Maher as an icon of the postmodern. Religion makes no sense to Bill Maher because he is operating in a bubble, with no moorings to history and no use for philosophy. Sure, he has clips of events and places, but he too easily blames what is wrong with the world on religion. He never attempts to think through different religions or his own biases, logically. He states a premise and jumps to a conclusion. Sometimes he lands on the right one; but most often he misses and keeps hopping around going nowhere. Thus, Maher exhibits the markings of a nihilist as well. Religion is about nothing and based on nothing, and so is everything else. Therefore, it’s all the same.
Why are we here, anyway? Maher begins the film this way and believe me, his answer is open-ended. Choose any answer you like.
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