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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Movie Review: Religulous (Part 1)

At the request of my good friend Big Pappa, I am watching the Bill Maher documentary Religulous and offering up my commentary.

I think it should be offered up as a disclaimer before I start that A) I'm not a fan of Bill Maher and B) based on what I've seen in the previews, his view of Christianity is not the same as my own. That being said, I will watch it and offer up some thoughts.

The film opens with Maher stating that, when the Book of Revelation was written, "only God had the power to destroy the earth," but now we do because we have nuclear weapons and global warming. So...it's gonna be like that, is it Bill? Well here we go, then...

He says that he simply "can't" understand why people cling to religion, and that it is a "detriment to humanity." Isn't the inability to understand something the same as being ignorant of it? For instance, I completely understand why people are atheists, regardless of whether or not I agree with them; I understand why people choose different political parties in spite of my own views; I understand a lot of things I don't agree with. I even understand why people think being a progressive liberal is a good idea -- because they are missing a portion of a logical-thinking brain.

With a brief review of his childhood -- which was one of having a Jewish mother but being raised Catholic -- Bill has a discussion with his mother in which she reveals that the biggest reason they left the Church was because they used birth control and Catholicism is decidedly against birth control. Obviously they weren't into it soon enough, but I think I'm getting ahead of myself.

The first stop in his journey of "seeking the truth" is at the Truck Stop Chapel in Raleigh, North Carolina, and begins asking them (all seven people at the chapel) hard questions about what man has done to change Christianity from what the Biblical intent was. Way to challenge yourself by tackling some real intellectual heavyweights there, Bill. A couple of obese truckers can't answer you to your liking, so clearly you're right.

Well I stand corrected -- he's now interviewing Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and author of the very interesting The Language of God. Maher uses the argument that the historicity of Jesus has never been proven, and when Collins tells him that he is setting up a standard that is impossible to meet, the interview disappears through the magic of editing and is replaced by Maher talking about how Jesus must have had an "awkward" childhood. He then claims that none of the Gospels are "history" and that they were not written by people who knew Jesus. My problem with this is that he states it as an accepted fact by historians. This is simply not true. Of course there is dispute regarding the historicity of the Gospels, but to deny them outright as not historical at all would be to discount much of what we have today in terms of non-religious history, as well. And last time I checked... nope, Bill Maher is not a historian. Huh.

Back to Collins so Maher can ask a question... and then not let him answer.

The next interview is with some sort of tele-evangelist-type dude who dresses like a pimp because he "likes gold" and says that "Jesus dressed very well...he was not poor." Once again an outstanding representative of Christianity. The guy can't even correctly quote one of the most widely known verses in the Bible. Crimeny who is this guy? Jeremiah Cummings. Remind me to buy his DVD.

Next up is the question of being gay, and how organized religion has approached the issue. Maher questions a pastor about whether or not someone can be born gay or not. Whether the answer is yay or nay, how does this impact the truth of Christianity? It's called playing to the audience. He knows it's a "hot button" topic and stirs people up. There's absolutely no value to the debate in an intellectual sense, but it's fun to make people uncomfortable by throwing the words "fag" and "gay sex" at them.

Back to the conversation with Bill's mother and him covering the topic of how upset he was when he found out that Santa wasn't real and then jumps back to a conversation with a shop-owner about the story of Jonah and how unbelievable it is to him that a story like this could happen. In other words he is taking the stance of presupposing that miracles cannot happen, therefore treating the simple mention of a miracle with pure mockery. Which is what makes his next foray -- into the topic of the founding fathers of American history and its relationship with Christianity -- all the more ironic. Given the circumstances of the American invention, I'd say the fact that we came to where we are is a pretty good example of a miracle.

A couple of quotes are thrown up on the screen from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, seemingly with the intent of showing the viewer that the Founding Fathers were not Christian as many claim. Oddly enough he leaves out any quotes by James Madison. Interesting. I think he was kinda important... Moving on to modern day politics he interviews Mark Pryor, a Senator from Arkansas, about the Ten Commandments. Bill commits a common fallacy here after he suggests that people could figure out murder is wrong without religion by stating that "more killing has been done in the name of 'my God'..." Though he fails to complete the thought, it is left hanging as if to imply that religion has caused more murder than any other source in history. This is a great line of thought...as long as you don't pick up a history book. Ever. If he can come up with a single religious-based war that caused more deaths than Stalin did during his time in power, then that would be a greater miracle than anything Jonah ever did.

On to the topic of evolution, Maher uses another classic: saying that scientists "pretty much agree" on evolution. Uhhh...what? Try this: Google "origins of life" and then tell me that scientists are in agreement. Nothing could be further from the truth. And here's the real kicker: Christianity isn't in agreement on the subject. There are several very well-educated Christians who propose old-earth theories -- some of which pre-date Charles Darwin. Crazy talk, I know. But notice that Maher didn't include this line of questioning with Dr. Collins -- opting instead for a bumbling, good ol' boy Senator.

I'll get to the rest later. But I'd like to note that I'm half-way through this thing and so far my biggest complaint is that Maher has not challenged himself at all. Yes, Dr. Collins is a heavyweight, but his answers are edited out or cut short. He states at the beginning that he is searching for the truth, but if that were the case why would he purposefully seek out those who can be mocked with ease for their lack of understanding? One can find a fool in any discipline if their intent is to make the discipline look foolish.

Will try and do the second half tomorrow.

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