Comedian Bill Maher is a man who doesn’t shy away from taboo subjects, he once has a TV show called “Politically Incorrect” and currently has a long running talk show on HBO called “Real Time with Bill Maher”. The 2008 documentary “Religulous” takes a hilarious and unflinching look at religion and all its forms.
Maher had an interesting upbringing himself with his father being roman catholic and his mother Jewish. Obviously, when you start questioning people's beliefs you’re going to run into some resistance, but Maher approaches this as a person with an open mind and doubt at its core. Maher’s trademark sarcasm and quick wit have made him both a champion for his far left leaning supporters and a lightning rod of controversy for conservative America. “Religulous” makes the point that “Religion has been detrimental to human progress”.
Maher visits with numerous religious leaders and followers primarily in the American Midwest (the Bible belt) and asks simple questions that usually end up in laughs and awkward silences. Religion is quite the business and is very adept at exploiting people's beliefs to fund lavish lifestyles for clergy members. Maher travels to Florida to a Christian themed amusement park called “The Holy Land Experience” and interviews Jesus, who is some dude on a summer job. The park re-enacts the crucifixion and of course has a gift shop. Maher’s presence alerts the staff and security similar to when people see Michale Moore with a camera crew. In his travels, Maher brings up the very real issue of God and Nationalism. While America is supposedly a melting pot of cultures, ideas, and freedoms it has always been fully enmeshed in Christianity.
Maher interviews a number of Muslims who defend their beliefs and characterize their wrongs and denials as “politics”. When it comes to Scientology and Mormon’s Maher has a field day in pointing out the eccentricities of these newer religions and their truly bizarre origins. No matter what religion a person is affiliated with, how do these people come to believe the things they do? Is it indoctrinated at youth like in the documentary “Jesus Camp”? To take everything on blind faith is quite dangerous and detrimental to society as a whole. All too often beliefs are forced upon people and this also very troublesome. Religion and politics always get mixed up together and are usually dealt with in a serious and contentious manner. That’s why it's such a breath of fresh air when a guy like Bill Maher can bring some humor and levity to such subjects. Sure he can be a pretentious smart ass but he is not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions. It looks like he could’ve made a good lawyer since he is so good at making other people look like idiots.
I found “Religulous” to be a laugh riot and Maher to be a lot more palatable than Michael Moore. Larry Charles, who directed “Borat” a few years earlier, directed this film as well. Although Maher is not Borat, he still gets the same amount of laughs.