Why didn’t anyone truly listen to the words of John Lennon? “Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die her/And no religion too/Imagine all the people/Living life in peace.” My question is, why didn’t Bill Maher place these words at the beginning if “Religulous?”
Even though “Religulous” is hosted by a comedian, it is the farthest possible from a mockumentary. It is a very frighteningly real documentary. In it, Bill Maher stands up to and fights against the once force that won’t respond to anything you say: God. Maher travels this country and the world, exposing corruption in modern religion and how modern religious leaders have strayed from the original visions of their profits and used the name of God to justify anything from greed to murder.
Bill Maher seems like the perfect man to debate religion. He grew up with a Jewish mother and Catholic father, never deciding which religion to like best and instead ended up hating them both. And all other religions, as well. He argues that religion is nothing but an “invisible product” and priests are like marketers, desperately trying to see you this product. And you have a variety of products to choose from. Choose the right one, and you might just get into heaven. And that, is truly where the hypocrisy begins.
“Religulous” was directed by Larry Charles. Charles was the perfect choice for director. He began his career in awkward humor with “Seinfeld” and then proved himself a master of it even further with “Borat.” “Religulous” is shot in the guerilla documentary style that Charles all but invented with “Borat.” “Religulous” could’ve been shot in an extremely serious form, but Bill Maher knew that even though this was a very dire topic it is one that can be hilarious in the ridiculousness of its subject. Charles films the interviews like those of “Borat” by making the subject feel as uncomfortable as possible and then spew out ignorance. Borat managed to find ignorance in the typical America by using a figure made out of American ignorance. “Religulous” showed a real man, finding the ignorance using the real facts.
Of course, the real center of humor here is Mr. Maher himself. He uses humor not just to poke fun at the interviewees but to also expand his wide case against religion. He takes a creative license here and fills the screen with subtitles to inform you of what someone is REALLY saying or facts to contradict myths. It is overall a way to show that God will not punish him for challenging him. He is not trying to destroy lives but simply expose a lie. The Lie, I suppose. If there was some substantial evidence to prove God’s existence (A fossil? A recording of his voice? Who knows.), I’m sure Maher might open his eyes to religion. But for now, there is no proof of God, only proof of evolution. And we can only believe in what has been proven.
Maher shocks even more in this movie by not just visiting religious-nut no-names, but also some pretty big names. You already know Mike Huckabee doesn’t believe in evolution; but you’ll be shocked when Senator Mark Pryor tells Maher that “you don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate.” Maher then just gives a totally blank stare that holds the only emotion of pure shock. It was the kind of incredibly awkward and jaw dropping moment that only someone from “Seinfeld” could make both cringeworthy and somewhat totally hilarious.
As I’ve said though, this is Maher’s movie. He guides it with a voice of reason and wisdom. He shows no fear in saying anything, or traveling to anyplace. He criticizes not just religion but also Scientology, Judaism, Islam, and Mormons. He hits each with total accuracy. His interview with the gold wearing preacher Jeremiah Cummings, who sells his DVDs of himself during his sermons, was documentary filmmaking at its finest. He catches Cummings with several counts of idiocy and then concludes the interview with the brilliant punchline: “you used to be a Muslim, you turned into a Christian, and you spend money on clothes like a Jew.” Cummings accused Maher of twisting his words around and taking them out of context. Even if he did, you still said Jesus wants people to wear clothes and there’s not much you can do to reverse that.
“Religulous” works not just because of the brilliant ideas it presents, but also for the movie itself. Maher moves through the depressing topic with a high level of energy and a sense of humor. The last few minutes might’ve seemed to some like a big rant (and it unfortunately came off as so), but it is a truly cautionary message for the troubles religion has brought to society and just because a so called God justifies it, that doesn’t make it true. And it never feels much like a rant if the ranter is saying something valuable. Despite being a well-known Liberal, Maher makes sure not to make this a political issue and not isolate Democrats or Republics, because the actual truth is that religion should be isolated as far from religion as possible.
With “Religulous,” Maher turns the political satirist into the modern day philosophe whose lesson is in line with Nietzche and Voltaire. He is like them so much of how he can present his ideas in a form of sophisticated entertainment. The timeless lesson here is that we must kill this horrible new way of God and religion. Like Nietzche once said, “God is dead! And we have killed him.” And Bill Maher’s not afraid to do it.