R for some language and sexual material
Oct. 3, 2008
Documentary / Comedy
A Non-Religulous Response
By Jesse Carey
- Bill Maher doesn’t like religion. In fact, he believes it may be the single biggest danger facing mankind. His mission for the 101 minutes of his new film Religulous (which comes out on DVD this week) is to prove to you his point. Maher and director Larry Charles (the filmmaker behind Borat) embark on a globetrotting trip to the world’s most famous religious landmarks—from the Dome of the Rock and the Valley of Megiddo to the Vatican and the Mormon Tabernacle—stopping at every roadside religious attraction in-between, on a mission to debunk faith by interviewing the leaders who practice it. And, as you may have assumed, Christianity (being the leading religion in the Western world) is a primary major target.
After reading the film’s premise (and factoring in any pre-existing feelings about Politically Incorrect/Real Time’s Bill Maher, who is known for his religion-bashing and in-your-face, ‘80s stand-up style), you may have already developed an opinion about the film. And, to be fair, most of your presumptions are probably correct: The movie isn’t objective; its interviews are edited to make people look dumb and awkward; Bill Maher is vulgar in his commentary; and it attempts to challenge everything you believe as a Christian. But, that doesn't mean it is without any redeeming qualities.
Even though the film is primarily a comedy (with Maher asking purposefully awkward questions and featuring several montages poking fun at evangelical and religious leaders), the viewer realizes that Maher’s dissatisfaction with organized religion comes from a place of genuine concern. Because he is a comedian, Maher expresses his feelings through jokes, but underneath the humor, he represents real misgivings about people of faith.
As Maher explains his own background (raised with a Jewish mother and a Christian father), he reveals how his dissatisfaction for faith first developed. He was never burned by the Church. He never mentions being unfairly condemned by a pastor, and he wasn’t directly hurt by “God”. The reason he doesn’t believe is for the simple fact that no one has ever been able to answer his questions.
As he interviews the guy who plays Jesus at the Holy Land Experience amusement park, a Jihad-advocating Muslim rapper, a prosperity gospel preacher, truck-stop evangelists, defunct Mormons and others, Maher asks them the questions that he still wants answers for. There are even times when Maher seems to know the Bible better than the ministers he interviews.
As a Christian, it was painful to see some of the people incapable of answering questions in a way that at least sparked further meaningful discussion. Even though Maher seemed more interested in making his subjects look bad and just plain dumb (and not truly looking for answers), the film points out a real issue facing today’s Church. How well do we know the book our faith is based on?
After I saw the film, I was discussing it with a co-worker. The person then asked me, “If he were interviewing you, would you be able to answer his questions?” And the truth is, I’m really not sure that I could. And that is something I feel convicted about.
Bill Maher is a professional (and admittedly biased) interviewer—he knows how to ask questions that make people squirm. But he’s still someone asking questions, and questions are something all Christians should be able to answer. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 2:4, NIV). God’s call isn’t just one of being prepared for questions—it’s one of correction, rebuke, encouragement and, of course, great patience.
Just because Bill Maher isn’t really looking for answers in his interviews (he’s looking to prove his point), that does not exempt Christians from being able to provide him (and people like him) with truth in a way that is gracious and intelligent. One of the primary ways the enemies of Christ tried to trip Him up, was to present Him paradoxical questions that challenged His teachings. And if we are to follow Jesus’ example, there should be no question that is out of bounds.
To do this not only requires strong faith and lots of patience, but it also means that Christians need to truly know what they believe. Many evangelical Christians alter their entire lifestyles and outlook on the meaning of life and eternity when they accept Christ. And it’s because faith in Christ is so life-altering that we should be able to truly understand the book that is the cornerstone of our belief. There were times in the film where Maher, a professed anti-religious skeptic, knew the Bible better than Christians—people who have changed their entire lives based on what is written in its pages.
Part of being prepared “in season and out of season” is wrestling with tough questions before someone asks them. Bill Maher’s movie should be motivation to become stronger in faith—and your intelligential understanding of it. We should study apologetics. Read biblical commentary. Understand the historical context of the scripture. If we do that, and always act in a way that is gracious, loving and patient, we can keep ourselves from looking completely Religulous.
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Jesse Carey is the Interactive Media Producer for CBN.com. With a background in entertainment and pop-culture writing, he offers his insight on music, movies, TV, trends and current events from a unique perspective that examines what implications the latest news has on Christians.
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