Religulous

This morning, as research for my next sermon series, I watched Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous (a conflation of the terms “religious” and “ridiculous”) and wanted to post just a few thoughts here…

Of course, I expected the film to be about the fact that religion is ridiculous. I expected him as a comedian to ridicule not just Christianity, but all religions, and I expected him to tell his own story of why he is not a believer. On that front, I* wasn’t disappointed, for the most part, but aside from the fact that I disagree with his religious convictions, I am writing this blog post because I completely disagree with his methodology.

Let me outline my basic complaint with the documentary because I don’t really want to spend all afternoon writing on it. If you want to interact with me on it, please leave a comment.

Problem 1. It’s Ridicule and Little Else

From the first lines of the film, he confirms that he is not religious and that he thinks religious belief is dangerous and dumb. However, he then immediately reports that the film will be about his search to find out why so many people believe.

Nevertheless, the film never once addresses why people believe. Instead, it consists of interviews with religious people and and videos of religious stock footage and classic religious films cut together to do nothing but ridicule those who would believe this nonsense.

In fact, the only conversation in the whole film that broaches the issue of why a person would believe is a (very brief) conversation with a neurologist who has done brain scans of people having religious experiences. No data or information about those studies is given in the film, but a soundbite is used where the scientist says that calling religious people crazy really depends on how you define the word crazy. The definition of crazy isn’t given either.

To some degree, Christians deserve this ridicule. After all, there are many ridiculous beliefs found among Christians (that Jesus made an appearance on a grilled cheese sandwich is from a biblical perspective justifiably ridiculous). Bill points out a number of those ridiculous and unbiblical beliefs. Additionally, I’ve been in the midst of the Christian subculture long enough to know that Christians have published many “documentaries” that ridicule the beliefs of others that carry the exact same tone as this documentary does. It’s all propaganda and Christians have often believed that propaganda is okay just as long as it’s aimed against the people who are actually ridiculously wrong. Bill’s just returning the favor.

However, the glaring problem and logical inconsistency in this documentary is that Bill ridicules the fact that religious people would “judge” others. He ridicules the Christians who would say homosexuals aren’t really gay by birth. He ridicules the Christians who say that all people have sin and need forgiveness. He ridicules statements like that as being judgmental. Yet, at the end of the film, he calls religion a mental illness and its proponents lunatics.

The fact that he uses ridicule to judge religious people is shameful. If he actually had logic on his side, he wouldn’t have to resort to such “ad hominem” (personal attack) kinds of arguments.

Problem 2. He Uses Apocalyptic Fearmongering

I couldn’t think of a better way to put this, but the bottom line is that the film begins with him standing in Megiddo talking about the end of the world and the return of Christ. The film ends with him in the same place, and he makes his point about how shameful it is that we have developed the technology to kill ourselves before we developed the rationality to abandon the religion that might provoke us to actually do it. In other words, he basically says that with religion in this world, we will eventually destroy ourselves.

He shows vivid images of war at the end to pound the fear into the viewer. If I allow religion to continue, it will destroy us! I need to be afraid of religion!

Yeah, that’s another logical fallacy known as a slippery slope argument.

Problem 3. He Avoids Smart People

The whole documentary avoids anyone who is respected among the religious community. He talks to a man who believes he is Jesus Christ. He talks to a rabbi who thought the Holocaust was okay. In fact, the only well-known Christian he talked to was Ken Hamm, the founder of the Creation Museum and Answers in Genesis.

That’s the logical fallacy of building a straw man. He never converses with a truly rational religious person.

Problem 4. He Surprises People

It’s clear in the documentary that the people he interviews did not know the purpose of the interview before the cameras were rolling. Quite often, he is “kicked out of places” which allows him to ridicule the religious people even more when in fact, he probably could have asked for a rational discussion with someone who knew how to have one and just might have gotten it.

Problem 5. He focuses on Christianity

He spends a little time ridiculing Scientology and a man who believes Cannabis is God. He spends a little more time on Judaism and Islam and Mormonism. But about half the film is directly aimed at Christianity whether Catholic or Charismatic or that guy who says God Hates Fags.

If he really is against all religion, why not consider Buddhism?

Problem 6. He’s Arrogant

At the end of the film, he talks about the stupidity of religious belief especially the ludicrous nature of belief in God and the afterlife, and he ends with a brief monologue in which he says (I’m paraphrasing a bit)

If anyone ever claims to know what will happen to you after you die, they are lying to you. How do I know? Because I don’t know, and you don’t possess any mental capabilities that are beyond my own.

We all need to listen to him and reject religion because at best we are only as smart as he, and if for some reason we disagree with him, it can’t be that we are smarter. It must be that we are dumber.

Wait Bill, are you saying that on this entire planet, there are no people who are smarter than you? Or are you claiming that there are no religious people smarter than you? That seems like a pretty arrogant claim and one that only has one chance in 7 billion of being right.

The more logical conclusion is that some people are smarter than he and the logical conclusion is that at least one of those is religious. Perhaps he should have been talking to them.

What do you think? Have you seen the film?