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Religulous | jonmower.com

Religulous

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220px-Religulous_posterTonight I finished watching Religulous (2008,R).  From ScreenIt!:

Comedian Bill Maher explores and questions various religions around the world by interviewing those of faith about their beliefs.

My main take-away from this film is that it is easy to find people who can't thoughtfully answer skeptical questions about their faith.  I think that for most of us much of what we believe about God…or politics or whatever…has mostly been received and accepted…rather than examined from a skeptical perspective and adopted because it was the rational conclusion from the available evidence.  This becomes clear as we are challenged to justify our religious or political views.  I suspect that often there is also an inverse relationship between how strongly a belief is held and how deeply we have examined it.  In this film Maher doesn't engage deep thinkers in a serious discussion, but instead makes the hapless rubes look foolish…I guess that's his thing.

In one section that caught my interest, Maher asserts a long list of striking parallels between the story of Jesus and earlier Egyptian myths.  According to Wikipedia, there isn't much substance to this either.

I thought it was interesting to examine how I felt as Maher addressed religions other than my own.  I think we'll tend to agree with Maher's critique of everyone else but ourselves.  This takes me to a realization that everyone else is in that same position, and that to be consistent I should only be comfortable with my religion having a role in government, for example, that I would be comfortable with for someone else's religion.

The monologue that ends the film also caught my attention:

The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having in key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken. George Bush prayed a lot about Iraq, but he didn't learn a lot about it. Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don't have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it's wonderful when someone says, "I'm willing, Lord! I'll do whatever you want me to do!" Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas. And anyone who tells you they know, they just know what happens when you die, I promise you, you don't. How can I be so sure? Because I don't know, and you do not possess mental powers that I do not. The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that's what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong. This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price. If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you'd resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here, or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let's remember what the real problem was that we learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That's it. Grow up or die.

That's not nearly the whole story of reality, but there's enough truth in there to make a very strong case for self-examination and for asking ourselves the tough questions regardless of whether Maher asks them.

Not because I think it reveals much interesting substance, but because I think it provokes questions that are normally too little examined…I give it 4 out of 5.

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