Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Let us pray...

This weekend I went to see Bill Maher's new movie, Religulous.

It's funny -- I sort of felt about the movie the way I feel about Maher in general.

It would be difficult to say that there's nothing worthwhile in this film; it is smart, very funny and doesn't shy away from taking a strong stand and defending it extremely well.

That said, it is also extremely glib and condescending and cruel.

When Maher takes on the snakeoil salesmen -- the people who claim that they know what God is thinking, how he wants you to live your life, and how much money the parishoners should send in -- I'm 100 percent on his side. There have been all sorts of hucksters and con men like Jim Bakker and Ted Haggard who have made the preposterous claim that they have some sort of secret hotline to God. I don't mind saying that every single one of these people is either a liar or a psychotic.

When Maher says that these guys have used their congregants to mass murder those who disagree with them it's difficult to argue with him on that. (See "bombers, suicide.")

And there was one scene that I truly loved; he goes to a Bible-themed amusement park in Florida, and when the park does some sort of afternoon show duplicating the death of Jesus the people watching the show (underneath airplanes whizzing by) were weeping. I immediately thought of Philip Wylie's great book, Generation of Vipers. Americans are truly the sappiest people on the planet. It felt a little like you were watching a history of stupidity.

All that said, there was something also very distasteful in how Maher mocks these fools.

Look, when Maher says that he just doesn't know any answers and he's asking questions, obviously no one disagrees. And when he interviews people who are trying to "save" their fellow Christians from being gay, well, those people are practicing a kind of bullying that I despise. But plenty of people of normal people have an extremely personal relationship with God and their church -- and that doesn't make them fools. (Kierkegaard and Einstein believed in God. They were not fools either.) People find meaning and happiness in religion -- why is that wrong?

And now to pivot for the final time: This is an important movie. Most people clam up when discussing religion and feel that their team can't be criticized. On that point, Bill Maher is entirely correct. The discussion is important.

Let's begin, shall we?