Friday, October 3, 2008


“I don’t believe in Santa Claus.”
“Of course not, that’s one man flying all around the world and dropping presents down a chimney. One man hearing everybody murmur to him at the same time, that I get.”

In an attempt to better undestand religon, and to make some fun out of the more ridiculous beliefs, Bill Maher takes a trip around the world to discuss relgiion with politicans, scientists, theologians, and the common people. What results is an often funny, though not that enlightening, experience.

Much like Michael Moore, Maher begins his journey with a preconceived outcome - proving the ridiculousness and dangerous nature of all the world’s various religions. Although quite humorous with his quips and various well-placed clips from religious films, he’s mostly preaching to those who already don’t believe in organized religion.

There are quite a few memorable moments where Maher’s point is well-illustrated. One involves the increasing anger he receives from a trucker at a small roadside church who has so much faith it dare not be questioned (in contrast to the other members of the congregation who are very accommodating to Maher’s probing and questions and even end by praying for his soul).

In his various interviews Maher questions some of the more fanciful stories of the Bible (on of his favorite being Noah and the whale), which none of his subjects seem to be able to clarify or explain except through faith.

In a balanced documentary you might see the other side of the argument, the good religious groups do all over the world in terms of public works, charity, and community programs. This isn’t the film Maher wants to make. In trying to prove his point Maher might have been better off speaking a few more theologians as well (the priest he talks with outside the Vatican is one of the film’s best scenes) rather than his trips to a religious theme park and a creationist museum (though that scene is both intensely funny and sad - keep your eye out for the dinosaur with a saddle!).

What we do get is an outrageous film which is meant to push your buttons and incite some conversation. Maher may fail in attempting to bring believers over to his side, but he does, over the course of the flim, make some valid arguments against all religions with similar origins, tales, beliefs, and myths, all of which have a violent and bloody history.

If Maher’s attempt was to create a small humorous film about the absurdities of religion his point is made quite clearly. If however his agenda is to better understand religion and to debunk it completely, which seems to be the case he makes at the end of the film, he is less successful. Whether you like him or not, agree with his point of view or not, I would recommend seeing the film and mulling over the finer points of Maher’s argument. Is religion, is faith, by itself, a good thing? That’s a question worthy of discussion.

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