Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I watched Religulous on DVD tonight. Bill Maher is insane. I've always found his television programs and specials funny and thought-provoking, and (because I lean left) I often agreed with many of his views. That said, I also think Maher is an egomaniac who takes pride in expressing his own ideas over those of others because he's convinced he's right. In other words, he's not much different from the people he criticizes. The thing about Maher, however, that I always have appreciated was that he is willing to challenge and he invites a response. He doesn't want you just to agree with him (then you're a sycophant). He wants you to have your own position on things and stand up for what you believe in. Religion is THE most touchy subject for everyone, including atheists or agnostics (remember: not believing in God is still a belief!). Thus, I applaud him and director Larry Craig for taking the bold step of confronting this important issue. Let's face it: regardless of what our personal religious beliefs are, the religions of the world are in battle with one another and have been for millennia. It has to stop. Now.
On a light-hearted note, there are parts of this documentary that are hysterical. The pop-up quotes, the interjected clips from films, Maher's own sarcastic remarks on things, all of these things make for a very funny take on what is a serious topic. Of course, everyone who has a serious religious affiliation becomes the object of ridicule, whether it's the ex-Jew for Jesus or the Born-Again woman waiting to ride the rapture on a white horse (I'm not making this up). After all, isn't that Maher's point, to make fun of religion and its hold on people? He repeatedly brings up myths from all of the faiths and questions people about them. I admit, it's shocking to see that so many people believe Biblical stories are real. They actually believe in Adam and Eve and the talking snake! I'm comforted at least that the two Roman Catholic priests he interviewed at least had a sense of humor and emphasized the importance of science and interpreting religious teachings symbolically, not literally. Perhaps there's hope for Catholics after all!
In the end, though, Maher does make a critical point. The more governments and political leaders ally themselves to religious texts written thousands of years ago, the more they continue to battle one another in the name of God. They all talk about Armageddon, the end of the world. Ironically, though, if the world does end, it's not because God made it happen, but because humans made it happen. That said, Maher's own determination to encourage people to give up faith completely worries me as well. It's equally idealistic to assume that an atheistic utopia is the answer to the world's problems. In fact, that will create a whole new set of problems, including challenges to things which we now assume to be basic principles of right and wrong (i.e. murder is wrong and deserves serious punishment). Ultimately, faith does play an important part in determining issues of ethics and morality. Faith doesn't have to be worshipping in a temple or mosque or church, praying to a godhead one never sees, speaking in tongues or reenacting the Crucifixion. Faith can simply be a way of comforting oneself, resting in the idea that there is an order to this universe, and that somewhere in that infinite unknowable cosmos there is some energy that links all of us living creatures to one another. And if saying a prayer to that energy--call him/her/it God!--in order to find solace during difficult times makes you feel better, then so be it. There's nothing wrong with a little bit of faith. It's the extremism of anything--including faith and the lack of it--that will destroy us all.