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There can be no better description for an arrogant and condescending individual than the name Billy Maher. Maher is the kind of person you would consider to be so funny and insightful at the same time, but would make you think twice about hanging out with him. The hanging out with him part is however not a choice we have when it comes to his smarmy documentary “Religulous”. In his documentary, Maher forces his audience to tag along with him as he goes around the world and interviews the least eloquent and most extreme religious adherents that he meets in his path. In his quest to seek answers, he has got one goal in his mind which is to convince his audience that God is just but imaginary. He puts forth his argument that the people who believe in God are simply disillusioned and that in order for humanity to progress, the blight of organized religion has got to be gotten rid of from peoples minds. This notion that he is trying to put forth is what has spurred the content of his documentary into a major debate.
For the last fifteen years, Bill Maher has become popular for the way that he sets the boundaries on where comedy and political talk can go live on the American television. He did this for the first time on his production “Politically Incorrect” which aired on Comedy Central and ABC. After this followed “Real Time”, this got aired on HBO Television for six years. His prowess in this entertainment industry has garnered him a whooping twenty- one Emmy nominations. Born in New York City, Bill Maher was raised in River Vale. He attended his University education at Cornell University and later on settled in Los Angeles where he currently resides. Bill Maher started his career as a stand up comedian and rose to become a very popular comedian. This was in the year 1979 and he still does his shows in Los Angeles. In October 2008 Bill Maher came back to the limelight with the movie “Religulous”, directed by Larry Charles; a well known producer famous for the movies Borat. In this controversial movie, Maher sought on a quest to ask people tough questions regarding their religious beliefs. He sets out to find answers to how people can place so much faith in something that is so irrational, and in this case he means religion. This is what he claims his mission to be in this movie (Dave, 2008).
On most occasions, the world has been filled with a unanimous agreement on the issue of religion and you would not find one arguing about faith. However, as Bill Maher travels around the world on his quest this does not remain as the case no more. As he goes on interviewing Christians, Jews and Moslems this argument is re opened. One cannot help but start to wonder if there might be two subspecies of humans. The sceptical minority of the nonbelievers like Mr. Maher makes up sixteen percent of the whole population. Maher says this citing it as the result of his survey. For many of this group of nonbelievers, the notions about Christianity, Judaism and Islam are nothing but dangerous fairy tales and myths. These have nothing no more than incite barbarous purges as well as holy wars which are still being fought in different regions. Two examples of Mr. Maher’s favourite biblical images that he puts up for ridicule are the talking snake and the man who lived inside a fish. He argues that there is no way that this events could have taken place in the universe and that it is all nothing but a bluff that was instilled into peoples minds and became a permanent idea and belief. However, despite the criticism that his arguments have come across, a huge number of the Americans embrace his words in some form of blind faith. It is however not an easy task to explain the rationality of this faith because the very nature of this faith requires a leap into irrationality.
The movie “Religulous” is an extremely funny one in an offhanded way. It carriers with it a sense of humour and even some of the strong believers may find it amusing rather than insulting to their faith. Mr. Maher interviews a priest of the Roman Catholic right outside the Vatican in what is a small journalistic coup. In this interview, the priest laughingly agrees with him that the fundamental teachings that are given by the Catholic Church are nonsense. The priest goes ahead to state that these teachings are not to be taken literally. This is ironical as the priest at the moment is wearing all the priestly investments and he is also a teacher at these Catholic Churches. Maher does not however push to criticise him about this. In the documentary, he interviews theologians and scientists. They feature in this documentary despite the fact that it is not a very serious cultural or scientific exploration into the roots of faith. Mr. Maher adopts the attitude of a reporter who is simply inquisitive and thus the argument he puts forth for an organized religion is not brought out in the documentary as it would have been had it been his television monologues. One might be forced to enjoy Mr. Maher’s documentary while still having the disagreement on his basic premise at the back of his head. His film is not even one that is anti-religion; it is anti-Christianity. Other faiths like Judaism and Islam get very scanty time of being screened and questioned. The film cannot be decisive on whether it is a sincere investigation into the true existence of faith or it is simply a satirical inquisition (Tyler, 2010).
Definition of Terms
Religion can be defined as a set, of believes that concern the nature, cause and purpose of life and the universe. Religion is at times interchanged with faith or belief as they mean almost the same thing. There are a number of different religions in the world and each one of them has got its own organized behaviour such as how they pray, and each also has a sacred history to which they draw their meaning in life. Religion is the supernatural agency to which the followers of the concerned one relate to it as being holy and divine. Bill Maher does not believe in religion or faith. In his documentary, he says that 16 percent of Americans, him included, are non-religious. His scepticism about religion looks like it may be drawn from how he was brought up. His father was Catholic and his mother was Jewish. The teachings he got as a child were contradictory because of the “mixed family” he was in. in his film Religulous, Maher is critical of the Christianity religion
In writing, the writer normally uses a specific way of developing the characters that he is using. He does this so that the story can have a deeper meaning and explanation. This is called characterization. Characterization involves the showing of the character’s appearance, displaying how they act and revealing their thoughts. It also involves letting the characters converse and getting the reaction of other characters with whom they are conversing with. In his movie, Bill Maher has used characterization to a wide extent. He conducts interviews and lets his characters share their thoughts on faith, which leads to the basis of the movie being created. The feedback that he gets from the priest he interviews is different from that which he gets from the senator. The reaction to what these characters portray is what gives the edge on the different views of religion. This characterization plays a very important role in bringing out the theme in the movie.
In analysing Bill Maher’s movie, the media hits back at him for the characterization in his movie. The people that Bill Maher interviews in his movie are obviously people he chose very selectively to add a twist in his movie. The characters are not serious and the comments that they make on the movie are very controversial to what many believe is true faith. When doing characterization in Religulous, Maher chose people that he knew would make stereotypical comments about his main theme. These characters do not represent the views of the majority of the people in the larger America. However, as the media claims, Bill Maher was looking into making more of a comedy than an actual serious documentary. His movie cannot be used as a point of reference for anybody looking into making a clear argument about the notion of faith and how it is different in the many religions.
Stereotypes are a fixed commonly held notion or image of a person or a group. This is normally based on an oversimplification of an observed behaviour. Stereotypes reflect ideas which certain groups of people hold about others who are different from them. In his movie, Bill Maher uses the stereotype in religion. He gets the views of the beliefs that the Muslims have and compares them to those of Christians. Different religions draw their faith from different beliefs and they cannot be the same. Maher fosters the Jewish stereotype in his movie. He believes that because he is half Jewish, he can make jokes about their religion. He disagrees with the childhood teachings of the Jewish and says that their religion is not based on real faith. Maher uses stereotypes to make the basis of his film. He goes ahead to put forth argumentative views on how religion ought to be and where people are supposed to draw their faith from. It is obvious that the different religions draw their faith from different cultures. He knew that putting all these religions in one basket and trying to make them equal would spur an argument. Maher uses this stereotype in religion to bring out the theme of faith in his movie.
Ethical choices of Bill Maher when doing the movie and the media when covering it
In most parts of his film, Mr. Maher is somewhat witty in a very interesting way. He chooses to discuss and criticise his ideas with a light touch and this is what makes this so interesting and hilarious at the same time. Like all the other good comedians in the entertainment industry, Mr. Maher has got a gift for recognizing absurdity and he knows how to extremely capitalize on it. The only problem in this context is that he has organized the absurdity himself in his documentary and the way that he carriers on with it. He chose his interview subjects in a very specific manner which gave the basis for his documentary and his arguments. In doing this, he knew that they would provide him with fodder for the jokes which he had already planned on how to make. If it was a question of somebody who earnestly wanted to learn why religious people believe in God, he would have gone ahead and chosen his characters differently. He would have talked to some “normal” religious people. Mr. Maher did not do this instead went ahead to talk to the fringe-dwellers and nutcases. These people comprise the bulk of Maher's interviews and they provide the humor that he wants to portray in his film.
In his argument, Mr. Maher insists that Jesus didn't exist. He says that he did not exist at all not even as a regular, non-divine person as he is portrayed in the bible. His approach to this issue about Jesus’ existence is that if at all he existed, there would at least be physical evidence about what him left behind for the archaeologists to work with. The idea about the existence of Jesus is only drawn from the biblical stories that are taught in the church. Apart from this, there is no other explanation to prove that indeed Jesus existed as pointed out in the Christian religion. Maher also goes ahead to point out that modern-day Christianity has got very little when considering the resemblance of what is being taught today to that which Jesus taught in the Bible. In other words, Maher is simply putting forth the point that Jesus never lived. Also the things that he did not teach at hi said time of existence, because he did not live are not being followed by those who claim to have very strong faith in his existence. Maher lashes out at Christianity by criticizing its followers. Ha says that these Christians are not good at all when it comes to following the fictional character whoever it is that they claim worship (Sciretta, 2010).
With regards to his sentiments and his views, it is very obvious to anybody that is watching his film that Maher is preaching to the choir. There is absolutely nobody who has got strong faith and believes in God that is going to watch this film and it will have an influence on them to make them think, "Hey, he's right. I'm going to become an atheist." This is simply not going to be the case judging by the basis on which Mr. Maher comes forth with his arguments. Maher has throughout the making of his film ensured that not one single person will hear this message that he preaches more than those who already agree with the same arguments that he makes. He does this by focusing on religion's hypocrites. He goes ahead to ignore the overwhelming majority of devout people who will bring down his arguments and sentiments. These are the people whose belief in God leads them to be better parents, friends, and citizens.
Maher uses a very cunning way of conducting his interviews in the film. His strategy is a very confusing one to his interviewees as he seeks to cheat most of those subjects, who are true believers, to appear foolish. They get into his trap as they offer stumbling, inarticulate responses to his interrogations which he conducts in a very friendly manner, one that is not suspicious to his interviewees. The larger number of his subjects is quite an easy target for him. One such example that fall for his questions is José Luis de Jesús Miranda. He is an elegantly dressed Miami preacher who openly declares that he is the second coming of Christ. He claims that he is growing in the Grace ministry and that he has more than 100,000 followers. He falls into exactly what Maher wanted by declaring this just like the fulminating televangelists whose ministries the film glosses over. This preacher comes across as a greedy and self-satisfied one who has got gold coins on his head. This is unlike the common belief that these preachers are supposed to be in the ministry to lead people into the paths of righteousness as the bible teaches rather than being in it for the money (Snider, 2010).
The cunning methods of Mr. Maher in telling only one side of the argument on faith also becomes evident when he asks Senator Mark Pryor on why he thinks that faith is good. When asked this question, he does not give a direct reason instead he stumbles for an answer. Mr. Maher makes it known to him that many evangelicals cannot wait for the end of the world. He says they simply do this simply because it has been prophesied that Jesus will return. The senator agrees almost suddenly and does not dispute him. This is because of the approach that Mr. Maher has used to pose his question. It is evident that most of these evangelists look forward to the second coming of Christ but this however is not the only reason for waiting for the end of the world. It is a question of faith and the belief that an individual has in them about the prophesy on the second coming of Christ. This part of the argument is not presented in Mr. Maher’s view. He only shows that if there was no written word that there is a second coming of Christ as it is done in the bible, not many of the evangelists and preachers if not all would look forward to the end of the world.
In another interview he conducts in his movie, Maher introduces us to John Westcott. He is a former homosexual who is now married. He is also the director of Exchange Ministries in Winter Park. The mission of this organization is to change the sexuality of people who have gone gay. Mr. Westcott can only smile when Mr. Maher goes ahead to remind him of the fact that Jesus never addressed the subject of homosexuality in his teachings. He questions Mr. Westcott on why he chose to reform from being as homosexual simply because of somebody told him to believe it is wrong. Maher argues that it is only the Christians who came up with the notion that homosexuality is wrong and went ahead to believe in it. This faith that has got no basis simply restricts the freedom of the human beings to express their feelings in an independent manner. He quotes his argument from an excerpt in the movie Passion of Christ. He quotes where the actor that is playing Jesus goes ahead to compare the Holy Trinity to the three states of water which are liquid, ice and vapor. These three show that it is simply the same thing and that none can be considered a permanent state. He uses this to explain the nature of faith and belief saying that they are simply temporal states of the mind that are interchangeable from one individual to the next and they do not have a basis of existence (Newbury, 2010).
When this documentary “Religulous” shifts from the evangelical Christianity and moves on to the Judaism and Islam, its tone is no longer a certain one. It can also be noticed that its rhythm becomes a choppy one. An attitude of glib condescension is no longer one that is enough to address the clashing religions. These are the ones which have turned the Middle East into an ideological cauldron. Jihadism which is popular in the Middle East and Orthodox Judaism are some of the heated topics that Mr. Maher addresses in a very sketchy way. He does this with an effort to convey the same authority with which he brings when arguing in Christianity. In the end, the film “Religulous” turns into a huge warning about the future. It is complete with apocalyptic images. These show case stampeding armies and mushroom clouds issued him. These are shown standing right amidst the ruins of Megiddo. This is the Israeli site from which the Book of Revelation in the bible says Armageddon will start. Maher brings out his message in a declaration that the secular humanists as well as the atheists should come out and let their opinions be heard. Instead of basing all our knowledge about our religions simply in faith, Maher emphasizes that we should start to consider doubt as well in our thinking. In this way, he thinks that his argument that faith is simply a thing that has been installed in peoples minds for a long time by their predecessors will hold as a true fact.
Consequences of those choices on the big scale
The approach that Mr. Maher used to air out his stand when it came to the issue of faith and belief in religion had a big impact on his film. Various criticisms came into play with regards to how he handled this topic. The interviews that he conducted in the making of this documentary have been scrutinized by different people and analyzed on the impact they had. When conducting the interview on Raleigh, Truckers' Chapel Maher went ahead to ask how they can accept some of the things that things are not in the Bible as part of Christianity. Although his list is oddly mixed, he seeks to ask on some of the things that are not in the bible. These include the Popes, the virgin birth of Christ and the original sin. In a reply to these accusations, the Truckers appealed to the Shroud of Turin. They also applied for a basic form of Pascal's wager. A false definition of faith had been put forth. Although Maher claims that Jesus has not been proven by anybody with facts that he exists, no more details about this are offered. Maher claims that the Gospels are not history. He says that the authors never met Jesus. This is however wrong as two of the authors of these Gospels were actually disciples of Jesus. It is very also clear that Maher altered himself. This is evident as he admits it when he went in to do filming. As one of the Trucker left when he found out what Maher's true intent was; to simply portray Christianity in a bad way.
About the topic of homosexuality, the Exchange Ministries sought to expand on what Maher brought out when interviewing john Westcott who is a member of their ministries. He sought to find out why homosexuality was such an issue for the Christians. This was directed more to those who believed in the New Testament. He argues that not once did Jesus talk about it in his teachings. Jesus also was never quoted of saying a word on smoking or child abuse. However, basing on these topics, he would not rage at the American Lung Association. But he does this with Christianity. In Jewish lands homosexuality was not an issue as such. In the places that Jesus preached about it, it had already been taken for granted that it was not a right thing. It did however become an issue of concern in the Gentile nations (Billington, 2008).
In his other interview, Mr. Maher asks Senator Mark Pryor, who is a devout evangelical, why faith is good. Part of this section of the film was taken at the Jefferson Memorial. Here Maher claims to have seen "a lot of quotes". These are from the Founding Fathers and they state that America was not a Christian nation as it has been painted out. Maher gives a mere three quotes. These are from Jefferson, Franklin and Adams and are used in support of what he is stating. Maher can simply be said to have a lot more research to do about history than what he merely states, and that he has got to get a lot more Founders to refer to if his argument is to stand. He also misuses the statistical figures that he uses for his arguments. He keeps saying sixteen percent of all, twenty percent of those under thirty, and these leave you wondering where he gets his statistics from. He states that these percentages of those people listed are not in any religion and sail in the same boat that he does. Maher's comments to Pryor on this issue are very light in argument. He voices out as well the recognition of "Bronze Age beliefs". He lists on the screen a number of the unscientific beliefs on this. He also goes ahead to criticize the question of Pryor believing in a speaking snake. He however cannot offer any argument on this better than his personal views. This goes ahead to define his film as nothing based on real facts other than simply personal views.
The interviews that are carried out by Mr. Maher in the making of his film are what bring the downside of his movie being taken as a serious documentary. The characters are not serious individuals who are well knowledgeable when it comes to matters of religion. They are random people that have been selected by Mr. Maher to simply fit into his cast. All this choice of character would be very okay if Maher's was only looking to make a comedy film. Even for a person who is fond of making fun of people who disagree with him Maher does not do so well although history has it that he is good at it. His comments in the end of the film do nothing to overshadow the serious part of the movie. Instead, they indicate that he wants to make a serious point. He is just not looking into making a comedy. This means that Mr. Maher would better do a better job next time he is looking into driving a serious point home than what he did with this film.
Tyler, J. (2010). Religulous. Retrieved 1 Dec 2010 from http://www.cinemablend.com/reviews/Religulous-3380.html
Sciretta, P. (2010). Religulous Movie trailer Retrieved 1 Dec 2010 from http://www.slashfilm.com/religulous-movie-trailer/
Newbury, B.(2010) Religulous. Retrieved 1 Dec 2010 from http://www.documentaryfilms.net/index.php/religulous/
Snider, E. D. (2010). Religulous(documentary). Retrieved 1 Dec 2010 from http://www.ericdsnider.com/movies/religulous/
Dave, S. (2008). Bill Maher’s “Religuluos” documentary a flop? Retrieved 1 Dec 2010 from http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/bill-mahers-religulous-documentary-a-flop/
Billington, A. (2008). Bill Maher Religulous Documentary is Evidently ‘Brilliant’ Retrieved 1 Dec 2010 from http://www.firstshowing.net/2008/08/21/bill-mahers-religulous-documentary-is-evidently-brilliant/