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Movies | Maher puts the ridiculous in Religulous

Issue: "Bleeding economy," Oct. 18, 2008

The title of the film Religulous is supposed to be a combination of the words religion and ridiculous. And true to form, comedian Bill Maher has made a so-called documentary about religion that is, in fact, ridiculous.

Maher travels the world, finding the most outlandish believers he can-a theme-park Jesus character, an anti-Zionist Jew friendly with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Muslim rapper who loves suicide bombers-and pretends they are representative of their religions. He then mocks them for their beliefs while the camera waits for their reaction.

Maher's questions are no better than his interview subjects. Reminiscent of the type of queries a young Sunday school student might ask, a Christian viewer of modest intelligence and understanding would do a better job of responding than the people cherry-picked for this propaganda piece. Which is why this movie is ultimately so toothless. Religulous doesn't even come close to raising significant doubts.

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Which is not to say that Maher doesn't shine a light on hypocrisy or stupidity in Christianity and other religions. Prosperity gospel preachers and Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda (a man who claims to be Jesus) don't come off well, but it's not just because Maher is unfair to them.

Unfairness is to be expected, considering that the film shared a director with Sasha Baron Cohen's Borat spoof. Subjects weren't told who they would be debating or what the film's purpose was. But the real problem is the Michael Moore-style editing and composition. An anti-Mormon cartoon is spliced to make it seem like it's approved Latter-day Saints material. It raises the question of whether Maher and company knew they couldn't honestly engage religious belief.

Maher wants people to find religion-and particularly Christianity-dangerous and responsible for all that ails the world. He conveniently ignores the atheism of Hitler and Stalin as well as all the advancements for which we can thank Christianity. In Maher's world, Christians aren't running hospitals, adopting orphans, or feeding the poor. They're just, for instance, ignorant truckers spouting nonsense.

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway

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