Bill Maher: "Religulous -- Do you smell something burning?"
This is a documentary dealing with religious faith. Bill Maher, star of the
HBO series "Real Time," travels around the world. He visits some of the holiest
places -- e.g. Jerusalem -- and some of the least holy -- e.g. Washington, DC.
Maher interviews believers about their faith and attempts to expose those
beliefs as absurd.
The movie concludes with a deadly serious diatribe in which Maher attacks all
religions as evil. He states that for the good of humanity, they must be phased
"It's the most controversial, taboo topic ever. And no one really
has ever made a movie like this or called religion out. I've done it on TV for
15 years, but it's a little different when it's a movie. All the points we're
making are marshaled together one after the other." 1
Comments by the critics and viewers:
Robert Koehler at Variety writes:
"Skeptics unite: You have nothing to lose but your inhibitions. That, in
sum, is the underlying message of Bill Maher and Larry Charles’
brilliant, incendiary 'Religulous,' in which comedian/talkshow host
Maher inquires of the religious faithful and finds them severely
wanting. By providing an example to other non-believers, Maher is, um,
hell-bent on launching an even more aggressive conversation on the
legitimacy of religion than he has on HBO’s 'Real Time With Bill Maher.'
... Charles’ previous smash, 'Borat,' used funnyman Sacha Baron Cohen to
make satirical/political points, but the particular intensity and
seriousness of Maher’s project are nearly unprecedented. Indeed, its
arrival shortly after the death of George Carlin -- a profound influence
on Maher’s standup act and politics -- suggests the kind of film Carlin
might have made in his prime." 2
Devin Faraci of Cinematic Happenings Under Development (CHUD)
is a religious skeptic. He writes:
"Though funny, smart and often profane,
Religulous doesn't want to send
you out of the theater with a smile on your lips. The final moments of
the film aren't laugh out loud funny, but a parade of images of death
and destruction. This, Bill Maher says, is what humanity is in for if it
doesn't get rid of the nuerological [sic] disorder that is religion.
...The basic concept of the film has Maher traveling around the world
talking to believers about what they believe, and most importantly why
(or how they can believe it, for that matter). From the Holy Land to the
Holy Land Experience theme park in Florida, Maher goes where
the believers are and engages them on their home turf. ...He wants to
interact with these people, to confront them with the logic-hating
aspects of their faiths and see what they come back with."
"TheBigE," an evangelical Christian, viewed wrote:
"Bill Maher does his best Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock here, as he
goes around interviewing various people of faith around the world,
pointing out the absurdities of their beliefs. The interviews are
interspersed with pop culture clips and Maher's own comments. He spends
the first hour or so taking on Christianity, and he starts by examining
his own background by interviewing his sister and Jewish mother, who
raised him Catholic like his father was. He moves on to interview some
easy targets like believers at a truck stop, an African-American
'prosperity and riches' preacher who wishes to be addressed as Dr. -
even though he has no degree, an ex-gay preacher, the proprietor of the
Creation Museum, and a Jew for Jesus, among others. After an hour
grilling Christians he eventually gets to Mormonism, Scientology,
Judaism, and finally Islam. 4
V.V. Raman, Emeritus professor of physics and humanities at the Rochester
Institute of Technology wrote:
"The most simple-minded spokespersons for various denominations were enticed
to participate in the production of the movie, and they unwittingly serve
its goal: to reveal religions as roaringly ridiculous. This film fits well
in our age of open warfare between religion and unreligion, faith and
unbelief, tradition and modernity, theism and atheism, and many such
"The snapshots of religion we see on the screen are truthful but lopsided.
They are truthful because they come from the mouths of the horses, if one
may modify a metaphorical phrase. Maher cleverly makes them
self-incriminate. We simply laugh in pity. They are lopsided because
religions have many dimensions: First, there are the illogical beliefs and
narrow bigotry to which the naively religious are fettered. Then, there are
the records of and the capacity for hate and horror in the name of God,
which have not abated in our own times. It is on these alone that Maher’s
lens focuses. But then religions have also inspired love and compassion,
charity and hope. Maher takes us to small town churches, where he
embarrasses simple-minded preachers, and to the outside of St. Peter’s
Basilica, but he has no interest in showing us the cathedral in Chartres,
the Raf’ai mosque in Cairo, or any of the hundreds of other magnificent
places of worship where people gather in awe and humility, with reverence
and peace. He does take us into the Al Aqsa in Jerusalem (formerly the
Temple of Solomon), where a religious head says with a straight face that
the prophet who arrived there from Mecca on a flying horse was bodily
carried away to heaven from that very spot. ..."
"It would have been a better movie for me if, after exposing the
ridiculousness of some of the archaic beliefs and making every religious
person look foolish, Maher recognized that if we all appreciate the positive
contributions of religions, honor our ancestors for the cultural richness
they have left behind, continue to enjoy and share the great art and music
of various religions, and adhere to the core message of love and service
implicit in all religions, we could hold hands together as members of the
same human family to resolve the myriad problems we are facing as a
planetary species." 9
Title: "Religious" (alternate title: "A spiritual journey").
The main title is a portmanteau 5 -- a
combination of two words: "religion" and "ridiculous."
Directed by: Larry Charles, the director of "Borat" and "Curb
Produced by: Bill Maher.
Cast: Bill Maher interviewing, one at a time: Julie Maher, Kathie
Maher, Andrew Newberg, John Westcott, Sen. Mark Pryor, Jose Luis de Jesus
Miranda, Steve Berg, Ken Ham, Francis Collins, Jeremiah Cummings, Mohammad Hourani, Father Reginald Foster, Mohammed Junas Gatfar, Rabbi Dovid Weiss,
Rabbi Schmuel Strauss, Dean Hamer, Rev. Terre van Beverren, Propa-Gandhi,
Ray Suarez, Geert Wilders, Fatima Elatik, Father George Coyne, Tal Bachman,
Bill Gardiner, Larry Charles.
Dialogue in English, Spanish, and Arabic.
Released by: Lionsgate Entertainment. 6
Initial release date: Premiered the Traverse City Film Festival
and shown at two movie theatres during 2008-AUG in order to make the movie eligible for
a 2009 Academy Award. Shown during 2008-SEP at the Toronto International
Film Festival.Limited release in the U.S. and Canada started on 2008-OCT-03. 7
Rating: R because of some language and sexual material. 8
Length: 101 minutes.
Award: Received a 2008 Golden Trailer Award in the
category "Best Documentary Poster" for an image of a piece of toast in which
the face of Bill Maher appears.
A movie trailer:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Reed Tucker, "What would Bill Maher Watch? Skeptical star of 'Religlous'
takes on fall political flicks," New York Post, 2008-AUG-24, at: