Monday, October 27, 2008

Relogo...Religi...Screw It

Yeah, I know, it's called Religulous, Bill Maher's new movie in which he says that the story of the Egyptian god Horus is a load of nonsense. I hope I didn't offend all the millions of Horus worshipers out there by describing this attack on your faith but come on, who the hell could buy the story of a guy who was born of a virgin in a cave with a star heralding his birth then went on to preach to the world with 12 disciples at his side before being crucified along with two thieves before coming back to life three days later? And yes, that is the story of Horus, a story told centuries before Jesus Christ was supposed to have walked the Earth. This is one of the pieces of evidence that Bill Maher and director Larry Charles offer up as they try to make their case that faith in gods without evidence is ridiculous.

It should come as no surprise that Maher and Charles, two men who've spent their lives in the comedy business (Charles directed Borat and was also involved in TV shows like Seinfeld and The Tick) would take the subject of atheism and make it into a very funny movie. I discovered after the movie was over that many of my fellow audience members were religious yet still laughed at the movie, even the parts where he openly doubts the sanity of people who believe in talking snakes. I was expecting to see someone walk out during moments like that but no one did, at least not that I saw. I suppose anyone disposed to walking out wouldn't have shown up in the first place.

So, what sort of movie is it when you put aside any sort of preconceived notions, pro- or anti-God biases or, for that matter, pro-and anti-Bill Maher biases? What you get is documentary that often amuses yet also often annoys. Maher and Charles use some of the same B.S. documentary techniques that Ben Stein used in Expelled such as inserting film clips for comic effect during interviews. A little of that can be funny but there was anything but a little of that and it went from funny to annoying. One of the more memorable scenes that definitely moved into the "annoying" column is when Maher was interviewing a man who claimed Jesus had cured him of his homosexuality. What we saw was an interesting interview that was constantly being interrupted by clips of gay porn and gladiator movies although the theme song from Brokeback Mountain was used to comic effect toward the end. Another Ben Stein trick used, although Maher does not achieve Stein's A-hole level of of usage, is to edit an interview look stupid or dumbfounded before the supreme intellect and wit of the interviewer. There were too many times where Maher would make a joke or an observation where the scene cut form there to another part of the interview giving Maher the final word on that particular subject. Maher also borrows Michael Moore's famous technique of going somewhere you are clearly not wanted so you can then be thrown out. We see him get thrown out of the Vatican and the Salt Lake Temple and nearly thrown out of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and a Christian theme park in Orlando, Florida. All of this takes what could have been a great documentary and moves it down into the "good but flawed" category.

Speaking of the Orlando theme park, this is where we met one of the better advocates of religion is an actor who plays Jesus there in a daily Passion recreation. I wish I knew his name but I can't remember if it was ever mentioned and every time I try to Google I end up at website where he is simply referred to as, "The actor who played Jesus." Hell, maybe that's his name and, if so, you can see why he chose the career path he did. Anyway, he's one of the more likable people you'll ever meet and his charisma and enthusiasm allows him to duel effectively against Maher's logic although mainly his arguments boil down to, "Hey, we can't understand the thinking of a higher being like God." The only time he gets flustered is when Maher points out to him that the Jesus story was most likely modeled after the story of Krishna and Horus story I told in the first paragraph which was also probably modeled after the story of Krishna. When the actor asked if the Krishna story, "had been published back then," Bill Maher calmly explains to him that yes, the history of Krishna was well known back then. Had I been asked that question, I most likely would have said, "No dumbass, Krishna worshipers kept the whole thing a huge secret for a thousand years so it was probably just a charming coincidence that Jesus had such a similar background attributed to him." I also would have pointed out the Christian penchant for taking stories of other religions and making them their own like when they took the story of a pagan king looking for the Cup of the Goddess and turned it into the Christian King Arthur and his quest for the Holy Grail. I have to admire Bill Maher's restraint.

Bill Maher says that he doesn't expect to talk most people out of their religious beliefs but, rather, the point of this movie is to try and get fellow rationalists to come out of the godless closet and become advocates for their beliefs. He says (and this sounds high to me) that 16% of the American population is not at all religious which would make them a higher percentage of the population than Jews, blacks, gays and NRA members yet the godless do not have the outspoken advocacy or influence that those minority groups have. Mitt Romney in his big, "Don't hate me because I'm a Mormon," speech earlier this year went out of his way to exclude atheists in his call for tolerance and instead called upon all "people of faith" to unite in some kickass Judeo-Christian team against the evil secularists. If this movie can get even a few rationalists to be more outspoken, it will be a good thing and could move us closer to a time when we can let go of Yahweh, Jesus and Mohammad and, if we do that, we can finally bring about Utopia by getting our Thetans audited.

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