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Religulous (2008)

At a time when terrorism masquerading as religious zeal stalks the world, we certainly need a thoughtful film about the reasoning behind religious fanaticism.

The Bill Maher film directed by Larry Charles is not it.

The Illiterate Title
The badly-conceived title is arrived at by combining religion with ridiculous (or, possibly, credulous).

The concoction can only add to the uncertainties of the general public in the area of English usage. The word "Religulous" defies the rules of English spelling.

(In the word religion, the g has the "soft sound" /j/ as in gin because the g is followed by the letter i. In the word "religulous," the g is followed by a u and should therefore be pronounced with the "hard sound" /g/ as in gun)

Apart from its illiteracy, the title (if the second part of the word comes from ridiculous) is apt.

Bill Maher goes all out to ridicule not just organized religion, but the sensibilities of ordinary people for whom spirituality is an important aspect of their lives.

Not a Significant Film
Organized religion has much to answer for. Billions of people through the centuries have lived miserable lives and died horrendous deaths because of religion. Who can deny it?

Maher's three targeted religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--retain elements of pagan religions that preceded them. Many believers would deny this fact, but it is true, as it is true that Christianity derives from Judaism and that Islam is a composite of Judaism, Christianity, and pre-Islamic Arab paganism.

However, the historical origins of the various religions are irrelevant (and sometimes threatening) to modern believers. What matters is that a religious sensibility is hard-wired into the human psyche and only an arrogant fool would imagine that it can be driven out by ridicule.

Maher and Charles may think that they have produced a film on a serious subject that is both entertaining and socially significant.

They haven't.

They could have, but their unfocused blitz of ridicule, salted here and there with common sense, is heavy on adolescent humor and light on thoughtful analysis.

The Intended Audience
A more thoughtful, adult treatment might have contributed to a meaningful national dialogue, but Religulous is not intended for a national audience. It is aimed at the 16% of the U.S. population that professes to hold no religious beliefs. Maher sees this 16% as a potential lobby stronger than blacks (12%) or Hispanics (14%). The film is a rallying cry to them to come forward as a political force.

The audience in the theater on the day I viewed the film was made up mostly of people who looked to be of retirement age and older. Many of them applauded at the end.

Not a Nice Film
Cruising the web for reviews, I found numerous bloggers who found the film unremittingly hilarious. It IS funny in parts and I did my share of laughing. But it is also extremely mean-spirited. Many sections made me feel uncomfortable and ashamed.

I quite admire the trucker in the red shirt who saw through Maher's smarmy assertions of innocent truth-searching and walked out on him.

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