Religulous fervor

A man in space sends his son (who is actually him) down from the sky to be tortured and die.

A man in space sends his son (who is actually him) down from the sky to be tortured and die.

Well, sort of … but not really. You see, he is able to rise from the grave and float back into the sky so that, one day, we can chill with him (them?) for all eternity.

Now doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Or maybe Religulous?

You may argue with my admittedly less-than-scholarly interpretation of Christian theology I threw at you just now, but you would have a hard time denying that the fantastical religious stories of talking animals, magic tricks, sacred underwear and zombie messiahs that most of us are told when we are children are fairly hilarious when you examine them closely.

Or maybe they would be if they weren’t responsible for so much death and hate in the world.

Such is the message of the just released on DVD, Religulous, one of the funniest and most important movies of last year, or any year for that matter.

For us to live, religion has to die, comedian and professional smarty-pants Bill Maher concisely states in his road-trip documentary. Directed by Larry Charles, fresh off the comedic high of Borat, Religulous is a rare sort of film, one that not only immensely entertains, but also manages to make such a powerful point that when it reaches the brilliantly written final monologue by Maher you will feel chills.

The movie is a tightrope walk. Religulous could have fallen in two different directions—towards excessive finger pointing or into dull political correctness. Thankfully it makes its way across the rope, to the applause of freethinkers and boos from the close-minded.

Like Maher has stated in interviews, religion is the elephant in the room of comedy. No one seems to want to say how funny it all is, maybe out of fear or maybe out of habit. Not anymore.

The crew used the working title “A Spiritual Journey” when it requested interviews from the many theologians, snake-oil salesmen, scientists and religious leaders in the movie. Following the confrontational—but with a smile—filmmaking style of Borat, we trail Maher as he interrogates religious people of all types with one basic question: How can you believe what you believe in the face of reason?

This isn’t a question designed to alienate the subjects, and in the movie we get a real sense that Maher genuinely is looking for an answer, even if he is also looking for laughs.

He may not be a religious man—he has repeatedly said that religion is a neurological disorder—but he is not above considering the ideas of God and heaven. As he proudly puts it, he just doesn’t know, and neither do you.

Much of the humor in the film comes from analyzing literal interpretations of biblical texts with clever cutaways to cheesy religious films that serve as punch lines to jokes that the interviewees don’t realize they are making.

The interviews are often bizarre, as when Maher talks to a Jesus-impersonator at a Christian theme park, who later acts out the crucifixion to applause from the junk-food binging, Bermuda-short-wearing crowd. At other times they are enlightening, like Maher’s lively interview with a Catholic priest outside the Vatican, who shows that it is possible to believe while still remaining critical of those beliefs.

You may be offended by the unwavering glare that Religulous gives to religion, and your instinct may be to gloss over the well-thought-out attacks on your faith while laughing at the other religions examined in the film, but that would do you no good. The message of the movie should be respected.

Why can’t we turn our eyes on ourselves and question what we hold dear? Wouldn’t that make our beliefs that much stronger? Or are they built on such a shaky foundation that the ramblings of a comedian will threaten to tear them apart?