Dear Religion, Bill Maher, and My Mother

25 Nov

Dear Religion, and Bill Maher, and My Mother,

I really enjoyed Religulous.  It was interesting and certainly relevant, and captures a certain moment in time (this one, in the broad sense).  I kind of place it in the same category as Planet Earth, except not nearly so pretty to look at, Bill Maher’s voice can’t hold a candle to Sigourney Weaver or the British dude, and Planet Earth’s factual, while Religulous is kind of Bill Maher’s version of stand-up.  Anyway, I really love Planet Earth, and I had a brief moment when I thought, maybe I’ll buy Religulous, and I very rarely think that about movies.  Mostly I thought it’d be an interesting thing to save from this year, maybe in a box with the November 5th front page, that whale-themed party invitation and CD from a friend, my new fried chicken skills and the mental image of Jon Stewart pointing a finger in the air and trilling, “Nailed it!”  Among other things I will find under my bed and on my bookshelf and place in a box when I move.

Anyway, like so many things, for those who agree with Bill Maher about religion, Religulous confirmed their opinions and made them feel validated in their beliefs.  For people who don’t agree with him, well, most of them didn’t go see it.  And for those who don’t think much, they probably just laughed really hard when the leader of the marijuana church in Amsterdam leaned into a candle sitting behind his head and set his hair on fire.  (It was funny.)

The movie also captured some truly wonderful moments, as when a Vatican bishop stopped to talk to Bill Maher just outside the Vatican gates and told him that the Bible is not literal, should not be read as if it is, and of course the Church itself has major moral issues.  And a few other things.  I think he rolled his eyes at one point.  Towards the Vatican.  Where he works and studies and supposedly worships.  So he was a very nice and human man.

Of course, other people interviewed were very dogmatic, and I’m pretty sure Bill Maher chose the most ridiculous examples he could find.

He was, after all, out to point out that religion is destroying the world.  He claims in the beginning that he wants to understand why people are so sure of things that can never be proven– that being the entire basis of the concept of faith– but by the end, he’s standing alone in the screen, looking at the camera and earnestly shouting about how it is time to change before we tear ourselves apart any further.  He stands there, yelling that religion must go or else we will annihilate ourselves.

Now, in my expert opinion (I took one Comparative Religion class in college, and read at least half the articles, so…. plus I grew up Catholic and I still practice guilt) you could say that religion causes violence.  Or you could say that people cause violence and often use religion to rationalize it.  See how I took a stand there?

That was purposeful.  Because while I would like to think I am one of those sitting in the theater who thought as I watched Religulous (I also laughed, but that’s beside the point), I was also horrified at different points throughout the movie.  By both what the interviewees were saying and by what Bill Maher chose to show or extracted from what they said.

Partly because I went home for dinner the next day, and my parents are very liberal, thoughtful and pacifist-oriented people (Maher’s target audience), and when I thought about it, I knew that at least my mother would not like the movie.  And I still have trouble not listening to her (Hi Mom!).  She’s of the “people cause violence” thought camp.  She thinks faith can be used or misused by people, like most human cultural and social forces.  She taught us that being Catholic is important because, if for no other reason, it’s an important part of our family history (hellooo potato famine).  She thinks faith can be sustaining, and saying the rosary at night can help you sleep, and that no matter where you are in the world, you can walk into a Catholic church for Mass and be a part of something familiar, and other nice things that make a lot of sense.  Also I’ve sat through a lot of services that I couldn’t understand.  It is soothing (right to sleep).

So I might buy Religulous, but I don’t buy all of it (see that?  see what I did there?) and probably I will not give it to my mother for Thanksgiving.  Since I don’t usually give her anything.  It not being a gift-giving holiday and all.

Anyway, I hope you all (Religion, Bill Maher, and My Mother, since that is who this is addressed to) are doing well.

Happy Thanksgiving.  Pray for surf.


PS- I know Religulous came out all the way back before the election and now the world has changed and there is hope, I got the memo, I just sometimes need to think about things for a while.


One Response to “Dear Religion, Bill Maher, and My Mother”

  1. Mary Abrums 28 November 2008 at 8:43 am #

    You capture the some complexity of faith/lack of faith. But its elusive power, the dimensions you can’t see (is there a fourth dimension? is there a way of not speaking and still communicating–a force for good that can happen? an energy that can make things happen that some call spirituality or grace? why are there prophets and models and presidents, unseen angels who remind us how to care for each other in times of pain and despair? when I am sad and people pray for me, does it help? is it just insurance in case all my best efforts fail? are we talking about organized religion or are we talking about spiritual faith?) Thanks for reminding me that you remember. Thanks for reminding me how much conceptual work it all takes. thanks for the love you send. M.

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