Posted by · 8:07 am · July 15th, 2008

You know, I enjoy Bill Maher’s work very much. More often than not, despite adamant opinions, he has the ability to come down in an even-handed manner on more than a few issues, hot button and otherwise. But one thing that has always driven me mad has been his absolute ignorance and over-dependence on hyperbole when addressing issues of religion.

I respect feelings of atheism. I’ve been there. I’m no religious fruitcake that gets pissy when someone denounces religion, either. Indeed, agnosticism has never been unattractive to me. But I have my spirituality and I respect and admire what is actually inherent and shared in religions across the world (something I think plenty would benefit from simply noticing, rather than quarreling over differences).

Maher has never been capable of this. Ever. And when he really digs into religion, he generally does it in the safety of a left-leaning panel on “Real Time” who wouldn’t exactly see fit to disagree with him (though there have been precious few exceptions).

With that in mind, does anyone expect Maher and Larry Charles’s “Religulous” to be anything more than a surface level dissection of beliefs with clever editing to make people look like morons? Kind of like, oh, portions of the Larry Charles-directed “Borat?” My anticipation for this film has frankly been victimized by a sense of dread for some time because of all of this.

Here’s the trailer:


→ 29 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

29 responses so far

  • 1 7-15-2008 at 9:02 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I’m an atheist full 100%. I just don’t like religion. I believe it’s a backwards way of thinking, no matter which one it is. I love the trailer personally, simply because I love it when people that take themselves too seriously get a little laughed at.

  • 2 7-15-2008 at 10:46 am

    Ryan Adams said...

    Welcome back, Kris!

    We’ve seen Bill Maher slam religion in many venues but, true, he only has free reign to really cut loose on HBO.

    That said, as much as love a good moron-skewering, I kinda wish nobody would release any more inflammatory sociopolitical ‘culture wars’ films until after we have Obama safely elected. (Oliver Stone, I’m lookin’ at you.) McCain has the religious right yawning and dozing off. Don’t wake them up.

    (Likewise, all you gay couples. You’ve waited this long. Hang tight and save the wedding photos for the end of November — when we can all celebrate without fear of backlash.)

  • 3 7-15-2008 at 10:49 am

    Belik said...

    Ultimately you choose to be an atheist (or religious for the matter) exactly the way you choose to like Bolognese sauce – even if the consequences of the former are much more drastic.

    Claiming that a choice like this is backwards is about the dumbest thing I ever heard. I suppose Charles Babbage “father of computing” was backwards? or Rene Descrates “father of modern philosophy” was backwards? or Isaac Newton? All exteremely Christian…

    This Maher guy is annoying. And his arguments are about as sophisticated as those of homophobes.

  • 4 7-15-2008 at 11:21 am

    Kyle said...

    Maher’s entitled to his opinions and entitled to make his own movie, but I’d have to say, judging by just the trailer, the film seems a trifle unfair to religious folk.

    I’d expect more coming from a guy who has criticized our president for not being open enough to those with differing viewpoints. If the trailer is a taste of what to expect from the film (and obviously the final judgement comes not from the trailer, but the film) then its seems Maher isn’t interested in dialogue, discussion, or even fairness. Caricaturing straw men does not a valid argument make. My guess is that most will give it a pass because it makes them laugh. I bet if Pat Robertson made a funny movie from the opposite side with as much arrogance and mockery for athiesm, that it wouldn’t get a pass for laughs

  • 5 7-15-2008 at 11:33 am

    Ryan Adams said...

    …uh-oh. What was I saying about letting sleeping dogma lie?

    And as if on cue, Belik enters stage right. Yeah, Descartes and Newton — we should all aspire to the 16th Century mindset.

  • 6 7-15-2008 at 11:35 am

    Ryan Adams said...

    “…if Pat Robertson made a funny movie…”

    rather big “IF” there, Kyle ;-)

  • 7 7-15-2008 at 11:43 am

    Proman said...

    I’m with you on this. While I support the subject matter and think it’s important to have movies like this one something about the execution of this is almost embarrassing.

    It’s almost like Maher is spinning his wheels and is hoping his movie will work on the strength of the subhject matter alone. Somehow I don’t think this movie will be taken very seriously.

    Which is a shame realy because we urgently need more effective movies on this subject.

  • 8 7-15-2008 at 11:55 am

    Kyle said...

    Clearly Robertson is no comedian, but the analogy stands. No wish to engage it?

  • 9 7-15-2008 at 12:00 pm

    Kyle said...

    Clearly Robertson is no comedian and moviemaker, but the point behind the analogy stands.

  • 10 7-15-2008 at 12:07 pm

    Kyle said...

    My apologies for the double post

  • 11 7-15-2008 at 12:29 pm

    Ryan Adams said...

    I don’t mind engagement, Kyle, and I hate that I’m busy this afternoon and can’t really hang around to play. I wasn’t denying that your analogy is valid. Not at all.

    But just like the recent hoopla over The New Yorker Obama cover, “Is it funny?” has to be part of the measurement of success for satire. The Right just doesn’t have much knack for humor — notwithstanding McCain’s razor-sharp stand-up skillz. Does anybody remember Fox’s lame attempt to counter-program The Daily Show? So until I see some rightwing humor that makes me laugh, it’s tough to examine the hypothetical existence of such a fantastical unicorn.

    In fact, leaning right seems to drain the humor right out of a person. We’ve all seen Ann Coulter try to be cute and witty. Dennis Miller is probably the best example of how conservatism makes anti-evolution a self-fulfilling prophecy. Miller used to be great, until his sense of humor got sold as part of a package deal with his soul. He veered right, and he devovled onto the off-ramp of poisonous stridency.

    I know some will say, Yeah, he’s not funny to you because he says things you don’t want to hear. That’s certainly part of it, no doubt. But Bill Maher is not making this movie for Baptists or the be shown in church basements during vacation bible school. He’s not going to change many (or any) minds, because those people won’t even see his movie. (They’ll just see it have its head sound-bitten off on Fox). But we all like to have our viewpoints reaffirmed, and Maher is a hero of mine.

    I just wish he’d shelve this movie till after the election, because I don’t want to be hearing the endless crossfire on cable news in October — exactly the wrong time to be distracted by some frivolous outrage, when the country has way more important things to be worried about.

    As far as my 16th Century remark, I hope that wasn’t too “facile” Kris. ;-) You know how I am. I don’t mean to give the 16th Century a bad rap. That’s when The Crusades ended, after all, and it’s Galileo’s century. (oops, bad examples?)

  • 12 7-15-2008 at 12:29 pm

    Fei said...

    What is ridiculous is the deference that religion gets in society and, indeed, that religionists demand. You may deny that most people are unwilling to criticize religions, since just about every sane person speaks out against the evils of fundamentalism. But the problem is that most people are fine with criticizing aspects of certain religions, yet they become defensive when the very concept and practice of religion is criticized. Somehow, just because we’re talking about religion means that dismissing it, like we do with other irrational beliefs, is inappropriate, insensitive, or disrespectful.

    Look, just because we’re dealing with people’s deeply held beliefs and traditions does not mean that we should give them a pass. A good illustration of my point is the Santa Claus dilemma that faces many parents. Innocent children deeply believe in the fairy tale and live their lives according to that belief, yet parents eventually reveal the truth of the deception, out of love. If believing in Santa Claus is universally considered something to outgrow and discard, then why not religion? Religious beliefs are just as irrational as belief in Santa Claus. Worse, religious beliefs actually cause far more harm than believing in Santa Claus. Religious dogma has inspired so much hate, oppression, stupidity, irrational guilt, and wasting of time, effort, and resources that it has to be considered a disease upon the human race.

    The problem with liberal religion supporters, i.e. undogmatic people who see value in all major religions, is that the alleged benefits of religions can all be found outside of religion. Morality, community, charity, spiritual fulfillment, and “truth” aren’t exclusive to religious endeavors. Such things are what we expect from all decent, happy people, and we can easily observe all of the nonreligious ways that people achieve them. So while religion may offer them in a neat package, the fact that religious beliefs have inspired so much pain and suffering in the world taints the whole enterprise. If an irrational belief motivates misogyny and homophobia, then why not simply remove the irrational belief?

    And, guess what? Belief in Santa Claus motivates children to be on their best behavior. The promise of reward is a lot like the promises that religions make to their followers, except that Santa Claus doesn’t deal eternal punishment for being naughty. So why should we tell children that Santa isn’t real but go on letting people believe in religions?

    I strongly support the notion that individuals should be allowed to believe whatever they want to believe, as long as it’s kept private and does not cause harm to others. Thus, I don’t particularly have a problem with an adult who personally still believes in Santa Claus. But religion is almost by definition not private, and it does cause harm to others. Even if someone never discusses, reveals, or impresses his/her religious beliefs to the public, but he/she votes for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage for religious reasons, then those beliefs are objectionable.

    As for Maher, I think that he gets to the point of problem. It truly does not matter whether a religionist is a sophisticated intellectual or a nutjob; whenever the deeply-held, irrational beliefs of religion are attacked, the believer spouts off a deluge of ridiculous statements—like Belik up there, whose arguments are no less unsound and invalid as those of any other believer.

  • 13 7-15-2008 at 12:52 pm

    Kyle said...


    All systems of belief have seen abuse and violence, even humanism. Are all systems of belief tainted? Its a much more complicated issue than you acknowledge.

    Maher gets to the point of the matter? Did you get that from the trailer or have you seen the movie?

  • 14 7-15-2008 at 1:30 pm

    Ryan Adams said...

    “…except that Santa Claus doesn’t deal eternal punishment for being naughty…”

    oh really? Seems like a friggin eternity I’ve been waiting for that pony I asked for.

    Seriously, it’s such an tired dichotomy I hate to even dredge it up, but personal faith is great until religion comes along to institutionalize it. Faith is to Religion as Love is to Prostitution. Bring money, power and abuse into the equation and the loftiest human inclinations get fucked.

  • 15 7-15-2008 at 2:12 pm

    Markku said...

    After having to endure smarmy, dishonest crap like Expelled, I feel we atheists are entitled to let off some steam. Go, Bill! Go!

  • 16 7-15-2008 at 2:20 pm

    Brian Kinsley said...

    Snooze. I’ll pass on this.

  • 17 7-15-2008 at 2:56 pm

    Kyle Leaman said...


    So the presence of a documentary about evolution gives a pass to Maher?

  • 18 7-15-2008 at 2:58 pm

    Kyle Leaman said...


    So personal faith is ok, as long as they don’t meet up in groups? Do you mean to say that personal beliefs when seperated from religiosity won’t lead to abuse?

  • 19 7-15-2008 at 3:33 pm

    Ryan Adams said...

    Groups of fewer than 10 are safe, Kyle — necessarily so when four of them are sister-wives, and another half dozen underage brides are required to pitch in and help bake cookies and stuff.

    Way oversimplify and ridicule a sincere belief, by the way. You’d make an excellent atheist with that attitude!

    Seriously, if you don’t see the difference between community churches or temples, and vast global money collection systems like The Vatican, The Southern Baptist Convention, Hizbollah, the 700 Club, the Taliban, and, yeah, Scientology, then please continue to donate your cash to the organized agents of intolerance of your choice. The Pope needs another 20 pair of Prada booties to kick some gay ass.

  • 20 7-15-2008 at 4:22 pm

    Markku said...


    So the presence of a documentary about evolution gives a pass to Maher?”

    Except Expelled hardly counts as a documentary, and it sure as hell isn’t about evolution.

    I’m not the biggest fan of Maher’s, (his anti-medicine ideas are indeed ridiculous) but at the moment I’m glad the gloves are off.

  • 21 7-15-2008 at 8:39 pm

    Kyle Leaman said...


    I asked the question as a way of getting a little clarification on your comments earlier. I think that we are on the same page when it comes to the abuse of power (and every avenue that it leads down), but I don’t neccessarily see the causal connection you seem to be drawing between institutionalized groups (which really amount to large groups of like-minded people organizing) and evils like abuse and intolerance.

    Civilization has brought some great evils into the world but we should by no means jettison cities because it can cause greater evils than people acting alone. Unions are organized and their money and power have been abused in the past, should all unions be debanded or derided?

    I agree with you though, abuse of power should be called out wherever it happens

  • 22 7-15-2008 at 9:24 pm

    Belik said...

    Marxism is an atheist dogma that has killed or enslaved far more men and women than all other religions taken together, BTW.

  • 23 7-15-2008 at 9:44 pm

    Ryan Adams said...

    ha, Belik, any actual figures to support that claim?

    Tell you what. They day the number of ring-wing Christians who support Republicans dwindle to fewer than the number of atheists who support Marxism, then we’ll turn our instantly turn our attention to the Marxist atheists, ok? Until then, I’m focused on an issue closer to present-day reality.

    Meanwhile, all you Marxist atheists out there should be ashamed of yourselves.

  • 24 7-15-2008 at 10:28 pm

    Ryan Adams said...

    Thanks for the follow-up, Kyle. I was pretty busy all day, so I almost regret diving into the fray when I didn’t have time to properly think through every sentence I wrote. Dashing off comebacks in the middle of work is no way to participate in a debate.

    I sensed that we were on (or near) the same page too. That’s why I was a little taken aback when I thought you were deliberately trying to simplify my stance to the point of ridicule (so I shot back in the same spirit.)

    You’r right: There’s no way to avoid an organizational structure to help facilitate useful operations of any group that consists of millions of people, and I’m ok with that.

    But here’s an example of the kind of thing that riles me up: For the past decade, the Southern Baptist Convention decided that two of their most obsessive concerns (abortion and gay marriage) would be better served by having Republicans in power. (How’s that ban on abortion and constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage going, by the way?)

    So the SBC sent out memos to pastors in rural communities around the country. These are good people (by and large), these small town Baptists. They’re generous and caring. They want to live right (they also want to make sure everybody else lives their idea of “right,” but that’s another story).

    So the SBC sent out memos and talking points to pastors and preachers. Instructed them on suggested sermon topics, and gave them specific advice about how to avoid losing the church tax exempt status by never mentioning candidates by name. it was all very slick, and manipulative, and borderline criminal.

    These Baptist preachers are loved and trusted in their communities by small town people who don’t spend hours reading Salon.com or Slate, (or Drudge or The National Review either.) Nope, all they know is what they hear from Rush Limbaugh and their preacher every Sunday. The guy who they depend on every Sunday to help them figure out What Would Jesus Do.

    So they want to do the right thing and please God, and they listen to their preachers and they vote Republican. Not because they want a war. Just because seeing two guys kiss makes them a little queasy. (and that’s fine. Depending on the guys, it can make me queasy too — and I’m gay.)

    So that was the game. That was the thing that tipped the election twice to Bush. And that was how this enormously powerful organized religion machine chose to use their clout.

    Meanwhile, gays are still getting married, and women still have the right to choose whether they want a baby or not… and 600,000 Iraqi civilians are dead. Is God happy, I wonder? (some estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths as a result of the war are as high as 1.2 million.)


    Trillions of dollars that could have been used to do good and charitable work that Jesus would be proud of — those dollars are instead lining the pockets of Blackwater and Halliburton execs, and Abu Dhabi owns the Chrysler Building.

    So yeah, that kind of “religion” I’m not too pleased with.

    But overall, I don’t care what people believe. I really don’t. Just please don’t let your believes destroy our country, one shady election at a time.

    Also, full dsclosure: This is the first day I’ve ever come around to comment on Kris’s great site, and I don’t know any of you well enough to have an opinion, good or bad. You’re maybe already forming an opinion of me though. ;-)

    I owed Kris one. He came to Awards Daily and took a lot of flak for something to got out of hand when I wasn’t around to moderate. I felt like it would be only fair to come over here with a fabricated chip on my shoulder and see if I could get somebody to beat up on me.

    It hasn’t been a party, but it wasn’t too bad. ;-) I hope to be back and participate in a less inflammatory topic, someday.

  • 25 7-15-2008 at 10:35 pm

    Liz said...

    Such a long debate! Without getting too involved, I’d just like to say that Bill Maher could do an infinitely better job of denouncing religion than he seems to be doing here. His point is not to insult, but to pick out the follies of superstition and groupthink; unfortunately, much like Ben Stein in Expelled, he’s just preaching to the choir.

  • 26 7-15-2008 at 11:17 pm

    Yih said...

    Those were my thoughts precisely when I saw the trailer a few days ago. I love Bill Maher, and I love movies that criticize my religion because they at least promote intelligent dialogue. But this film looks like it’s a channel of disrespect for ignorant-minded comedian pundits who scream for more tolerance. ironic.

  • 27 7-16-2008 at 2:04 am

    Markku said...

    “Marxism is an atheist dogma that has killed or enslaved far more men and women than all other religions taken together, BTW.”

    Nope, I believe you’re referring to communism which, while a dogma, is actually a political one. You can be a Marxist and still be a believer, as it’s a philosophical and historical point of view and by no means a monolithic one. Communism, I give you.

    And, although not for lack of trying, the reds still come in second to religions which have a head start of a couple of thousand years.