(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Humorist Bill Maher's look at the irrationality that is the basis of most religions may not have a lot that people will find new and surprising, but at least Mr. Maher's arguments against religious irrationality seem to be on the side of the angels. I did not find the film laugh-out-loud funny, but there is undeniable wit behind it all. This is a film that is funny and disquieting. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

I remember seeing the film CONTACT. Jodie Foster was playing Dr. Eleanor Arroway. In the plot she admits that she is an atheist. Voices in the audience actually booed her. Had she said she was a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, a Muslim, a Mormon, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or a Scientologist, I don't think the audience would have been bothered at all. But the truth is that there really is a lot of hatred in the United States for people who have openly rejected a religious view of the universe. People would prefer someone with almost any religious view to someone with none. Someone who looks at the world rationally is a sort of a threat to people who believe that they actually drink the blood of a man dead two millennia, or that there is a deep cosmic significance to the color of hairs in a calf's tail or that the words of God were found on gold plates buried in the ground. I mean who really cares if someone who believes in drinking urine finds what you believe is silly? But if it is someone who seems to be rational comes to different conclusions, to many people that constitutes a threat.

In RELIGULOUS, Bill Maher sets out to document the diversity and some of what certainly seems insanity in many Western religions. His approach is a little scattershot, but never dull. I have to say that in spite of superficial similarities to Michael Moore documentaries, I have much more respect for Maher's approach. He does not rely on Moore's attention-getting stunts, but just uses cool and logical argument. I would say that for me certainly he has a good deal more credibility. On the other hand finding irrationality and folly in other people's religious belief is not the most difficult or ambitious of goals. But so many films present a religious point of view, from Pat O'Brien playing the wonderful all-knowing priest to James Cagney, to Ben-Hur finding peace in a world of sin. A good film with the opposing point of view has been long overdue. Maher travels to the Vatican, Jerusalem, Amsterdam, and across the United States to places like a shack turned into a church for truckers. He interviews religious zealots and counters their arguments and more importantly asks good questions. (One not quite fair tactic is to counter arguments being made in titles at the bottom of the screen rather than directly to the interviewee's face.)

Maher's thesis is that there is a neurological basis for religious belief and that it is an extremely dangerous misfortune to people that they developed the means to destroy themselves before curing themselves of these neurological delusions. Larry Charles who directed the tremendously self-indulgent BORAT, here is far more restrained. The humor that comes from serious thought lasts longer than humor from embarrassing people with nude wrestling matches.

Voltaire said, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." Bill Maher is saying much the same thing. RELIGULOUS is a thoughtful and intelligent pleasure. I rate RELIGULOUS a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper