As I left the film Religulous on Friday night, my chest and throat aching from laughing so much, I asked my friend if he knew what the reviewers thought of it.
He told me that they criticized Bill Maher for interviewing the most vulnerable of religious people instead of high level philosophers who may have been actually able to answer his questions.
Bill Maher probably couldn't interview them because he is not their equals, nor thinks of religion on that high of a level. It is much easier to interview people who are less educated and less intelligent than you.
On the other hand, the people he interviewed spend much (if not all) of their time engaged in their faith. He did prove the point (that probably didn't need to be proved) that most religious people have no basis for faith except, well, faith. Maher equated faith to fairy tales.
As a Jewish professional, educator, member of a Conservative synagogue and someone who grew up a five minute drive from the University of Notre Dame, I've spent my entire life discussing faith.
However, I am not a theologian or a Rabbi.
Therefore, unlike the Joes, Yosephs, and Assaphs in the film who Bill Maher interviewed, or the theologians that Bill Maher did not interview, I am going to claim to be Bill Maher's equal in terms of intelligence and thought given to religious dogma. He may or may not agree. I don't know.
So what did I think of Religulous? First of all, it was funny. It just was. Religion is funny and Bill Maher is funny. I LMAO.
Until the end. Until he was talking to me.
He told us Joe Moviegoers that if we are affiliated with religion in any way, we are contributing to the eventual destruction of the world. He said it is analogous to being a mafia wife: someone benefiting from thievery and murder without actually committing it herself.
(By the way, the theater was very quiet when he said this with visuals of impending nuclear and environmental doom in the background).
My problem with his theory is that he is saying that only bad can come from religious belief. He implies that religion is the cause of all that is bad in the world. What about Nazism or Stalinism? Those were not beliefs motivated by religion, yet they were the cause of tremendous human suffering and murder.
What he does not recognize is that there was, could and would be bad in the world without religion and that indeed much good does emerge from religious beliefs. However, perhaps the good is harder to measure and isn't as visually exciting as explosions, chants, and extravagant buildings.
Are the countless poor people helped by Catholic Charities and the Jewish United Fund a bad part of religion?
How about the Imam, Rabbi or Priest who visits a sick person in the hospital?
How about the chaplain in Iraq?
Or the schools funded by Jewish and Catholic organizations?
What about the meditation taught by Buddhists that relieves emotional anxiety?
Or what about Yoga? Is Yoga bad?
According to Maher then, wouldn't it be bad to claim American citizenship given the mess in Iraq? If I'm a proud American am I Mrs. Bush? If Senator McCain wins the election and all the people who supported Senator Obama do not move to Canada, are they now supporting Senator McCain.
I do not subscribe or adhere to much of Judaism. But that doesn't mean I see no value in it. If you return to the first sentence of this blog, I saw the film on Friday night. I do not "keep the Sabbath." But I see the value in doing so, I just choose not to.
If Bill Maher wanted to make a funny movie, he succeeded. However, if he really wanted to prove the ridiculousness of religion, he failed. He just demonstrated that you can take a video camera, seek out some religious people, and they are going to sound really funny and stupid.