Thursday, January 15, 2009

Movie Review: Religulous (2008)

Religulous Go to IMDb page

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The latest anti-religious documentary to hit cinema screens is Bill Maher's Religulous. The word "religulous" is a neologism (made-up word) that combines religion and ridiculous. That pretty much sums up what Bill Maher thinks of religion.

Religulous is ostensibly a documentary that surveys current religious beliefs and practices in the world today. Unfortunately, it's actually about how "smart" Bill Maher is at ridiculing and mocking religion using the worst possible cases of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish fundamentalism he can find. On the rare occasion it is slightly humorous and ironic (for example, the Muslim rapper who believes in freedom of speech and tolerance for himself but not for anyone who disagrees with Islamic beliefs). There are also the couple of absolutely delightful and intelligent Roman Catholic priests, one of whom is a scientist and the other a high official in Rome.

Bill Maher is a controversial comedian, actor, writer and producer who is most famous (apparently) for a US late night show called Politically Incorrect. You will note that theologian doesn't appear in this list of qualifications and Religulous proves that Maher knows nothing about religion than some sort of school yard version that is naive, primitive, and completely lacking in any nuance.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the obvious ignorance that Maher displays about religion is his clear lack of ability to listen. Sure, most of the people he "interviews" are complete nut cases or blind fanatics. In the entire 101 minutes, he only "interviews" two or three people that sound remotely intelligent or informed about their own beliefs. Even so, if you are going to interview someone, there should probably be more of the interviewee speaking than the interviewer. In Bill Maher's case, he clearly thinks he is smart and funny and condescendingly interrupts with mocking comments and questions that I think are supposed to impress the viewer.

By the end of Religulous, we come to realise that Bill Maher is as dogmatic and myopic as the people he has interviewed. The film ends with him ranting against religion with apocalyptic images flashing on the screen suggesting that the world will end because of religion.

In addition to the self-opinionated, self-congratulatory Maher, according to the Internet Movie Database, while the movie was being made it was called A Spiritual Journey so that interviews could be arranged with religious leaders without them knowing the type of "documentary" being made. Until Bill Maher arrived for the interviews, people did not know he was involved in the film. Clearly, Maher was setting his interviewees up so that he could control what happened and capitalise on their confusion to make them look stupid. So his whole approach is premised on deception from the beginning. That, along with a highly selected sample weighted toward the fanatic or self-deluded, results in a film that is not really of much value at all.

Please understand — I think religious fundamentalism is dangerous. But when Maher's Religulous is put alongside other productions like Andrew Denton's God On My Side, Religulous pales into complete insignificance. The alleged humour is not even funny. Even Richard Dawkins's Root of All Evil? which I heartily criticised is better than this! Even Michael Moore is better!!

Religulous is little more than a slightly amusing promotion of Bill Maher as he uses (often ill-informed, uneducated, dogmatic, fundamentalist) people to have us all look at him and think how clever he is. Don't watch it to learn anything. Actually, don't bother to even watch it for entertainment.


Note: Religulous has not yet been released in Australia as far as I know. However, the entire movie can be viewed online by clicking here.

Positive Review 'He's a bombs-away provocateur, and in Religulous, Maher's blasphemous detonation of all things holy and scriptural, he doesn't really pretend to play fair. He's like Lenny Bruce with an inquiring mind and a video camera.' - Owen Gleiberman/Entertainment Weekly

Negative Review 'One of the rules of satire is that you can't mock things you don't understand, and Religulous starts developing fault lines when it becomes clear that Maher's view of religious faith is based on a sophomoric reading of the Scriptures and that he doesn't understand that some thoughtful people actually do believe in some sort of spiritual life.' - Neely Tucker/Washington Post

Content Advice Some language and sexual material


More movies ...

Seven Pounds An IRS investigator travels around seeking to help people he thinks is good. Better than I expected. Worth thinking about the nature of grace after seeing this movie. 3half-stars

Igor A very boring, unfunny animated movie about an assistant to an evil scientist who wants to become a scientist and inventor himself. An obvious message about accepting others but very derivative and humourless. 2-stars

Funny Games (DVD) A slavish remake of the original Funny Games by the same director which is not quite as good as the original. See my review of the original here. 3half-stars


  1. Just watched this movie...AWESOME, I live in the bible belt and this is what I have thought all my life. Out of all Christians maybe only a hand full are not nut jobs. The Bible is a 3,000 year old story written by man, of course its not true. Kutos to Bill.

  2. Um… actually the bible is a collection of 66 books written by 40+ authors over a period of 1,600+ years. Compare Zechariah 9:9 and Luke 19:35-37 (these books are historically dated 100’s of years apart) Also look at 2 Timothy 3:16

  3. Ive had very large life dealings with people of a range of faith throughout my entire life, and if one thing truly unites them all, it is closed mindedness and intolerance. Bill Maher is, if nothing else, simply returning the card.

  4. If I could respond to the last comment left, Maher is exposing the closed mindlessness and intolerance that comes of religion. I think, as someone who was raised religious, his point of view is valid, and I think religious people who do not acknowledge that are just as bad as some of the ones featured in his documentary.

  5. "thinking christian"? isn't that an oxymoron?

  6. hahaha i agree. that is one of the best oxymorons ive ever heard!