Religulous

Religulous, I believe, should be mandatory viewing for every Christian aged 13 and above (despite it’s 15 certificate). Within this comedy-documentary Bill Maher explores religion, as a doubter who is seeking to understand whilst remaining appropriately cynical.

This gives us the first lesson to be learnt from the film. A sizeable number of those we come into contact with who want explanations about our faith will be cynical doubters rather than enthusiastic seekers. We don’t just need to be “seeker” friendly, we need to be “doubter” friendly. To do this we will need to be more honest about our own doubts. We need to have the faith to let go of pretending to have certainty about things we are not certain.

One point Maher makes in the film is nobody actually knows what will happen to them after death. So rather than saying, “I know I will go to heaven” if I were being more honest my response would be to say, “I actually have no idea of what will happen, but I hope I am right that there is some kind of afterlife where I will meet God.”

The second lesson to be learnt from the film is that we need to be honest about the bible. It showed how non-Christians may actually know it as well or better than us. In the film there are a couple of places where Christians are ridiculed or given credibility on the basis of their responses to questions / issues raised in relation to scripture. We need to give intelligent responses based on what we know, not just what we have been taught to believe.

There is a scene with a Catholic priest who admits that the gospel does not support the oppulence of the Vatican, who is particularly well presented.

In relation to gospel teaching on the subjects of poverty and nationalism the comedian shows a depth of understanding about Jesus teachings which most of the religious people he talks to don’t. In part this is because, as with all these types of documentaries, it wants to promote a particular view of the subject. Therefore, there are a lack of moderates and progressives being interviewed. With relation to Islam it is why there is also an irritating lack of recognition of the different schools of thought.

Mehers conclusion is that those who do not believe or subscribe to any religion should speak up. He also argues that moderates should disaffiliate from religion because this is the only way to save the earth from disaster. His logic here is two-fold. Firstly, he claims that the philosophies of religions are based upon end times ideas and facilitate an attitude where destruction of the earth becomes acceptable and indeed necessary. Secondly, he claims that it is the support of moderates for religion that allows fundermentalists to operate. He points out few of us would stay within political parties if they allowed factions within them to promote homophobia, sexism and violence. He says we would resign our memberships in disgust and this is why he argues that those of us who do not support these things should walk away from religion and religious involvement. This was the point in the film where I found myself fundamentally disagreeing with him, (strangely).

He was right I believe that some of the bible is myth and should be treated as such. Yet I do not believe that Jesus Christ was a mythical figure. I believe that he was the son of God who voluntarily chose to die a violent death as a subversive act of atonement. The power of this act of peace was such that he overcame death. I don’t know for definite this is the case, but I choose to believe it. Thus, for me the key to my faith is that subversive acts of peace are what overcome the violence and oppression in the world.

For me communion acts as a symbolic act but also has a supernatural element I don’t understand. Communion is or should be a subversive act of peace. It is where I come together with others very different to myself, with differing views, and say I have the power within me for power and oppression but I choose to follow Jesus, however hard it might be. Yet it is also the place where I constantly have to return to acknowledge my need for forgiveness and renewal recognising that I do mess up and cause violence and oppression, all be it unintentionally through unchecked words or convienient economic decisions.

To walk away from my religion and particularly to walk away from that table would be let the oppression and violence win. It would be to stop celebrating the most subversive act of peace the world has everseen, when the most powerful person ever chose to give up that power for humanity.

Meher was 100% right when recognised that Jesus taught against nationalism and against the misuse of wealth. This is the God I follow, not the one of power and oppression. The way I see it is that the only hope the world has and the only way the powerful oppressors will be overcome is through subversive acts of peace and hope. That is what I believe true religion (and not just in Christianity) promotes.

I don’t know if I’m right, I’m probably wrong about lots of it and for definite there is loads about my faith I don’t understand. I am happy to admit that. Knowledge is power and so if the misuse of power is to be overcome perhaps the key is to be more ready not to have knowledge and be less hungry for power.

As said, then, at the beginning I believe this is a film every Christian teenager and adult should watch if possible. Yes some of it will be offensive, (it was directed by the same person as Borat and Bruno) and no I don’t think we should agree with it all. However, it raises a string of important questions as Christians we need to consider. If we are to be effective in evangelism, (i.e. helping others connect with God rather than trying to fight them into agreeing with us), in an increasingly secular age we need to know how to respond to the issues raised in the film. So, with a readiness to explore the bible and discuss the issues with other Christians, I believe this would make an ideal resource if people are looking for something to base a series of housegroups around. A discussion around the issues in the film might also make an interesting alternative to Alpha.

About tractorgirl

Hi my name is Sally Rush: I'm a Christian, a mother, a community engagement officer, a listener, a dreamer, a partner, an experienced teacher, a friend, a daughter, a sister and so much more.

6 thoughts on “Religulous

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying. I think Bill Maher picked some interesting interviewees, particularly the priest outside the Vatican. Personally I’m not really ssure how to categorise my faith anymore, I don’t feel like I fit into neat boxes like ‘evangelical’ or ‘liberal’ but I think seeing Bill Maher’s film emphasised to me that how I act is just as important as what I say or give assent to. I’m glad that he encountered some Christians who seemed concerned about loving him rather than converting him.

  2. When I went to see it I don’t think either the mrs nor I came out with anything like your thoughts and reflections you did. Certainly I was more than a little disappointed with the film. Maher came across as someone with a bad case of ex-catholic angst and a determination to make his point at the cost of his own eloquence and an almost teenage-like level of melodrama which subsequently (in my eyes) cost him his argument.

    I like that you’ve taken from his film a willingness to promote the starting point of the doubter. For me as an out and proud doubter his argument moved from his self proclaimed agnosticism to militant atheism and began to annoy. You are far more erudite about his concerns of the doubting faithful and his argument seemed ill made and tangential to his overall theme of dissing religion regardless of the sanity.

    His examples of those people of faith seemed to underplay or restrict those with whom we might agree. At the same time he gave them the same credibility and authority as those he sought to ridicule – and of whom many within the faith communities are deeply ashamed of and even speak out about it.

    Whatever positives there were, were lost in poor argument, hyperbole and to much personal angst. I’m still pleased I saw it but I relish far more
    the honest interactions which promote and admit doubt and uncertainty of faith as well as positive affirmations of belief. If we come to own our own uncertainties we can wear them on our sleeves. If all of us take that on board I hope that we can have truly challenging documentaries which do justice to the subject (with humour) without resorting to cheap laughs and lazy journalism.

  3. Jo, interesting. As you say may be that it was as you started as a doubter that you got more annoyed when his argument moved from the agnoticism to Dawkinsesque atheism.
    I agree there were too many cheap laughs, but I think that it was less offensive and full of them than I expected. When I saw the dvd case I expected to be offended and expected it to be totally trite. To some extent that was there, but as I say I got something else from it. I think possibly because I am still only relatively recently removed from the evangelical world where certainty is proclaimed, even if it is doubt masquarading as certainty. What I think came through for me was that whilst, particularly in the UK, even evangelicals would seek to speak out against the fundamentalism that quite a bit of it expressed the thinking in that world, which people become unwilling or perhaps unable to question.
    A more balanced and intellectually sound documentary would be good and more useful. However, I think this has the benefit of being totally secular and showing the way that in the minds of some people beyond any church interaction the media portrayals of the more “nutty” end of US evangelicalism are what get seen as being God and religion. Sometimes, I think, that we need to be reminded beyond the world of intellectual debate this is the Christianity people see and the “world” we have to engage with, particularly in Western Europe and to a lesser extent North America.

  4. I’m not entirely sure how relevant it is but in a similar vein to Religulous, I recently heard about a book called UnChristian (over on the Slacktivist blog if you read that). It’s a book written by christians about believers and nonbelievers perceptions of faith in America. Might be worth a read http://www.unchristian.com/

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