American comedian and commentator Bill Maher travels around the world, talking to some of religion's more bizarre followers from Holocaust-denying rabbis to a particularly wacky Creationist church in an effort to examine the state of religion in moder
Amid continuing global terrorism and the re-engagement of the religious right in this year’s US Presidential race after Sarah Palin’s appointment, there could hardly be a more relevant time to look at the place of religion in our world. This quasi-documentary comes just in time, the film equivalent of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion — only funny.
Bill Maher, one of America’s smartest and funniest satirists, travels around the West and Middle East meeting religious types and talking to them about their beliefs. Director Larry Charles intercuts the resulting interviews with film clips, either underscoring or puncturing their arguments, and inserts amusing subtitles contradicting factual inaccuracies or imagining internal monologues. It’s one of the most cleverly edited and consistently hilarious films of the year.
But it does have problems. Maher is an extremely intelligent man, who’s done his research before heading out on the road — but his debate opponents are, for the most part, not too bright. This in itself may be a warning (how can these people be entrusted with our beliefs?), but it makes for a discussion that feels distinctly one-sided. Even if you agree entirely with Maher’s thesis, it would be nice to see him arguing it with a really well-educated Jesuit or other theologian.
What’s more, Maher focuses his argument on just a few aspects of the dispute between believers and non-believers. There’s lengthy discussion of the way that religion treats homosexuality, but little more than passing mention of the way it treats women. There’s no consideration at all of Buddhism, Sikhism or Hinduism, making this a predominantly Western and near-Eastern affair. And his own profession to be a doubter is undermined by a hardline Dawkinian concluding speech that is jarring after his more moderate approach throughout.
This sounds like a pan, but in fact these are nits to be picked rather than gaping flaws. Maher falls short of the film he could and perhaps should have made, but this is, in large part, as stirring a call to action for atheism as An Inconvenient Truth was to environmentalism. And also, really funny.
Its a rare film that can simultaneously crack you up and send a chill down your spine. Worth seeing even for believers.