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Religulous
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Religulous – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Interviewing a succession of Christians, Muslims and Jewish people, American comedian and politically incorrect TV presenter Bill Maher explores religion.
Visiting the Holy Land – and the Holy Land Experience in Florida – among other places, he picks apart the stories on which the main monotheistic religions are based and challenges the faithful to convince him of their beliefs.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

This falls into the same kind of category of documentary as the films made by Michael Moore – more polemic than balanced journalism.
But unlike Moore, Maher – and his director Larry Charles (one of the brains behind Curb Your Enthusiasm) – do give their ideological opponents a right to reply.
That said, the exponents of religion they speak to are largely at the more extremist end of the spectrum, because in their many years of experience in comedy, they’ve clearly learnt that this provides considerably more fertile material; a Senator who believes in Adam and Eve is clearly going to be easier to mock than the local baker who happens to enjoy a carol service at Christmas. But challenging the moderates on the views of the extremists might have provided a more useful exploration of faith, from a journalistic point of view.
There are some things that can’t be disputed – Charles and Maher have picked some very easy targets and they’re preaching to the converted.
There’s as much chance that a believer watching this would experience a Damacsene conversion, running out of the cinema screaming “he’s right – of course there’s no god!” as there is of a rich man getting to heaven through the eye of a needle, or however that teaching went…
The only people of faith who come out of this at all well are two Vatican priests who appear, without explanation, to contradict all their own teachings.
There are some tremendously comic moments – the kind of things that you’d think “if this happened in a movie, you wouldn’t believe it” – some Annie-Hall-style subtitles employed as an Islamic cleric gets a text message during an interview is among the funniest movie moments of the year.
But for Maher, the comedy is a weapon he uses to ram home the serious message that in his words “faith makes a virtue of not thinking.”
The humour, at times, undermines his arguments – and like Richard Dawkins, he often appears to be as fundamentalist in his own views as the people he confronts about theirs.
As he meets a variety of believers on his quest for the truth, he pretends to be agnostic – presumably as it’s safer than boasting about his atheism to a bunch of fundamentalists of any faith.
This presents us with the perhaps disingenuous idea that he’s an open-minded blank canvas, while in truth, it’s clear from the start what his final message will be to the faithful, whom he observes killing each other all over the world: “Grow up – or die.”

Opens nationwide 3rd April 2009

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