Here's a miracle: Bill Maher's anti-religion movie, Religulous, got us out of our Netflix habit and into a real movie theatre.
Ensconced in Salem Cinema's alternative artsy atmosphere, munching on parmesan cheese-drenched popcorn and sipping a vanilla Italian soda, my wife and I relished Maher's skewering of the ridiculous side of religiosity.
I enjoyed Maher's preaching the power and glory of the gospel "I don't know."
For me, the most enjoyable scenes (and there were quite a few like this) captured the deer-in-a-headlights expression of a true believer being asked to explain the basis of his beliefs.
Mostly, stark silence ensued. Sometimes, confused stuttering. The faithful weren't accustomed to being challenged in such a blunt fashion.
Not surprisingly, a Christianity Today review wasn't positive.
Honestly, it's not the hardest thing in the world to make a religion look silly when you only focus on the kitschiest, most grimace-inducing practitioners of it. Sure, we have to own up to these unfortunate (but fortunately fringe) elements within our ranks, but Maher shores up little credibility for his cause by refusing to talk with any opponent with an ounce of nuance of theological rigor.
...Religulous is best seen as a comedy (and there are many funny moments) and not as a serious or measured examination of anything. It's a movie meant to make religious people look stupid, to "prove" that religious belief and intelligence are mutually exclusive. If you are already prone to believe that, then this movie is for you. For everyone else, Religulous is a trifling and shoddy tirade that, ultimately, is not much of a threat.
Well, I guess this is why Religulous was so appealing to me.
Because I do consider that religious belief and intelligence are mutually exclusive, where "intelligence" means more than I.Q. -- a wise, mature, and compassionate understanding of what life is all about is what I see being undermined by religiosity.
When I discussed the movie with a friend who is more favorably inclined toward religion than I am, he said that Maher wasn't being fair when he zeroed in exclusively on the ridiculous aspects of blind belief.
OK. I'll readily admit that churches and other religious organizations do a lot of good in the world. They feed the hungry, heal the sick, counsel the distressed, shelter the homeless.
But so do secular groups, like Rotary, which I belonged to for several years. And with them you don't get the downside of religions: the preachiness, the holier than thou attitudes, the distrust of other ways of believing.
"You should have shown the other side of religion," Bill Maher's critics say. However, that other side -- the rational, worldly, altruistic aspect -- isn't an authentic part of religion.
It's simply normal human behavior grafted on to an absurd way of understanding man's place in the cosmos. When you take everything unbelievable out of a religion you aren't left with it's core: you're left with no religion.
This is the power of Maher's movie.
By pounding away on people's evidence-free beliefs he shows us how ridiculous it is to be religulous.