Okay, so Bill Maher is kind of a self-absorbed prick. The first 15 minutes of this film are devoted to HIM HIM HIM, which is ironic, considering it’s a movie about the absurdity of (monotheistic) religion. But my dad pointed out that, while Maher is nevertheless arrogant, the background/biography/whatever you want to call it is sort of necessary to show why he’s making the movie in the first place. Plus it’s his movie. Okay, fine.
My personal growing distaste for Maher aside, this movie was great. I’m just pissed it hasn’t started the movement it was obviously intended to start. He talks to many spokespeople (prophets?) of many major religions and gives them the floor to make complete idiots of themselves, and yet for some reason we’re STILL NOT TALKING ABOUT THIS MOVIE. I don’t know. Maybe Bill Maher isn’t the Anti-Messiah we’re looking for. Actually, he’s definitely not it. He’s too self-righteous, too disrespectful and too deeply bitter ever to have a fair, rational argument with someone different from himself. But his motivation for this project is unparalleled, and deserves a respect of its own.
It really is frightening to reduce religion to what it really is on screen. It’s fairy tales, it’s advertising a non-existent product, it’s a disorder, it’s the cause of war, it’s the prevention of the true human experience. That’s my opinion, anyway, and I will say that I’m generally on Maher’s bandwagon. He placed religion in the most absurd light possible, and the greatest irony is, I don’t even think he was unfair in his editing. Documentary filmmakers have the luxury of editing quotes to manufacture a certain truth to fit their own agenda. Michael Moore took that luxury and ran with it all the way to…well, he didn’t run. He waddled. Initially I loved the guy, but he turned into the same breed of self-absorbed, agenda-pushing prick and now I can see why people hate him so much. Anyway, granted, Maher probably did a severe amount of editing for this film. He had to: He filmed a lot of shit. But I don’t think the cuts, the maintenance of the awkward silences, were doing anyone a disservice. Maher kept the camera on people long enough for THEM to realize what THEY had just said, and we were able to see that moment of truth on screen. He also wasn’t trying to claim ignorance; he wanted to see where the discrepancy for religion lay in otherwise rational people.
I’m sad that his movie took a weirdly quasi-Nostradamus turn at the end. It’s probably because he was making fun of ALL religious promotional material (If you don’t believe me, go to a Scientology center and ask to watch a movie. It’s great. They’re not even Christian and they claim to save you.) but it was a little over-the-top. It’s probably also why this movie didn’t become more popular: He took the sarcasm way too far at the end and brought it right back around to crazy, which was a huge turnoff for most audiences. Alas, Maher. You’ll have to try again, and next time, make sure the promotional material doesn’t picture a piece of bread with your face watermarked on it.
This movie really got me to think about something, though. In one scene, Maher is talking to a conservative Christian senator about the Ten Commandments, and Maher argues that despite “Do Not Kill” and “Do Not Steal” being rules mandated by religion, humans would have figured out that these two acts are wrong and would have instated them as law WITHOUT religion. He claimed that humans are intrinsically moral. But I really don’t think we are. In fact, I would argue that the idea of morality comes directly from religion, or to be more specific, the teachings of Christ. Think about it. We know that earlier, more primitive peoples killed other more primitive peoples. Maybe it was for food; maybe it was for vengeance. Either way, they did it, and until God started getting up with people, the killing of people and the stealing from people kept happening with reckless disregard for “morality,” whatever that is. Hell, many Native American cultures borrow from each other all the time, and to outsiders, it looks like they are stealing when in reality it’s common practice to take what’s out in the open and return it when you’re done. And even today, we kill animals ALL THE TIME and steal from nature ALL THE TIME without thinking twice about it. The only real reason we don’t kill each other or steal from each other is because there’s a law against it and we’ve been trained as a society to harbor arbitrary moral standards. That being said, I don’t think morals are wrong. I just think that you can’t have morals without being religious in some capacity. I don’t consider myself an affiliate of a particular religion, but I do have morals; maybe I’m a Deist. Who knows. I’m stepping off the soapbox now.