To observe the Sabbath and because I’ve been stressing hard through “Best Of” week, I decided to take Hunter to the R-rated movie Religulous. And to add to the surreality, I invited my ex, Hunter’s mom, to join us. Seemed to me to be a good place for a shared cultural experience—kind of like Shrek but with more swearing, intelligence and nudity.
The movie, in case you haven’t heard, is Bill Maher’s send-up of the more hard-to-swallow areas of the big three Western religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
I guess, since it contains gross irreverence toward religion, the movie is by definition sacrilegious. It’s also about as close as I could come to an atheist service, although there are a few groups around town that meet to talk about their lack of faith in anything but science.
I’m not quite sure where to take this. There was nothing in the movie that I hadn’t heard before—OK, some of the Scientology stuff was new to me and went somewhat outside my experience with Scientologists. And I’d never seen the Mormon undies. But as far as the Christian stuff goes, I’d heard the bits about the talking serpent in the Garden of Eden, the virgin birth, and the various miracles attributed to Christ. I’ve many times heard that there is no historical proof of Jesus Christ’s birth and that the New Testament was written decades after Christ’s death by people who’d never met him.
Honestly, if this were a movie review, instead of a rumination on spirituality through the lens of a movie, it would go something like this: Religulous was funny as hell but predictable throughout.
I guess I was a bit more disappointed at the things that didn’t appear in the movie—Christianity’s emphasis on ritual cannibalism, for example. Also, Hinduism and Buddhism were both virtually ignored in the movie. C’mon—cows? The only way to get to heaven is to continually repeat the name of a prophet? The movie would have been far more informative if Maher had included some religions with which the majority of Americans are less familiar. Or not. I guess I may be looking for holes out of skepticism. It seems, as I learned from David Lynch many years ago, if you look closely enough at anything, it’s kind of ugly.
The bottom line is it’s easy to be skeptical of the existence of God. Easy. Any 7-year-old child is smart enough to say, “Let me get this straight. He died and then came back to life three days later?” or “I’m drinking his blood?” Actually, at the Catholic school I attended, it would have been better just to think it.
It’s harder to be skeptical about the existence of church or synagogue or mosque or temple. It’s harder to be skeptical about the existence of faith. Anyone can look around and see that religion is a thing. Spirituality is a thing.
I think it would be hard to argue that spirituality and faith are not natural aspects of humanity. I have faith that gravity isn’t going to switch off. That doesn’t mean I have more than the vaguest idea of how gravity is supposed to work. I can look around the world and find things that seem preposterous—justice, goodwill, hatred—that absolutely rule our lives.
I’ll be honest here: I really enjoyed the movie. I laughed my butt off. I do wish Maher hadn’t painted with such a broad brush. I think he was really talking to fundamentalists about fundamentalism. He was looking at small pieces of “God” and “religion” and saying those pieces stood for all. He was looking at the very worst aspects of religion and its impacts on people, and saying the world would be a better place if people just used their heads and treated each other better. Ironically, this is the exact message of all religions: Use your heads and treat each other better.