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Film / Religulous

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"The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that's what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong."
Bill Maher

Religulous is a 2008 documentary film written by and starring Bill Maher and directed by Larry Charles.

The film centers on Bill, famously critical of all religions, as he goes through a journey across the U.S. and other parts of the world talking to people in order to potentially answer the question, "Why do people accept the fantastic stories and teachings that religions preach?"

See also Jesus Camp for a similar religious documentary produced around the same timeframe.

This film contains examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • Even the guys in the trucker church that Bill interviewed laughed when, after they had put their hands on his shoulders in a circle and prayed for him, he pretended his wallet was missing.
    • Also ex-gay Pastor Westcott, when Bill accidentally implied some sexual tension between them, both of them almost couldn't stop laughing.
  • A God Am I: Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, who claimed to be the reborn Jesus Christ, is interviewed in the film.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Despite Bill’s claims that there is no evidence, outside of The Bible, for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure, his existence is supported by the works of Josephus of Alexandria, Tacitus, and Suetonius, Jewish and Roman writers who were not at all supportive of Christianity.
    • Bill suggests that Moses invented circumcision out of whole cloth. In fact, circumcision is attributed to Abraham; moreover, it was a prevalent custom in the Middle East during the Bronze Age, not limited to the Jews.
  • Artistic License – Religion: Bill’s comparison of the Christian Gospels to the stories of Mithras and Horus. To quote this Cracked article:
    Let's start with the "virgin births" part: You've gotta make some pretty big logical jumps to claim that any of those earlier gods were born from virgins, having come from a mother seven times over (Krishna), some freaky necrophilia (Horus), and a fucking rock (Mithras).
    Then there's the resurrection thing. Contrary to Maher's claims, Mithras was never resurrected, and the older versions of the guy's story don't have any of the Jesus similarities — those came about in the first or second century A.D. (that is, after Jesus was born). Horus, like Mithras, was also never resurrected, didn't have 12 apostles, and didn't raise Asar from the dead (which doesn't translate to "Lazarus" even a little bit). There isn't even any record of a figure call Anup the Baptizer; the closest we come is Anubis, the god of embalming, which astute readers will note is a leeeeeetle different from baptism.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid:
    • The basic thesis, hence the title. Although Bill accepts the idea of people in desperate situations (such as prison) turning to God as being "the only thing that keeps them going."
    • Another theme of the documentary is that regular people who practice aren't as much of a concern (and are often unwitting victims) as someone with power or prestige who uses religion as their justification to siphon money from gullible people, persecute others, start wars, or potentially worse in the future. While Bill does pointedly address his concerns with said regular believers, he also is much gentler with them than the people that have power that he speaks to.
  • Book Ends: The film opens with Bill standing on Megido, Israel, noting that, according to Christian beliefs, this is the spot Jesus will return to and end the world; the closing scene has Bill in the same place making a reflection on the dangers of believing something that looks forward to the end of the world, and how irrationality could provoke our own Armageddon.
  • Church Militant: Bill isn't too fond of these types because he thinks they're Windmill Crusaders.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • During his interview with the head of the Creationist organization Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham:
      Ken: God is all knowing, all powerful, He works in mysterious ways.
      Bill: But isn't that a cop-out?
      Ken: He is God. Are you God?
      Bill: No.
    • An example:
      Bill: Jonah living inside of the whale... and their answer, unfailingly, is: "The Bible doesn't say whale, it says big fish." Oh yeah, big fish... now THAT makes sense! I'm sorry, I was obsessing on that was a whale! It's a big fish. Of course you can live for three days in a big fish. A tuna. A tuna. They do it all the time in Japan. They have tuna spas. You go for three days, they pamper you, oils... you come out of that tuna, feeling... fantastic.
    • This exchange:
      Bill: It worries me that people who are running my country believe in a talking snake.
      Senator: You don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the senate, though. *chuckles* (Bill frowns, the Senator gets quiet.)
  • Constantly Curious: Bill's (apparent) tactic when interviewing; see Refuge in Audacity.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: John Westcott from Exchange Ministries (an organization that tries to cure gays), is interviewed in the film.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When filming in the Dome of the Rock, Bill asks his guide if Islam discriminates against women. The guide denies this and then points out that women have their own corner in which they can pray.
  • Loophole Abuse: Bill visits a workshop in Israel that's dedicated to making inventions, specifically for Orthodox Jews, that allow them to perform certain tasks on the Sabbath without breaking Talmudic Law.
  • Manipulative Editing: A number of interviews Bill Maher conducted were later revealed to involve this, as several sources reported:
    • Bill did this to Francis Collins, the Christian scientist who headed the Human Genome Project. Bill Maher deliberately misled Collins into accepting an interview on the premise that it would be about his book, The Language of God (which deals with science and faith). Instead, Bill Maher confronted Collins with questions on topics unrelated to his book-topics he admitted that he's not an expert on (such as the historicity of the Gospels). Maher then used select clips to make Collins appear dumbstruck before these "tough questions."
    • Two other scientists, Dean Hamer and Andrew Newberg, were also victims of selective editing, as this article in Seed Magazine shows.
  • Mood Whiplash: The ending jumps from satire and comedy to a monologue by Maher, where he states that religion must end, otherwise extremists will destroy the world.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Invoked by Bill at the end of the film with the demand that the audience "grow up or die."
  • Poe's Law: Bill disguises himself and starts preaching the real tenets of Scientology at the Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park. Naturally, most people laugh at him and call him crazy, unaware that those were Scientologists' real beliefs. It's even funnier because that park was used by nutjobs to preach outlandish beliefs, and even then, the real beliefs of Scientology looked crazier by comparison.
  • Portmantitle: A mix of "religious" and "ridiculous".
  • Precision F-Strike: "You see so many nice people trying to make it about something good and yet it turns into not just corrupt, but, like, fucking little kids corrupt."
  • Quote Mine: Some of Bill's interviews are heavily edited or conducted on misleading premises. See Manipulative Editing above.
    • Bill Maher quotes John Adams as saying "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it." In reality, Adams meant the complete opposite, as the context (from a letter to Thomas Jefferson back in 1817) shows.
    • He shows one priest saying that the angel eschatology is nonsense and that there is no such thing as Hell.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Father George Coyne, PhD, who works at the Vatican's Observatory, is directly presented as this. He points out that the Bible was written 2-4 thousand years before what we know as science was ever developed, so any suggestions that the Bible is a scientific text are dubious at best. To hammer the point home, Bill interlaces this segment with segments of Ken Ham, leader of "Answers in Genesis," a religious group that claims that the Bible is meant to be taken literally and is an accurate history of the Earth.
  • Religion of Evil: The film attempts to portray Islam above all as this. For instance, it's sexist.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: The stories of Mithra, Horus, Bacchus and many more are not really like what Bill Maher thinks, having very little in common with the Jesus narrative. This Cracked article has the details.
  • Stealth Insult: Bill makes this several times in his interviews; the one that takes the cake is the aforementioned interview with Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda.
  • The War on Straw: In his critique of Christianity, Bill takes aim at literal interpretations of the Bible, repeatedly alluding to the 6,000-year-old Earth and the talking snake. Fundamentalism, which calls for such a literal interpretation of Scripture, is actually a minority position within the whole of Christianity.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: His reaction while reviewing the beliefs of several religions, like Mormonism and Scientology.
  • You Keep Using That Word: During an interview with a United States Senator who believes in creationism, he uses the word "indigous", which the subtitles note isn't really a word (he was probably thinking of "indigenous").