Saturday, May 16, 2009

Religion & Religulous

Last night, Chris and I watched Religulous. I was prepared to dislike it, mostly because a lifetime of being a practicing Catholic has taught me to be very wary of people who believe that those who are religious are somehow illogical, non-questioning sheep. Obviously this is not the mindset of all atheists and agnostics; there are those of other faiths, as well as those who aren't religious at all, with whom I've had really interesting religious discussions. But hearing religion being equated with idiocy has causes my shackles (such as they are) to be raised when it comes to nearly any film that is made in the same vein as Religulous.

My Twitter friend Michael had blogged his reaction to Religulous back in October, although he only just pointed me to the post last night (not only did I just see the movie, I've only met Michael recently). He makes many good points that I agree with, and written better than I could have. But a few things persist in my mind anyway:

1.) I think that Bill Maher is correct in asserting that we need to be skeptical, questioning the religion around us - even our own. (I have many questions about Catholicism that I'd like answered, and it's one of the reasons I'd like to take a couple classes in theology.) But a difference I see between believers (of any religion) and non-believers (of all religions) is that when it comes down to it, you make a choice about whether you're willing to believe. If you can't or won't make that jump, then you not as likely to accept that leap-of-faith mindset from others. While I recognize the incongruities in Catholicism, for example, I choose to believe there might be aspects that I simply cannot understand right now. And while it's hard to accept, I have to be okay with that right now. (And this is not easy for a girl who questions everything.) And there's a difference between coming at religion historically (which is what Maher did) versus coming at it theologically or dogmatically.

2.) I was interested in seeing if and how Maher would bring Catholicism into the film: He talked to two Catholic priests, I believe, one of whom was a Ph.D. who worked at the Vatican Observatory, the other of whom was a "high-ranking priest" in the Vatican. Both were very funny and obviously sharp, and Maher was entertained and respectful. I wish Maher had interviewed them: (a) more extensively; and (b) more about religion and the conflicting religious tenets about which he was arguing.

3.) On a related note, there seemed a distinct lack of mainstream religious leaders represented. Perhaps I missed it, but few actual religious leaders were interviewed from any religious denomination: The two Catholic priests; one Rebbe; a religious leader or two from small, one-of churches; one fellow who believed he was Jesus resurrected and had 10,000 followers. I would have liked to see a more systematic, in-depth response, not just Maher telling religious followers that they were wrong, or the brief clips of interviews.

3.) Maher consistently interrupted those whom he was interviewing, not often allowing them complete sentences. (I was entertained by the rabbi who kept shushing him.) I wanted to hear more from those he was interviewing.

Also, what was with the melodramatic ending? I was entertained by some of Maher's jokes, but I have a hard time believing that either folks following religion or not following religion will cause our planet to (apparently) suffer a nuclear holocaust.

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