At the Michigan Theater and Quality 16

4 out of 5 Stars

It seems appropriate to discuss peoples’ thoughts on personal religion and the touchy nature of Bill Maher’s film “Religulous.” All critics seems to have bragged about their own faith and whether or not they agree with the film’s ideology. Those are not reviews. With “Religulous,” we should try to deal in logic, style, argumentative decisions and whether or not the movie was any good. But it’s hard to not react when an orator ends his movie by demanding that we “stop all religions.”

Ultimately, the film is a fascinating, funny and ballsy documentary about the absurdity of organized religion. Moderated by talk-show host and comedian Bill Maher (TV’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”), “Religulous” is a sincere deconstruction with a brave agenda. Maher’s the admitted “I don’t know” kinda guy on a journey for religious discovery.

So what kinds of religions are on the chopping block? Just about all of them. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism and even the Church of Cannabis get prodded in this one-man quandary. All of them are preposterous in the eyes of Maher. Normally, it might seem selfish for one guy to go against all faiths from the get-go. Who the hell is he to say what we should believe in?

But Maher jokes in equal-opportunity offense. He acknowledges religion’s uses and manipulations by man, which is ostensibly selfish in itself. He absolves himself in acknowledging and mocking this idea from the start. Self-reflexivity’s a blessing here, as Maher never forgets to distinguish himself from the prophets and speakers of Gods. He’s smug and sarcastic, but that’s because he’s genuinely interested and has questions. From a cinematic perspective, this is brilliant provocation, and his arguments never lack clarity or rationality.

When Maher interviews church-goers, he asks earnest questions, like, “Why should we trust the New Testament when it was obviously written by the powers that be, suiting their own needs?” and “Can we believe in events occurring such as talking snakes and virgin births?” It sounds like a fairy tale, and you can either leave the conversation, disgusted with such hogwash, or you could claim that you’ve seen miracles — unexplained and unsubstantiated.

This is not to say that Maher is infallible. In his quest to dissect religions, he fails to acknowledge any and all positive input such as morals and kindness, but that’s not the point Maher’s trying to make; he’s a necessary evil. Fortunately, he’s a laughable one, too. The hypocrisy and antagonism of these organized religions is mocked with each segment. Dinosaurs lived among people? The Holocaust had to happen? There’s absolute good and evil?

Add some lightning quick, uber-clever intercutting, and Maher hits his point on the idiocy of some practices and beliefs. It’s OK to laugh here. When an interview with a “reformed homosexual” is spliced with gay porn, it’s laughable because it’s silly. When discussion on politics and faith are met with violent footage, it’s laughable because we use these organizations as an excuse for malevolence.

Barring personal belief, this film is absolutely right in its arguments, and they’re hard to refute. “Religulous” is a powder keg of a film that people need to see.

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