I watched most of the documentary Religulous last night. The show was made by Bill Maher, usually one of my favorite societal commentators. This time, however, he came in way wide of the mark. Instead of being clever and inventive, he just came across as a bully, seeking out weak people and beating them up. It was hardly worthy of him.
The points that he made were valid, of course. Basically, the message is that Religion is Ridiculous, thus the portmanteau of those two words in the title. And much about religion is quite outré. The problem is that Bill seems to have sought out the most absolutely ridiculous organizations and people on the planet, set them up as suckers for a fall, then pushed them painfully over.
Perhaps he should have followed the path recommended by Shakespeare when he said “I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed!” Instead, Maher’s access was gained by false pretenses, the interviews were completely one-sided, and the tape cutting was done in such a way to make those interviewed look as ignorant as possible, while making Maher look ever so clever and urbane.
Sadly, someone with Bill Maher’s intellect and knowledge could have done this straight up and still come out well ahead of the game, yet he did not. He could have talked to intelligent believers and still won all the debates. Instead, he chose to belittle, in every way possible, the weakest minds he could find. That may be impressive to people who are already convinced of the futility of religious belief, obviously the group that Maher was aiming for.
On the way to this goal, he completely alienated anyone that was not already convinced of his premise. Any religious believer who watches this documentary will come away with yet another belief: Atheists and agnostics are cruel bullies, totally ridiculous in the opposite direction from believers, but with a wide streak of just plain mean to go with it. They will remember that when asked to consider other possibilities than belief, and will be deaf to even friendly, rational arguments.
The people that Maher dealt with are the lunatic fringe of religion, in the main. They clearly lack the capacity to entertain thoughts other than true belief. Thoroughly humiliating them had no purpose that I can see except to gain Maher more fans and more money. We understand that Maher is not a believer by just a few minutes deep in the program. But by the end, we can also clearly see that Bill Maher is a ruthless asshat.
No, Bill, I don’t believe either. But my concern is not with the lunatic fringe of religion; they will never be convinced. It is with those other millions of people who are oh-so-slowly abandoning religion in our country and coming to the Humanist view. Any of those millions of people, upon seeing Religulous, will be much more likely to stay where they are instead of moving quietly into the ranks of the now-sixteen-percent of Americans that currently take the secular view.
In the long run, Maher’s documentary will do nothing but delay the day that we can claim to live in a secular society.
I am impressed with my self-control. None of the words in this essay contained the smaller word “hole.”