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About the movie: "Religulous"

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Religulous movie

Bill Maher: "Religulous -- Do you smell something burning?"

The plot:

This is a documentary dealing with religious faith. Bill Maher, star of the HBO series "Real Time," travels around the world. He visits some of the holiest places -- e.g. Jerusalem -- and some of the least holy -- e.g. Washington, DC. Maher interviews believers about their faith and attempts to expose those beliefs as absurd.

The movie concludes with a deadly serious diatribe in which Maher attacks all religions as evil. He states that for the good of humanity, they must be phased out.

Maher said:

"It's the most controversial, taboo topic ever. And no one really has ever made a movie like this or called religion out. I've done it on TV for 15 years, but it's a little different when it's a movie. All the points we're making are marshaled together one after the other." 1

Comments by the critics and viewers:

  • Robert Koehler at Variety writes:
    "Skeptics unite: You have nothing to lose but your inhibitions. That, in sum, is the underlying message of Bill Maher and Larry Charles’ brilliant, incendiary 'Religulous,' in which comedian/talkshow host Maher inquires of the religious faithful and finds them severely wanting. By providing an example to other non-believers, Maher is, um, hell-bent on launching an even more aggressive conversation on the legitimacy of religion than he has on HBO’s 'Real Time With Bill Maher.' ... Charles’ previous smash, 'Borat,' used funnyman Sacha Baron Cohen to make satirical/political points, but the particular intensity and seriousness of Maher’s project are nearly unprecedented. Indeed, its arrival shortly after the death of George Carlin -- a profound influence on Maher’s standup act and politics -- suggests the kind of film Carlin might have made in his prime." 2
  • Devin Faraci of Cinematic Happenings Under Development (CHUD) is a religious skeptic. He writes:
    "Though funny, smart and often profane, Religulous doesn't want to send you out of the theater with a smile on your lips. The final moments of the film aren't laugh out loud funny, but a parade of images of death and destruction. This, Bill Maher says, is what humanity is in for if it doesn't get rid of the nuerological [sic] disorder that is religion. ...The basic concept of the film has Maher traveling around the world talking to believers about what they believe, and most importantly why (or how they can believe it, for that matter). From the Holy Land to the Holy Land Experience theme park in Florida, Maher goes where the believers are and engages them on their home turf. ...He wants to interact with these people, to confront them with the logic-hating aspects of their faiths and see what they come back with." 3
  • "TheBigE," an evangelical Christian, viewed wrote:
    "Bill Maher does his best Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock here, as he goes around interviewing various people of faith around the world, pointing out the absurdities of their beliefs. The interviews are interspersed with pop culture clips and Maher's own comments. He spends the first hour or so taking on Christianity, and he starts by examining his own background by interviewing his sister and Jewish mother, who raised him Catholic like his father was. He moves on to interview some easy targets like believers at a truck stop, an African-American 'prosperity and riches' preacher who wishes to be addressed as Dr. - even though he has no degree, an ex-gay preacher, the proprietor of the Creation Museum, and a Jew for Jesus, among others. After an hour grilling Christians he eventually gets to Mormonism, Scientology, Judaism, and finally Islam. 4
  • V.V. Raman, Emeritus professor of physics and humanities at the Rochester Institute of Technology wrote:
    "The most simple-minded spokespersons for various denominations were enticed to participate in the production of the movie, and they unwittingly serve its goal: to reveal religions as roaringly ridiculous. This film fits well in our age of open warfare between religion and unreligion, faith and unbelief, tradition and modernity, theism and atheism, and many such opposites. ..."

    "The snapshots of religion we see on the screen are truthful but lopsided. They are truthful because they come from the mouths of the horses, if one may modify a metaphorical phrase. Maher cleverly makes them self-incriminate. We simply laugh in pity. They are lopsided because religions have many dimensions: First, there are the illogical beliefs and narrow bigotry to which the naively religious are fettered. Then, there are the records of and the capacity for hate and horror in the name of God, which have not abated in our own times. It is on these alone that Maher’s lens focuses. But then religions have also inspired love and compassion, charity and hope. Maher takes us to small town churches, where he embarrasses simple-minded preachers, and to the outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, but he has no interest in showing us the cathedral in Chartres, the Raf’ai mosque in Cairo, or any of the hundreds of other magnificent places of worship where people gather in awe and humility, with reverence and peace. He does take us into the Al Aqsa in Jerusalem (formerly the Temple of Solomon), where a religious head says with a straight face that the prophet who arrived there from Mecca on a flying horse was bodily carried away to heaven from that very spot. ..."

    "It would have been a better movie for me if, after exposing the ridiculousness of some of the archaic beliefs and making every religious person look foolish, Maher recognized that if we all appreciate the positive contributions of religions, honor our ancestors for the cultural richness they have left behind, continue to enjoy and share the great art and music of various religions, and adhere to the core message of love and service implicit in all religions, we could hold hands together as members of the same human family to resolve the myriad problems we are facing as a planetary species." 9

Film data:

  • Title: "Religious" (alternate title: "A spiritual journey"). The main title is a portmanteau 5 -- a combination of two words: "religion" and "ridiculous."
  • Type: Documentary.
  • Directed by: Larry Charles, the director of "Borat" and "Curb your enthusiasm."
  • Produced by: Bill Maher.
  • Cast: Bill Maher interviewing, one at a time: Julie Maher, Kathie Maher, Andrew Newberg, John Westcott, Sen. Mark Pryor, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, Steve Berg, Ken Ham, Francis Collins, Jeremiah Cummings, Mohammad Hourani, Father Reginald Foster, Mohammed Junas Gatfar, Rabbi Dovid Weiss, Rabbi Schmuel Strauss, Dean Hamer, Rev. Terre van Beverren, Propa-Gandhi, Ray Suarez, Geert Wilders, Fatima Elatik, Father George Coyne, Tal Bachman, Bill Gardiner, Larry Charles.
  • Dialogue in  English, Spanish, and Arabic.
  • Released by: Lionsgate Entertainment. 6
  • Initial release date: Premiered the Traverse City Film Festival and shown at two movie theatres during 2008-AUG in order to make the movie eligible for a 2009 Academy Award. Shown during 2008-SEP at the Toronto International Film Festival. Limited release in the U.S. and Canada started on 2008-OCT-03. 7
  • Rating: R because of some language and sexual material. 8
  • Length:  101 minutes.
  • Award: Received a 2008 Golden Trailer Award in the category "Best Documentary Poster" for an image of a piece of toast in which the face of Bill Maher appears.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Reed Tucker, "What would Bill Maher Watch? Skeptical star of 'Religlous' takes on fall political flicks," New York Post, 2008-AUG-24, at:
  2. Robert Koehler, "New U.S. Release: Religulous (Documentary)," Variety, 2008-AUG-21, at:
  3. Devin Faraci, "Review: Religulous," CHUD, at:
  4. "A Michigan Reader Hits The Traverse City Film Festival, Sees RELIGULOUS and FLASH OF GENIUS!!," AintItCool, 2008-AUG-04, at:
  5. The word "portmanteau" has two unrelated meanings: a word made up from two other words fused together, and a suitcase.
  6. The official web site of the movie is at:
  7. William Goss, "Bill Maher's 'Religulous' Quietly Opens in NY, LA,", 2008-AUG-20, at:
  8. "Religious," Motion Picture Association of America, at:
  9. V.V. Raman, "More on 'Religulous'," Science & Religion Today newsletter, 2008-OCT-17

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Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-AUG-29
Latest update and review: 2008-OCT-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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