In New Movie, Religion Is Toast


Spurred by this rave review in Variety, I shifted my schedule today to see the delightfully irreverent “Religulous,” the new documentary written and hosted by Bill Maher (pictured) and directed by Larry Charles (“Borat”). For some sick reason probably beloved by Charles (who told the New York Times recently that the most important movie of his adolescence was John Waters’s “Female Trouble” — that’s the way to be), “Religulous” was playing at a seen-better-days cinema in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. There was a Gesthemane of stair-climbing to get to the theater, but no sincere religious sorrow of any kind in this movie. It’s a highly amusing, highly skeptical look at the damage to humankind done by religion. After reading the recent trendlet of books about unbelief by Mark Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others, I thought I’d encountered just about every anti-belief argument there is, but I was wrong: Maher uncovers further absurdities. Though the movie scores a few too many easy points off Islam, it is festooned with surprises. My favorites: the two Roman Catholic priests Maher interviewed at the Vatican. One of them, a scientist, was as aghast at anti-evolutionists as Maher is. The other cleric, who looked no stranger to a drink, was an even greater mocker of religiousity than his questioner. Unlike Michael Moore, Maher generally stays away from the gotcha moments, although his interview with Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas comes close to a cheap shot. Pryor is a fish-in-a-barrel target: he’s a Democrat who believes in the Rapture, and an influential American leader whose speech is dotted with the malaprop spirit evident in Maher’s title. “Religulous” will go into general release on October 3rd; whatever your degree of belief or non-belief, see this movie!

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