What are the similarities and differences between Bill Maher‘s Religulous and Ben Stein‘s Expelled?
I haven’t seen either one yet (hopefully seeing Religulous soon), but the Orlando Sentinel‘s Roger Moore compares the two films.
First, the similarities:
Both use mockery, sometimes droll, sometimes nakedly hostile, to ridicule their foes. Both travel far and wide to find interview subjects, sometimes apparently hiding their purpose from those they’re chatting with. Both mix in some pretty comical straw-men for their stars to humiliate in interviews.
Both use editing to create mocking laughs at the expense of the folks they’re interviewing.
The differences, however, are huge and striking:
I hated Expelled, found it sneaky, dishonest and cynical. You can question evolution, test it, make fun of what you see as holes in it. But you can’t question it as a “belief.” It isn’t a belief. It is time-tested and evolving science. Expelled seems blatantly pro-ignorance. I honestly wonder if Ben Stein, star of it, actually believes the drivel he’s trying to sell here.
Bill Maher of Religulous, which I really enjoyed, never claims persecution, that his “freedom” is being infringed upon, as the disingenuous Ben Stein does in Expelled.
Unlike Stein, Maher is in the room doing all his own interviews. He may have couched his approach to the religious folks of various stripes as a movie about “doubt” and questioning religion to get them to talk. But virtually none of them back down when he comes straight out and questions their faith.
And unlike Stein, Maher freely showed his movie to critics, not hiding it from potentially angry reaction, fact-vetting and protest. His movie is anti-religion, anti-”irrationalists,” his name for people make decisions on belief rather than fact.
Also, — and I know this will make you think twice about seeing it — Christianity Today didn’t like Religulous:
Honestly, it’s not the hardest thing in the world to make a religion look silly when you only focus on the kitschiest, most grimace-inducing practitioners of it. Sure, we have to own up to these unfortunate (but fortunately fringe) elements within our ranks, but Maher shores up little credibility for his cause by refusing to talk with any opponent with an ounce of nuance of theological rigor.
Maher’s biggest problem with this movie is not that it is reckless or condescending (which it is), but that it espouses a point of view that, quite simply, is not shared by many people in the world. Maher’s ideology has no room for the miraculous or supernatural. Such things are all hocus pocus to him and cannot be believed by anyone with a brain. Faith of any kind (i.e., believing in something that can’t be proved) “makes a virtue out of not thinking,” according to Maher. Right there he loses about 98 percent of the world’s population.
Maher could have spent the movie looking at the inside of a megachurch and Christianity Today would be embarrassed all the same. There’s little difference between the religious kooks and the religious liberals in Maher’s eyes, and many Christians have a nasty habit of dismissing everyone who isn’t part of their own brand of faith.
And who would have “an ounce of nuance of theological rigor”? What arguments would CT like to have seen made? They don’t elaborate. They never say exactly what is wrong with the “weird” practitioners of their faith — I imagine that’s because you can’t dismiss them without dismissing so many others who act the same way.
CT says the movie suffers because it “espouses a point of view that, quite simply, is not shared by many people in the world” — it’s true that atheism is a minority belief, but that’s precisely why Maher made the film. That number needs to increase.
(Thanks to Ken for the link!)