Religulous July 31, 2009

I just finished watching Bill Maher’s Religulous. Some of it is genuinely skeptical in a good sense, and a lot of it is funny, often in a helpful way. The best conversation partners he had were those who were not dedicated to taking themselves and their beliefs so seriously as to attempt to shield them from criticism or humor. And even some of those he spoke to that did not embrace a questioning attitude nevertheless made a good impression on him through their christlikeness.

But then Maher spoils it, not least by bringing in a bunch of bogus claims about Horus and alleged Egyptian parallels to Jesus. If he hadn’t bought into such nonsense so uncritically, he might have had a better conversation with Francis Collins than he actually did.

I suspect that a lot of liberal religious believers will be able to appreciate a number of aspects of Bill Maher’s movie. He asks good questions, much of the time. If he would only ask as critical questions about the claims about Horus and the like, as he does of Christianity and other religions, he could perhaps be a genuine open-minded skeptic. His advocacy for humble doubt and willingness to say “I don’t know” is commendable – but not applied as evenly to those who support his presupositions as to those who oppose them. And since the whole movie is precisely about religion doing just that, his uncritical acceptance of bogus pseudo-historical claims undermines his message, and serves instead as a warning that we are all prone to claim to be critical, but it is extremely difficult to actually be self-critical, regardless whether you are religious or not.

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