Monday, October 27, 2008

An Honest Christian’s Critique of the Movie, Religulous

Last night, my wife and I did something that I would venture to say, few, if any Christians have done – we went to a movie theatre to intentionally watch a movie that mocks and attempts to expose the errors of religion. Some of you have likely heard of the movie although it seemingly garnered little media exposure. For those completely in the dark about the film, let me give you a brief overview from the man behind it, Bill Maher. I saw a preview for Religulous several weeks ago and was, at first, a little annoyed. As I looked a bit more into it at a later date, I became intrigued. I discovered that what Maher was addressing was potentially the exact same thing that I am called to address – is your “religion” real? I talked with my wife about going to see it and we decided, after some pros and cons discussion, to go to the theatre and give it a go. We prayed together in the car before even going in that should the LORD desire us, at any point, to jump ship, we would be obedient. We went in with our faith and our beliefs guarded and well established, desiring to gain insight into how others who are skeptical, at the least, view Christianity and faith.

Before I get to my personal take on the movie - when asked to describe his general approach to the movie, Bill Maher stated, “I just wanted to confront people of faith. I wanted to ask very basic questions that never get asked in America. In America, every politician gets on the stage and as many times as he can, he reassures every audience that he is a person of faith, that faith guides his decision-making, that faith is the most important thing in his life. The more he says this, the more applause he gets. And I just wanted to ask, ‘Why is this good? Why is faith, which I define as suspending critical thinking, a good thing, especially in your job?’”.

The movie, clocking in at 105 minutes, is chock full of fantastic questions. Questions that, in my opinion, need to be asked. I’d like to divide my “review” into two distinct categories. What the movie had right vs. what the movie had wrong – let’s get to it.

What The Film Had Right

Sadly, what this film correctly portrayed drastically outweighed the wrong. Maher has impromptu interviews, documentary style, with everyone from political leaders to pastors, to Christian theme park visitors. Time after time, one thing was evident - most Christians have no idea what they believe or why they even believe it.

A few of the most memorable interviews are as follows: He talked with several men at a truckstop church along an interstate. Within the first few minutes, upon learning that Bill Maher was a skeptic, one man stood up, angry and offended stating, “If you’re gonna question my God and what I believe, then I’ve got nothing to say to you”. He then proceeded to leave the premises. Afterwards, several men spoke to Maher and prayed with him that God would open His eyes to the truth.

Maher sat down with a somewhat well-known preacher that has a large church somewhere in the US (I recognized his face). He goes on to explain how he can live such a lavish lifestyle and that how female church members are, unsurprisingly, attracted to him. He says that its just like Jesus would be today. When asked why he wears so much “bling”, he states, “Jesus was rich Bill. He wore fine linen and was even given gold when He was a child. Growing closer to God will always mean wealth and prosperity will follow.” Maher took it further and referenced Scripture saying that Jesus Himself taught against wealth and striving for earthly prosperity to which, the pastor responded, “Oh come on now - no He didn’t.” (I could have ripped my seat out of the theatre floor right then and there!)
Some random guy that runs some sort of Christian shop was next on the list. I could tell from the get-go that this one was going to be bad. When asked by Maher to explain his conversion he stated something along the lines of, “Well, He just showed me a lot of miracles back then – that convinced me.” Maher goes further and asks the man to share some of them with him. The shop owner says he can’t really remember any - there were too many of them and it was just too long ago. Maher, probing deeper says, “If there were so many of them, they were so incredible and you base your salvation on them, you’d think that you’d at least be able to remember one of them”. The guy then fumbles through a pathetic response that was just plain embarrassing – I felt bad for him, really.
In another interview, Maher spends some time in an openly Christian congressman’s office. The politician is seemingly very nervous and gives many awkward responses. When Maher told him he was worried about people [with such literal interpretations of the Bible] running the country, he responded with, “Well, you don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate” as he laughs… alone.

As Maher went about in the Holy Land Experience in Orlando (A Christian “theme park”), the cameras scoured the shelves of products in the gift shop and then zoomed in on individuals in the crowd that were watching an outdoor drama, re-enacting the crucifixion of Jesus. Some teens were yawning while they stared at the ground, others were flashing photos for keepsakes. A few seem to really get what was being depicted, but nonetheless, I felt a wrenching within me that was sickened to see how we’ve whored the sacrifice of Jesus and marketed Him so. Within me, I asked God to forgive us all for such an atrocity.

As Maher stands in front of the Vatican and the Mormon Tabernacle (two separate instances obviously), he asks representatives of each the million dollar question, “I have a hard time believing that the Jesus that I read in the Bible would dwell in such elaborate buildings such as this. Do you really think that Jesus would be about this kind of stuff?” The Mormons kicked him off the property and the (ex?) Catholic priest (who’s brutal honesty is one of the greatest highlights of the entire film) said, “Of course He wouldn’t be about all of this stuff. He would be out in the streets somewhere, not here. This is what we’ve made it.”

There are many other great examples that really cause the viewer to sit back and assess what it is that we call Christianity. I was embarrassed many times as I know that when I state that I’m a Christian, these kind of depictions is likely what your average person that is outside of the Christian bubble will think of. He challenges those that he interviews that he sees more of a social club than a family. He sees more confusion and self gratification than a lifestyle dedicated to God. I was amazed at how many people just simply walk off when they can’t explain what they personally believe. Now I know that, when put on the spot in such a manner, I may not perform well either. But, I am confident enough that my relationship with the LORD is genuine and reality… to me. One cannot “convince” or explain what they themselves are not assured of. When I say convince, I don't mean it is our responsibility to convert anyone. However, it is our responsibility to be able to give a genuinely personal account of the faith that we profess.

What The Film Had Wrong

As I stated, I was somewhat offended, but only when Maher would address the validity of the Bible or the reality of Jesus. It was not really a big deal though because I understand that he has no reality of God in his own life. We seemingly expect non-Believers to have some crazy standards that we somehow determine and place on them. The film briefly examines such topics as brain activity when people pray in tongues, historical evidence of biblical accounts - the usual atheistic/scientific viewpoints. What stands out to me though - and I know many people will likely disagree with this - I believe that people such as Bill Maher are closer to discovering who God really is than those who think they already have Him all figured out and have set Him to the side, convinced that they’re OK. Not clear enough? OK, let me just come out and say it. I believe that an atheist that asks questions, seeks out others that claim to know God and won’t settle for man’s horrible corruption of His laws is closer to God than the “Christian” who has absolutely no personal intimacy with God. You tell me - who is closer to Him? A false convert that has been duped to believe that they’re eternally secure because they made a “decision” to say a prayer once when they were 10 (and have done nothing since then with it) or someone is who is, in their doubt and curiosity, seeking for themselves to see if God is really real after all? It seems like a simple conclusion to me.

Getting back to the focus of the movie, if you get offended by people questioning the validity of God, you will hate this film, but I ask you why? I don’t believe that God Himself has any issues with that question so why should we? As a matter of fact, I believe that question is actually what He desires people to ask. He is not worried or thrown off by doubt or disbelief. Am I so ignorant and unsure of what I believe that I can’t even face some questions about what I claim to base my entire life on? (Please note that I’m not referring to doctrinal knowledge and the ability to theologically debate.) This is why, even at it’s most offensive moments, it was not that hard to follow. My identity in Christ is not in religion, nor is it in any traditions of men - and that my friend allowed me to leave the theatre rejoicing!

The bottom line is this. Religulous basically states that the religious are hypocritical, judgmental, intolerant, uneducated in personal beliefs, free of personal experiences, interested in marketing a product and downright selfish – and you know what? It is absolutely right! We have, throughout the ages, corrupted and defiled what God established for our good. Whether it be Mormonism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Scientology, or yes, even Christianity, if it is centered around religion alone and all of her vile ways, it is, in fact, ridiculous.


carl thomas said...

Wow! Great review. I doubt that I will see it but I appreciate that you did and shared it with us.

Like a Mustard Seed said...

"I believe that an atheist that asks questions, seeks out others that claim to know God and won’t settle for man’s horrible corruption of His laws is closer to God than the “Christian” who has absolutely no personal intimacy with God."

How very true....

Hopefully God will use this movie, and other secular endeavors like it, to wake up some Christians and help them recognize that the hypocracy and shallowness of religious systems does not go unoticed by non-Christians. All too often we hear the response from people within the institutional church, "well, no church is perfect..." when asked about many of the same scripture-contradicting practices that are quite obvious to people like Mahler. Unfortunately, the world doesn't buy such excuses, and the gospel is truly hindered as a result of our willingness to tolerate such exploitation in the name of Jesus.

In Christ, Daniel

Joel Spencer said...

Carl: I understand that many will not choose to go see the movie. That's why I felt compelled to discuss it here. Thanks for reading.

Daniel: There is a vast chasm of difference between "no church is perfect and we're OK with that" (complacenct/lazy/irresponsible) and "no church is perfect and I'm NOT OK with that" (challenge/change/mature). As I stated before, it is not our "job" to defend God - rather it is our responsibility to know what we believe and be able to give an answer when given the opportunity.

Jeff said...


Thank you for the thought provoking review. A little law of attraction for me since I also watched podcast from Joyce Meyer the last couple of days talking about a very similar subject - the title of today's is "Need a New A Attitude?"

She discusses many of he same items use talk through in your review about Christians.

One thing in particular that I key on from Mayer is his viewpoint on 'faith.' I wonder if he has 'faith' that Barak Obama or John McCain will be able to lead the country out of the morass we are in? If he doesn't what is his vote going to be based on? If he does, how can he place is 'faith' in a mortal man, but not in God and his professed son.

The Bible says that Creation itself speaks to the existence of God. All faiths see something outside of man himself, that the earth and universe are more than an accident. Only non-faiths, ie, atheists believe this is all an accident - and to me that takes even more 'faith' that that many accidents could occur to get us where we are.

The more man discovers about creation, the less likely it is an accident.

I guess it all goes to show that when you set out to prove a false premise, you will always be able to find someone to agree with you and prove your premise - after all we believe the earth was flat and the center of the universe for a long time.

Jeff Ferguson

Anonymous said...

"I believe that people such as Bill Maher are closer to discovering who God really is than those who think they already have Him all figured out and have set Him to the side, convinced that they’re OK."


A person who calls himself a Christian should be about reading and studying the Word of God, so that they can provide an answer to those who question what they believe and why.

"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." Hebrews 5


Jeffrey Mark said...

Hi Joel, what an excellent review. (You're a really good writer, too, by the way.)

Having spent many years as a Christian (before painfully deciding that I didn't believe in it any longer), I can definitely relate to what you're saying. I'm still amazed at how many Christians are not well-read and skilled in their faith. I've met many, many, many Christians who have read maybe 15% of the Bible at most. But why? It seems to me that if people are devout in their faith, they would want to read the Bible over and over and learn as much as they can.

And interestingly, many of my atheist friends have indeed read the Bible in its entirety, some a few times over. And so when they debate, the Christians often take a serious beating, simply because they haven't taken the time to read up and learn their side of the argument. And that's reflected in this film when we see so many people who simply don't know much about their own faith.

For Christians as a whole, this should be seriously troubling. In fact, something that has surprised me is it would *seem* that a book such as mine, as well as this film, should be welcomed by all Christians, because it forces them to look deeper into their own religion to find out (1) why people are leaving as I did, and (2) why people don't want to join. In other words, books like mine and films like this, from the perspective of a VERY open-minded Christian, have the potential to *help* Christianity so they can fix whatever went wrong and caused people like me to leave. (But instead, most Christians that I've met since writing my book -- unlike you, Joel -- have deemed me a child of Satan and want nothing to do with me or my "evil" book.)

I like what you said:

You tell me - who is closer to Him? A false convert that has been duped to believe that they’re eternally secure because they made a “decision” to say a prayer once when they were 10 (and have done nothing since then with it) or someone is who is, in their doubt and curiosity, seeking for themselves to see if God is really real after all? It seems like a simple conclusion to me.

I've mentioned something similar before. Here's an irony: I feel like I'm trying to live my life as Jesus would want me to. But because I don't actually *believe* that Jesus existed (or exists), my desire to live such a life is completely from within my own heart and totally sincere. I'm not doing it to impress a god or win kudos with a god in the hopes of being awarded eternal salvation. It's from my heart, and therefore not hypocritical like the "C&E" crowd who shows up at church two times a year, thinking they're already saved after saying some prayer, like you said, at the age of 10.

In fact, I suppose that's a good response to Pascal's Wager: I'm not worried, because if I'm wrong and there *is* a God, he must be a very good God and would therefore see my good deeds that were done from my heart -- even though I didn't believe he exists.

Jeff Mark
Author, Christian No More

Joel Spencer said...

Jeff F.: Faith is surely not something that can be "taught" or elaborately explained. It is what it is, belief and trust. The reality of this is what allows us to always remember that it is not us that can "convert" anyone.

Nadine: I guess I just don't understand how many, if not most, Christians simply do not live as they are being conformed to the image of Christ. Believers should constantly be becoming less and less about the things of this world and more and more about establishing the Kingdom in the here and now.

Jeff M.: I firmly agree with much of what you said. Professing Christians should be open to taking a deep look into what they personally believe and why. Most won't allow it because they know that when they open themselves up and say "take a look", nothing will be there. This is tough I know, but true (I personally remember it to be so in my own life).

Thanks for sharing your views - we need challenged and examined.

Sarah Thompson said...

Very good review. As a person who has taken the last couple of years to completely reexamine my belief system and decypher truth from the religious jargon I've been fed I really appreciate your honest thoughts on this film. When we refuse to question the status quo we fail to be intelligent and informed followers of Christ and thus loose the respect of many. Thanks for being "brave" enough to see the movie and share your thoughts with us!

Barb said...

What stands out to me though - and I know many people will likely disagree with this - I believe that people such as Bill Maher are closer to discovering who God really is than those who think they already have Him all figured out and have set Him to the side, convinced that they’re OK.

I agree Joel. Great Review! The atheist is I would say closer in the fact that they are digging but its whether they are actually looking for truth or an argument only that ultimately determine that in my mind. I agree that most self professing Christians are further from the truth than the atheist as they have turned off their eyes and ears to the truth. I think many self professing Christans are not truly converted and therefore put this image out there for the world to see.

Joel Spencer said...

Sarah: Kudos for "[taking] the last couple of years to completely reexamine [your] belief system and decypher truth from the religious jargon [you've] been fed."

I think most Christians would be surprised at what they discovered if they unplugged from the norm for a few months and only sought God's face. Thanks for your two cents.

Barb: Perhaps even in one's attempt to only argue and disprove, something can come to life and reveal the Truth.

Regarding your last statement, I too believe that many professing Christians have absolutely no concept of biblically being born from above. Please feel free to stick around and enter past, present and future discussions.

Nina said...

Great review. I totally agree with you. I often felt myself to be an outsider as a believer as i have shared the same views as the atheist who produced this movie. I have always had problems with people giving so much Glory to the crucifix as they clutch them tightly in times of trouble. The real power was not even in the crucifix.The crucifiction was when Jesus was at his weakest. The real power was after he Got up from the grave.People seem to disagree with me on that.But the crucifiction is a symbol of death and dieing to old things. It seems as if Christians are becoming more and more guilty of the ultimate: "HAVE NO OTHER GOD BEFORE ME". They make symbols their God, the "CHURCH" their God,and most of all religion their God. It seems as if Christianity no longer has anything to do with Christ and the relationship that you have with him. It has become a club, a sorority in which you gain senority by the amount of tithes you pay or by popularity amongst the people. Either way you must somehow pay your dues.Church services has become pep rallies that has celebrity guests intended to cater to the emotions of people eager to win instead of targeting the spirits of the people in need with truth causing healing and deliverence. And sometimes for the right price you can get healing or achieve wealth if you just step in the proper line with your check books. I spend alot of time defending the church and Christianity only for some other unwise leader to do something to prove me wrong. However, there is a true Church out there amongst the rubble. It is the Kingdom of God and it is driven by truth and not protocol. Sometimes I just want to stand in the middle of the street and scream WILL THE REAL CHURCH PLEASE STAND UP!

Joel Spencer said...

Nina: I've got nothing else to add but "I like the way you see things - let's be friends" - ha.

NINA said...

Sure,i could always use a friend. I seem to lacking in that area anyway. People don't seem to want to be around you when you don't share the same views as they do. They are not open to enlightment. I guess ignorance is bliss.But i refuse to be a part of that get on the band wagon politics/religion.

Gabe said...

The problem my friend is that Christians do not want the truth badly enough. Most have been programmed to repeat what they hear. Many make excuses for bad behavior; the proverbial grace and liberty pass that the church [spawned from the catholic church] has taught for centuries.

The holy land experience was a good place to include in the movie. Why? The TBN [Tower of Babel] network owns it. Have you ever wondered where the money came from to buy such a thing? Also a fact is that within the organization homosexuality has gone on.

I can't tell you how many I've discussed faith with and what happens? Most Christians get angry because they don't have the biblical knowledge to back up what they say. When challenged, many fall apart. They've been taught a doctrine that doesn't fit. They get offended when challenged because they're used to being agreed with. When they're not agreed with and are away from peers, they're in way over their heads. It's never my intention to offend, but when a person who thinks they know the scriptures that our people wrote, and he/she tries to convert me to a doctrine whose very roots stemmed from paganism, I must address the issue.

Your article is a good look at today's Christian believers. The people are confused because the very doctrine they believe in came from rome itself; before that, babylon.

This country is steeped in sun god worship; constantine was a sun god worshipper and biblically illiterate when he put Christianity on the map.

Confusion is rampant because there's no discipline, no knowledge, and no commitment.

So why don't you accept jesus Gabe? jesus is not our messiah. There were several other so called saviors who walked on water, died and rose on the 3rd day, born of a virgin [absolute paganism to a Jew], was born on Dec. 25th, and had 12 disciples, just to name a few.

Since there's no wavering within the Torah community as to who jesus is, there's no confusion as to the true meaning of the scriptures.

I hope you truly are seeking the truth Joel. There's much more out there than what you've searched for thus far.

Your friend,

Joel Spencer said...

Gabe: As I assume you'd expect me to say, I'm with you up until you stated, "So why don't you accept Jesus Gabe? Jesus is not our messiah." The ignorance and disobedience of the Body, in no way, affects the reality of Jesus, the Christ being the Anointed Messiah.

Although I understand your correlation, to me, these are completely differnet issues. Nonetheless, thanks for hanging out here regularly - I'm enjoying the discussions.

Anonymous said...

Good job pointing that out. I see that too. It's not a religion, it's a relationship. But, it's what tradition does. It sets a pattern to follow and after a while, you forget why you do it. Tradition is good. So long as you pray and seek God's face and let the Holy Spirit lead the way.


Gabe said...

No my friend, I don’t assume to be agreed with; I never write on a blog or on my own with the intention to be agreed with, particularly with church folks. What I write is based on fact, truth, and the scriptures. Ignorance and disobedience has everything to do with the reality of the one you follow. It just doesn’t have anything to do with it to those who are in its box.

Christ is the messiah of the church; mark this date as you will find out that he is not the messiah of Israel. Out of much respect for you, I will not challenge you in the scriptures as this is your blog. All I am saying is that there is too much scripture that supports what I say [not me really, but all Jews who follow the teaching and instruction given to Moses]. Why do we refuse to follow what Christians believe and why did so many of us die at the hands of Christians when we refused to follow the Christian idea of who the messiah was?

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you on your blog. I hope that one day, you and I will be able to take a journey deep into the scriptures rather than surface as it’s been thus far.

Joel Spencer said...

Kerrie: I read a fantastic quote this week that summed up this issue very well: "The greatest opposition to what God is doing today comes from those who were on the cutting edge of what God was doing yesterday."

Gabe: We obviously disagree on some very key issues. Please hang around nonetheless. I enjoy your input.

Mark Main said...


Been aiming to comment on this thread for a few days now and keep forgetting to do so.

Great review. I am looking forward to seeing this movie. I find it so terribly sad that the prevailing 'Christianity' of our times is so shallow and hollow that a movie like this makes so much sense.

I pray we all begin to wake up and present a Christianity that draws men unto Him as opposed to one that simply makes us all look like fools.

Ford said...

Well said Joel. I've been wanting to catch up with this movie, but unfortunately in tourist town Panama city, indies don't get much play. If you found this film insightful you should check out this report by a Canadian reporter on one of their news networks. He spent seven days among Evangelicals, and he made some pretty telling observations that could be very instructive for all Christians to take heed of:
On the linked page-scroll down to the third episode-it's divided into two parts. Well worth the time