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.