What happens when a Jew and a Catholic go to see Religulous? They spend about $20 bucks. Whether it was well spent is the better question. I figured that between the director of Borat and Bill Maher we'd have a pretty funny couple hours and while that's true, the last five minutes really drove home the point that Bill's a bit off the mark.
His crusade to condemn religion is an interesting one. His entire point of view hinges on whether you take the Bible/new/old/Koran/etc. literally. And many people say they certainly don't take it literally, even though it seems that they surely do. No matter which religion you focus on there are endlessly funny scenes where people get absolutely unhinged over their certainty in their own belief-system. Interview enough people and you'll find what you're looking for. But to limit the world's religions to that sample of folk for anything other than humor is pretty shortsighted. As soon as he does that, the movie loses its steam. Luckily it's at the very end.
A question I've been asked by my Catholic friend is what's Jewish Dogma? While he keeps insisting it exists, my answer is that there is none. Now not only do Jews not believe in Hell, but while we have lots of commandments, we simply don't follow all of them. It's not that literal. Bill has the same P.O.V. He grew up with Dogma. Learn the rules believe that they are real and follow them or go to Hell. It seems like Bill's applying the concept of Dogma to the world's religions. For the record my friend's still a Catholic ... and no he doesn't take religion literally either. Nor do several good interviewees in the movie.
However, many people in religious communities these days are simply there answering the question, "What does it mean to me." They aren't trying to define the it to each other, only to themselves. If they were in the movie they might soften Bill's message too much or let the air out of his hypothesis. Instead the movie covers plenty of zealots and makes very good points about how power corrupts, whether it's religious or political power, and how governments run on religious foundations can be very dangerous.
I'll admit that I am interested in concepts of faith and religion and purpose and the self and free-will versus destiny and all that goes along with it. Existentialism, Taoism, Numerology... they all make for interesting contemplation. Especially since they're all, as concepts, on equal ground. You don't have to know what you don't know about, you know?
But a non-religious dismissal of Maher's "religion-is-bad" premise could simply be that it's really forsaking culture and community. Culture, like it or not, is tied to religious groups. Religion has influenced civilization from art to food to migratory patterns. On a smaller level, many people join religious communities for child care and to meet neighbors. Faith may help get you through things but from what I've seen, faith can be a synonym for family and community.
Instead of an option of religion needing to grow and develop into something else, which it certainly has done and needs to continue to do, he closes with a montage of nuclear war and very ominously suggests that we need to abandon religion or we're all gonna die in a holy war. That seems like a fear tactic from the side of religion that Bill Maher detests. Ironic.