Bill Maher has taken his crusade against religion to the big screen. Maher, who has been picking on organized religion for years on his TV shows "Politically Incorrect" and "Real Time," zealously traveled the world for "Religulous," his documentary challenging the validity and value of Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths.
Raised in a Roman Catholic household by a Catholic father and Jewish mother, Maher decided at an early age that the trappings and mythology of the world's religions were preposterous, outdated and even dangerous. "Religulous," directed by fellow doubter Larry Charles ("Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"), is intended to inspire similar skepticism in others — and perhaps get nonbelievers to talk more openly about their lack of faith.
Maher, 52, who started mocking religion back in his early standup comedy days, has no misconceptions that "Religulous" will shake people's lifelong convictions to the core. He's mainly looking for laughs such as those the film elicited from the enthusiastic crowd at its Toronto premiere.
"When you're talking about a man living to 900 years old, and drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old god, and that Creation Museum where they put a saddle on the dinosaur because people rode dinosaurs. It's just a pile of comedy that was waiting for someone to exploit."
Charles shot 400 to 500 hours of material around the world as Maher visited a Christian chapel for truckers in North Carolina, a gay Muslim bar in the Netherlands, the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, and Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places in Israel. Maher meets with priests at the Vatican, chats with rabbis and Muslim scholars in Jerusalem, encounters street preachers in London, and hangs out with the performer who plays Christ in a crucifixion enactment at the Holy Land Experience theme park in Florida. They left Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism alone largely for budgetary reasons, saying the extra travel and expanded scope would have made the film too unwieldy. They also figured that Christianity, Islam and Judaism were the trinity of faiths at the heart of Western conflict.
Never one to soft-pedal his own opinions, Maher openly scorns remarks made by Christians, Jews and Muslims he interviews. He hopes audiences will laugh with him, and that "Religulous" will stand as a testament for people who share his scorn. "It is a sobering thought to think that the U.S. Congress has 535 members and there's not one who represents this point of view, and yet there are tens of millions of Americans who feel this way," Maher said. "Comedians have always made jokes about religion. It's a rich topic. I did when I was a young comedian, but they weren't jokes that got right to the essence of it, which is, this is dangerous and this is silly."
[article condensed from "Maher vs. God: `Religulous' flays organized faith" by David Germain, AP Movie Writer]