(We're re-posting our review of Religulous from the Toronto Film Festival to coincide with the film's theatrical release this week)
By: James Rocchi
I contend we are both atheists; I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours. -- Stephen F. Roberts
In Religulous, stand-up social commentator Bill Maher doesn't just assert how he believes in one less god than many of us, and he doesn't just craft bold, bizarre and hilarious moments of comedy and discussion with the help of director Larry Charles (Borat). More importantly, and more intriguingly, Maher states the film's thesis in an introduction filmed at Megiddo, the prophesied location of the final battle of Armageddon as written in Revelation; Maher, much like author Sam Harris does in his excellent (if dry) book The End of Faith, proposes that religious belief, in an age of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, actively endangers humanity through encouraging conflict, promising rewards for irrational behavior, justifying artificial divisions and enabling other unfounded and unkind forms of thinking. Or, as Maher succinctly puts it early on, "When Revelations was written, only God had the power to destroy the world. ..."
And then the opening titles kick in, a montage of Maher globe-trotting in search of people to talk to, and as the guitar riffs of The Who's "The Seeker" ring out, we recognize that we're going to get plenty of sizzle along with the steak in Religulous, lots of showbusiness to liven up the soul-searching. Like most documentaries dealing with weighty matters, though, the concern in Religulous isn't that there'll be no sizzle with the steak but rather if there'll be steak to go with the sizzle; does Religulous have the right ratio of factual points to funny punch lines, a balanced mix of context and comedy?