Coming soon to a theater near you: a mocking attack on organized religion from Bill Maher, the comedian and television host.
The film, "Religulous,'' is scheduled to open Oct. 3, and the preview is now playing in theaters -- I caught the preview over the weekend at the Kendall, and, not surprisingly, Maher's point of view looks to be highly critical, starting with the title, which is a combination of "religion" and "ridiculous.'' The film, which Maher calls "a documentary about religion," is directed by Larry Charles, who also directed "Borat.'' In the film, Maher interviews people about religion and God; needless to say, the snippets featured in the trailer show believers in a highly unflattering light. Many of the trailer's scenes of religious people are underscored by Gnarls Barkley's hit song, "Crazy.''
Maher is best-known as the former host of "Politically Incorrect,'' a political talk show that ran on Comedy Central and then on ABC. He now hosts a show called "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO. He has been a persistent critic of organized religion, both as a comedian and commentator.
Earlier this year, on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien,'' he summed up his antipathy toward religion, saying, “You can’t be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you’re drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god. That doesn’t make you a person of faith…That makes you a schizophrenic.”
Maher's mother was Jewish and his father Catholic; he was raised Catholic, and has been particularly critical of Catholicism, often drawing the ire of the Catholic League. In April of this year, on the eve of a visit to the US by Pope Benedict XVI, Maher described the Catholic Church as "the Bear Stearns of organized pedophilia,'' and said, "If you have a few hundred followers and you let some of them molest children, they call you a cult leader. If you have a billion, they call you 'Pope'.''
Maher talked about the film with Larry King on Feb. 4. An excerpt:
KING: Do you suspect when "Religulous" comes out to get a lot of flak?
MAHER: Yes, but I get a lot of flak anyway. That's been their trick for hundreds of years. They say the word faith and somehow we all have to back off and pretend that what they believe is not destructive, and I won't do that. And there are millions of people who won't do that. The minority that is what I would call rationalists, that is people who don't believe in something supernatural, something that was obviously fables that were written by men before men knew what a germ or an atom was. OK?
Yes, we're rationalists. That's like 20 percent of people under 30. That's a bigger minority than lots of minorities. They just don't speak up. I'm hoping this movie and this movement will encourage people to speak up about this. They accuse me of being a Catholic bigot. First of all, I don't have it out especially for the Catholics. I think all religions are coo-coo. OK? It's not just the Catholics.
I'm not a bigot. Just because I wish for the demise of an organization that I think is entirely destructive to the human race, that doesn't make me a bigot. I also wish for demise of Hamas and the KKK. Not that on every score the Catholic Church is the same as those two organizations. But to me they are destructive organizations. I'm not a bigot because I root for their downfall.
KING: But you can offend them?
MAHER: I have been doing it for 15 years. They're perfectly within their rights to be offended. But they're not going to shut me up. They're not going to do it by saying the magic word, faith. This is what I believe. Yes, you believe it. I'm going to say why it's dumb.
The film has already screened in New York and California, so that it could qualify for the Oscars; writing in Variety, critic Robert Koehler called it "brilliant" and "incendiary" and said, "To believers expecting a blind hatchet job, this will prove both thought-provoking and a bit disarming; skeptics may be surprised (as Maher is) by the occasionally smart replies to his queries."
(Photo, from Lionsgate, shows Bill Maher at the Vatican, in St. Peter's Square.)