RELIGULOUS directed by Larry Charles (USA, 2008)

Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so”. The words of the Christian hymn are as simplistic as a nursery rhyme and far from being a deep reflection on faith, yet this entertaining documentary shows that the majority cling to beliefs based on arguments that are rarely more complex than this.

The movie’s clunky title – a portmanteau word combining ‘religious’ and ‘ridiculous’  – makes it plain that it doesn’t set out to be a balanced academic analysis. Written and presented by comedian Bill Maher, whose background is half Jewish – half Catholic, it is a shamelessly opinionated piece in the  Michael Moore mould.

Mayer is a smart and articulate agnostic but since the whole one hour forty minutes is centred on him, his smug, self-satisfied manner gets a little tiresome at times. He makes a lot of good points but also has a tendency to be heavy-handed. For example, when one man says that he is looking forward to the afterlife, Maher bluntly asks him what stops him from committing suicide.

Despite these flaws, Maher reveals how otherwise intelligent, rational minded individuals have a knack of reading of the bible with blinkers on, conveniently glossing over the holy book’s inconsistencies, inaccuracies and absurdities.

Stories in the gospels of talking snakes, Jonah surviving in the belly of a whale (or is it a ‘big fish’?) and the virgin birth would, in a sane world, be viewed as flights of imagination  rather than as historical accounts to be taken literally. At best, they might be valued for their metaphorical significance.

Bill Mayer meets Jesus.

Maher travels far and wide, encountering a U.S.  senator, prominent scientists, Muslims, creationists and TV evangelists; he visits the Wailing Wall, the Creation Museum. The Holy Land Experience, Speaker’s Corner and the Vatican.

People agreed to be interviewed thinking he was making a film about a spiritual journey, a perfectly acceptable deception and not entirely inaccurate. I doubt, however, that they anticipated a line of questioning that exposes the weakness of the ‘evidence’ to support the existence of a benevolent God.

This irreverent study is designed to make you laugh but also carries the serious message that the people and the planet are damaged by religion. Being light and ironic means the serious message that religion makes a virtue out of not thinking doesn’t have quite the impact that it could have had.

I doubt it will change many people’s opinions. After all, believers are so convinced they are right that they are immune, and even resentful, of logical arguments that question their blind faith.

You can judge for yourself as the whole movie can be viewed on You Tube: