Saturday, April 7, 2012

Religulous Revisited!

Today while I was relaxing my father called me saying he was sad I was not coming home for Easter.  My response was simply I am sad I will not be able to see you, but "I don't celebrate Easter."  My father talked about his own lack of religious yearnings, but mentioned how people tend to come home around holidays, and he missed my youth and getting me an Easter basket filled with candy as he saw people buying these things at Target.  I have to admit I miss the chocolate, but not church.

A few hours later I called my grandmother to thank her for the nice card she had sent for Easter; she to had wished i was coming home for the holiday.  I did not have the same conversation about religion with my grandmother, it would have been a moot point.  Like most of the people who raised Catholic from her generation (in the northeast) mass/religion are more about tradition and center on ways to bring the family together.  The same sentiment was in my father's thoughts.

As the day went on I thought a lot about not being home with my family and celebrating with them, and how we all used to celebrate Easter together with ham (which I hate).  Then when I got in from the gym with dinner my TiVo with some magic recorded, in the suggestion area, the film Religulous (2008).  Religulous is a documentary directed by Larry Charles (Curb Your Enthusiasm) about Bill Maher's perception on the current state of world religions.  While this is not the best documentary there are some great perspectives about different religions that are explored by Maher.

Maher is a self proclaimed atheist, and throughout his movie he goes to speak with a wide variety of people whose religion are the central part of their life.  Maher starts by going to a Church for truckers (Christian church), goes to speak with an ex-gay who tries to help people with their "transition", he goes to holiest lands from the Vatican, to places in the Middle East, and in the end he speaks with former Mormons, and people from Islam.  Maher conversations with these religious people are edited with scenes where Maher speaks with his mother and sister about their familial and his own life experiences with religion.  Each of these conversations centers around Maher's disbelief, and his thought that people cling to religions (not faith necessarily) which claim to have divine authority.

The film is filled with numerous memorable statements that provide some incredibly thought provoking moments like:

"The irony of religion is that because of its power to divert man to destructive courses, the world could actually come to an end. The plain fact is, religion must die for mankind to live. The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having in key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken. George Bush prayed a lot about Iraq, but he didn't learn a lot about it. Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking. It's nothing to brag about. And those who preach faith, and enable and elevate it are intellectual slaveholders, keeping mankind in a bondage to fantasy and nonsense that has spawned and justified so much lunacy and destruction. Religion is dangerous because it allows human beings who don't have all the answers to think that they do. Most people would think it's wonderful when someone says, "I'm willing, Lord! I'll do whatever you want me to do!" Except that since there are no gods actually talking to us, that void is filled in by people with their own corruptions and limitations and agendas. And anyone who tells you they know, they just know what happens when you die, I promise you, you don't. How can I be so sure? Because I don't know, and you do not possess mental powers that I do not. The only appropriate attitude for man to have about the big questions is not the arrogant certitude that is the hallmark of religion, but doubt. Doubt is humble, and that's what man needs to be, considering that human history is just a litany of getting shit dead wrong. This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price. If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence, and sheer ignorance as religion is, you'd resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a mafia wife, for the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here, or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let's remember what the real problem was that we learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That's it. Grow up or die."

This quote from Maher made me think a lot about religion and the power it has over people today.  I do not know where I stand at the moment.  I grew up in a Catholic family went to Church every Sunday was an alter boy, and believed in everything that my religion centered.  As I grew up and started to learn more about the world outside of religion I began to ask questions.  In the world of the Catholics there is a do as I say mentality, and I do not often play by the rules.  I was also gay.  There were so many things priests, deacons, and bishops would say and I just fundamentally disagreed with them.  I felt/feel conned.  My own spiritual development is still in flux.  I do not know if I am spiritual or what if anything I believe in.  This statement made me think deeply about what I believe in and made me want to assess where I am at, and where I am going.

Film can have a powerful influence over thought processes, but in the same breath, my own emotional journey is not defined by film.  I have many friends who believe in different things that I no longer understand.  I respect/appreciate their journey and their beliefs, but like Maher I often find myself on the sidelines thinking why do we let the undefinable define who we are as people.  I do not know if I would characterize myself as an atheist on the level of Maher but I appreciate his voice in today's society as some challenges the common thoughts centered around religion.  Maher is, after all, not incredibly likeable (even thought I like him).

Maher including his family in this film was one of the best aspects of this film and helped viewers to have a better understanding of his religious journey, and allowed me to know him better.  One of my favorite moments was Maher's mother talking about Bill being angrier that there was no Santa as opposed to losing his connection with religion.  While Maher often comes across as pretentious, and stubborn.  The moments with his family give him more humanity as the narrator of the story.  Maher's analysis of other's faith can seem jarring, but as he says throughout the film "I'm just asking a question" and he is doing just that.  Maher is an outsider and talks about the fact that people who have his disbelief rarely can have honest/candid conversations about religion with those who have strong faith.  I agree with this statement but also wish he went deeper into other religions that are defined by spirituality or religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Zoroastrianism, and even Satanism, but maybe in a sequel.

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