Bill Maher’s new documentary Religulous is a hilarious and often disturbing journey through what the comedian considers to be the lunacy of organized religion. Focusing on the many curiosities, hypocrisies, and illogical beliefs of both orthodox and unorthodox faith, Maher has fun with the little questions. (How did Jonah survive in a whale’s belly? Is mankind really only 5,000 years old?) And yet also asks the big ones. (Why do people feel the need to believe in God? Is religion not the source of much of the world’s problems?).
But within the first few minutes of the movie, I knew exactly what to expect after the freethinking critic offered the clichéd indictment that religion is an impediment to rationalism and the “progress of humanity.”
The 20th century was unquestionably the bloodiest in human history, with the worst culprits committing murder in the name of rationalism and the betterment of man. Karl Marx also believed religion was an impediment to rational human beings making rational decisions, and his followers in Russia, China, and around the world massacred millions for the “greater good” of communist revolution. Adolf Hitler wanted a better Germany and thought the Holocaust necessary to pay tribute to an Aryan god of his own making. And it is no accident that both National Socialism and communism were rationalist religions that forbade traditional religion.
In outlining the silliness of much of the world’s religion, Maher is showing how flawed men arrive at flawed conclusions often based on flawed premises. That man cannot comprehend God is understandable and often hilarious; that Maher believes those who try should turn away from their gods, real or imagined, and worship at the altar of reason will inevitably produce the same insanity.