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Wed October 1, 2008
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
Bill Maher: Gay Muslim activists. That is a very rare job description. You guys have big ones.
Religulous, Ridiculous, whatever. Bill Maher's irreverent take on major world religions?Catholic, Jewish, Islam are the most prominent--makes no pretense of admiring religious devotees.
As an interviewer of some well-known religious fanatics, and some ordinary believers, Maher can't contain light disdain for their certainty when juxtaposed with his agnosticism. His biggest mine of laugh-lined skepticism is the virgin-birth doctrine, which he points out was not sufficiently important to be included in two of the four gospels. How could such a miracle be left out? Maher asks. The reason to him is obvious: It is probably made up.
Maher is so good as an easy-going reporter with impeccable comic timing that he finds a Vatican priest to claim the bible as not history but morality tale. He in effect allows the didactic importance of such stories as the creation of the world and the transubstantiation without the encumbrance of proof. His interview with a man portraying Jesus in a Bible park is a characteristicly Maher humorous moment.
For Islam, Maher juxtaposes a few too many explosive (literal) images to emphasize the jihad-nature of the radical element. For Jews, he reserves his most caustic sarcasm for such fiction as the history of circumcision because he had a Jewish mother and Catholic Father.
Director Larry Charles of Borat shows both the zealots and Maher sharing equal interest. The only sequence where the conditions appear to be equal or Maher has a modicum of respect in the Trucker's Chapel, where the big boys give and take with him in mutual respect.
Don't expect the manic, tasteless, often hilarious pieces in Borat because Maher actually seems serious in his irreverence, an agnostic with edges of atheism. But this is Maher's film, and his purpose is to lampoon, so serious argument need not apply.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com