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Religulous: A conversation with Bill Maher and Larry Charles

Followers gathered at Ryerson Theatre on a gloomy afternoon for a one-time only, alternative Sunday service.

The awakening was led by Bill Maher and Larry Charles. The topic: their work-in-progress, Religulous. The tagline: “When religion gets ridiculous, it’s religulous.”

After years of criticizing religion in his stand-up routines and on his television shows, Maher decided it was time to share his views with a larger audience. He found young producers willing to fund the controversial project and they suggested he collaborate with Larry Charles, director of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Moving in the same circles for years, the two had never met. “It’s spooky how right this was,” says Maher. “If there was a God, this would be fate,” adds Charles.

“It’s a passion project,” says Charles, who then cautioned the audience to prepare for more cheap puns. They went on to make use of words such as revelation, miracle and sacrifice when describing their project and their journeys towards its completion.

Though religion is not typically the subject of comedy, the duo is attempting to do more than just be funny. Recent films like Bruce Almighty and its sequel, Evan Almighty, have taken a light-hearted approach to theology. But Charles points out, “They poke gentle fun; we stab it to death.”

Maher believes “the less people take their religion seriously, the better.” People need to learn to separate ethics from religion. “Neither Bill or I are saying there’s nothing,” says Charles. On the contrary, they are saying there is something so massive it is beyond our comprehension.

The approximate 20 minutes of rough footage shows Maher interviewing representatives of the three most-practiced religions in the world – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – as well as Raelians, Satanists and Mormons. More often than not, the speakers lampoon themselves with little help from Maher. One scene shows Maher worrying over a senator, a man of power, believing in the creation story. The senator’s defense is there is no IQ test required for the job. Of course, the occasional joke (or jab, depending on your position) is still told through subtitles.

Fans of Maher’s are sure to recognize key points being explored but now the religious community is getting a chance to respond, or glare at him condemningly. When asked if it was difficult to get or complete interviews, Maher reveals, “Even religious clerics are media whores.” Another questioner inquired if the pair fear any retaliation because of the film’s subject matter and Maher coolly responded, “No… it’s a comedy.”

Students of rationalism will appreciate the film’s arguments, while others can just enjoy a good laugh. The film does not appear to try to alienate believers, but rather convince them to ask some questions instead of relying on blind faith. Obviously, not everyone is going to like the film. When asked what they think Michael Medved, conservative radio talk show host’s, opinion will be, Charles responded, “He’s not gonna like it, duh.”

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