Larry Charles :: USA :: 2008 :: 1h41

US comic and television host Bill Mahler argues against religion in this one-sided appeal to unite US atheists. Interviews with religious representatives and random believers -Muslims, Christians, Jews, Scientologists, and variations- in the USA, Israel, the Vatican and the Netherlands are inter sped with mocking commentary or explosive archive footage.

Although director Larry Charles has been mostly responsible for television comedy, like Seinfeld and Curb your Enthusiasm, he had recently completed the outrageous big screen production of Borat. While in Borat the main character tries to suck ridicule out of unsuspecting (well-meaning) normal people, here Mr Mahler provokes people to admit to absurd beliefs. The idea being to show that religion stops people thinking for themselves, and accepting the absurd. He does this by any means he can think of, with quoting from holy texts (the controversial lines, of course) or asking people to solve age old theological problems on the spot (“problem of evil”). Of course people can not do it, but, amazingly enough, they do try. Bill Mahler advances that religion gives people false hope and false confidence to affront the difficult questions.

Throughout the movie, he is grossly unfair on the believers, as their answers are waved off screen with Mahler’s wit, which at times is genuinely funny, but often rather easy. This approach is justified by the fact that the movie’s point is not about having a religious discussion, but rather to convince US atheists, or potential atheists, to come out of the closet. In other words, the joke may be at their expense, but he was not addressing them with the final cut.

This movie is clearly not intended for European audiences either, where secularism is mostly the norm, and at times radically enforced (France, Turkey). It rather imagines US atheists coming together to form a lobby group to promote a secular “sanity” in US public policy. I am not sure how effective that would be, but he mentions that none of the current US senators are open atheists. It must be noted that Mahler himself does not take that position either. He could be described, from this movie, as anti-religious but agnostic as far as the existence of God goes. It seems as if being an open atheist in the US undermines a political or television career – only scientists seem to get away with it. If he wants others to make the step, he should do so himself as well. Or, alternatively, argue for a real secular US federal government, in which case both he and US politicians can keep their faith (in doors).

Mahler emphasises that religious people are not afraid of the end of the world, or they may even welcome it. He comments that the fearless religious voice might sound reassuring from your priest, but when voiced by your political leader who can actually bring the destruction about, it sounds considerably less pleasant. This leads him to a “Grow up or die” warning for mankind, which is supposed to drive home the fear of religious fanaticism. I think Mahler, although he can barely contain his disdain for many of the religious characters he spoke to, can bring a lot more to the table than he does in this film. Like with Borat, it is easy to mock people, especially with something as complicated as Theology, but arguing constructively (with Mahler’s keen wit) would achieve more. A commendable attempt worthy of a second round.


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