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Bill Maher hates your (fill in the blank) religion

Bill Maher and Larry Charles getting ready to get Religulous

In Bill Maher's new documentary, "Religulous," the film's protagonist--Maher himself--feels the same way about the film's subject matter at the beginning as at the end: In other words, he thinks religion is a big crock of spit. You know irreverence is the order of the day when Maher, reacting to a smooth-talking black preacher's boast that he got a great deal on his $2,000 suits, drolly observes, "I find it interesting that you're a Christian, you used to be a Muslim but you buy all your clothes like a Jew."

"Religulous" doesn't open until Oct. 3, but after seeing the movie I couldn't wait to grill Maher about how he managed to get so many deeply religious figures to actually talk to him, since it's obvious to anyone whose ever watched Maher's act (on "Politically Incorrect" or HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" or in a comedy club) that he wasn't much of a believer. In many ways, the film is a comic bookend to Sam Harris' "The End of Faith," a humorless best seller that views religion as a bastion of superstition and moral hypocrisy. Although Maher embraces Harris' belief that religion is a destructive force that has brought great pain and suffering into the world--at one point he calls it a neurological disorder--Maher is always searching for the humor in every situation. A longtime acolyte of George Carlin, when Maher confronts a religious zealot or hustler, he prefers mocking over scolding.

Rolling his eyes, often full of derision, Maher gets in his licks with everyone, from a guy playing Jesus at a Holy Land theme park in Orlando to Muslims at a gay bar in Amsterdam to a rabbi who advocates the dissolution of Israel (he wears a card with the slogan "A Jew Not a Zionist"). As everything from "The Gong Show" to "Borat" has proved, real people and situations are often undeniably funnier than anything scripted by the best comic minds. In Holland, Maher is in the midst of questioning a somber Muslim cleric when he's interrupted by the cleric's cellphone, whose ring tone is Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."

So how did Maher manage to get all these people to actually talk to him? Since "Religulous" was directed by Larry Charles, who also did "Borat," I suspected that subterfuge and trickery were involved. I was not far wrong. Here's how Maher pulled it off:

On how he got people to talk to him: "It was simple: We never, ever, used my name. We never told anybody it was me who was going to do the interviews. We even had a fake title for the film. We called it 'A Spiritual Journey.' It didn't work everywhere. We went to Salk Lake City, but no one would let us film there at all."

On the element of surprise: "Larry Charles' theory is--just keep going till they throw you out. I guess he learned that on 'Borat.' The crew would set up and at the last second, when the cameras were already rolling, I would show up. So either they'd be seen on camera leaving the interview and lose face or they'd have to talk to me. It was like--'And now here's ... Bill!' You could usually see the troubled looks on their faces. At the Holy Land theme park, the PR woman freaked out and finally told us to leave. She was definitely not a happy camper."

On his encounter with Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, who tells Maher he believes the biblical account that Earth was created 5,200 years ago: "He's not going to be happy with this movie. I suspect he's going to say that the editing is not favorable to him [laughs]. And he's not completely wrong about that. But we didn't make anything up. When I told him I was worried about people [with such literal interpretations of the Bible] running the country, he's the one who says, 'Well, you don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate.' "

Tomorrow: Bill Maher tells us what he really thinks about religion.

photo of Bill Maher and Larry Charles by Alexandra Lambrinidis/Lionsgate

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If I want a critique of religion, I'll look to someone who knows something about it (Bertrand Russell, or John Dominic Crossan, or Elaine Pagels, for example), not to a juvenile, sexist, shallow comedian like Bill Maher. His "work" on this subject is the classic straw man approach. In fact, religion in America is precisely as diverse as its politics, and as its population as a whole. There is every flavor you wish to search for, from cerebral to pentecostal, ancient to web-based techno-savvy. And that is exactly why it is not at all what Bill Maher and Sam Harris claim it to be. If you want to see religion as a serious threat to civil society, go to India or Nigeria. The United States has many flaws, and much to answer for, but in this area it is an astounding success: we have both diversity of religion, and acceptance of the lack of it, just as the founders intended.

The religious right had one of its own in the White House, and no significant resistance in Washington for seven years, and has accomplished almost none of its goals. That speaks volumes for the credibility of claims that we are in danger of becoming a theocracy. In fact, the most significant force sustaining public notice of the religious fundamentalists is people like Sam Harris and Bill Maher.

Further, anyone who is a progressive (which Bill maher and Harris are decidedly not), would do well to study the history of their own movement: EVERY success has involved a coalition of secular intellectuals, Jewish social activists, and Christian liberals. Split this coalition with hateful claims that religion is a "mental disorder," and you cripple the left. Congratulations.

I can't wait to see this either.
"people".... Yes Bill is paid to be "Bill", but he isn't faking his opinion and he certainly echos the ridicule and derision I feel for all religion. "think with me here"... imagine the problems WE can solve if we don't have the roadblocks that religion throws in front of us in the name of the imaginary. We could have peace in the middle east. We could have unrestrained birth control. We could prevent and help victims of AIDs. Endangered animals wouldn't be killed for their magical properties. AND we would have more resources devoted to real productivity and good instead of maintaining the institutions and control of the religious powers.

Thank you very much Bill for making this movie! I’m looking forward to seeing it and will encourage everyone I know (religious and non-religious alike) to see it. This country definitely needs more people like you to put out movies, books and documentaries showing how silly and dangerous religions are.
To those of you saying that Bill is just a comedian and his opinion on this subject does not matter, I say: your fairytales and superstitions deserve nothing but mockery and who better to do that then one of the best American comedians.
Bill, thank you for carrying on the legacy of the great George Carlin.

Tom: by the great George Carlin, I wonder if you mean the trenchant social critic of the 70's, or the George Carlin of the 90's and later, who said, among other things, that disabled children were losers who should be left out the cold to die? If the latter, then explain to me how this perspective offers a good alternative to the teachings of Buddhism or Quakerism, to choose two religions which don't seem to get much mention in these tirades.

Humanae Vatie is Latin for 'Of Human Life'.

Fallen Humans need to 'Know' Why their 'Human Life', is Born 'in the Original Sin'. Today we have the High Tech Science to Know what that Original Sin was.

'Supernatural' High Tech Science Peace Humans Colonized Earth, and Equal Perfect Peace Human Male and Female Clones, were Reproduced in a High Tech Science Womb.

Males, and their Female Clone Helpmeets made from the Male Rib, had the Same Equal Genetics, and Physical Appearance. With High Tech Science 'Regeneration', They 'do' have 'Eternal Physical Life After Birth', on Planets and in Spaceships. Humans made by Body Birth call them Higher 'Being' Gods.

The Clones Reproduced the Adam and Eve Peace, Equal Clone 'Helpmeet' Colony, in their Image. Why Asexual Male Clones, Started Unequal Heterosexual Body Birth Reproduction, with their Female Sister Clones, the Original Sin, still needs an Explanation.

This Original Human Sex Act, Reproduced Inbred/Mis-bred Unequal Human Males and Female 'Mates,' with different Genetics and Physical Appearance. Their Fallen Lifestyle resulted in Physical Death After Birth.

The High Tech Noah/Atlantis Society had a High Tech Science and Population Explosion, like we have had today. Their Weapons of Massive Destruction and their Pollution on land and sea, Caused the Planetary Flood. Not God.

Body Birth Humans again, Repopulated our Home Planet. In 1900, Earth had 1 Billion Humans. Humans again had a High Tech Science and Population Explosion. In 2011, the Population count will be 7 Billion, and we have Nuclear bombs and Pollution, on land and sea.

Today's Human Planetary Judgement Day Fire, Humans are setting up, will also get rid of our Population Explosion. Not 'God'.

There is a High Tech Science Knowledge, to support a Controlled Human Peace Population, with Eternal Physical Life After Birth, on Planets and in Spaceships.

I find the people who truely believe the earth was born 5,000 to 6,000 years ago funny. If that is true how come there are no cave paintings or other art showing them hunting the dinosaurs? Anyone have a logical explanation for that one?

I love it when Bill pokes holes into religions more hypocritical representives. These people only want to use fear and religion as a way to control and extract money from ignorant people. That said, I do believe in the spirtual. I do believe in the non-physical plane that exists beyond this one. But this has absolutely nothing to do with religion.

Name one problem that any religion has ever solved for the human race. Can't do it? Neither can I. Now, try and approach a bank loan officer for some cash with "I've failed for over 2000 years but I still believe" as your business plan.

I wonder why people don't question the failures of organized religion, but instead keep throwing money (and sometimes their whole lives) at them. All any religion is is a group of controlling, manipulative people collecting guilt money from others (and getting rich off their stupidity). Just look at Victoria Bitch Osteen--what a total racket they've got going--you see how these "holier than thous" treat their revenue sources.

Bill Maher is right on.

What color is God and are we talking about a man or a woman?

Just wondered.

Guess what folks? THERE IS NO GOD!

Religion has killed more people than ANYTHING ON EARTH.

please guys ,don't fall for this nonsense.There is a God and there will alaways be one-people have known this since times immemorial.All life on earth is far too complex to come out of evolution.As said by Prof. Chandra from Univ College of Cardiff -The probability that life originated from inanimate matter is 40,000 zeros followed by 1.Don't fall for this evolution nonsense

DO not suffer in hell for this nonsenes.George Carlin is currently paying for his actions and Bill Maher will too

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