The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Bill Maher argues with Jesus: Exclusive new clip from 'Religulous'

August 8, 2008 | 10:49 am

Bill Maher has never made any secret of his aversion to religion. I'm no therapist, but you have to wonder if it had something to do with Maher being raised in his father's Irish-Catholic faith, not discovering until he was practically a teenager that his mother was Jewish. On the other hand, like so many comics, maybe he was just under the spell of George Carlin, who was no fan of religion either.

I've gotten a deluge of reaction to my last post about my recent interview with Maher, whose "Religulous" documentary--due in October--is something of a sustained attack on all sorts of religious extremism (the above clip -- an exclusive scene from the movie that you can only watch here -- shows Maher in a lively if somewhat lopsided debate with Jesus; well, an actor playing Jesus at a Florida theme park). In the movie, Maher debates a host of zealots, including a minister who claims the ability to help gay men go straight.

I found it a little suspicious that Maher confronted all sorts of people in the film, but never lost an argument.Religulousposter  Wasn't the deck stacked? "I'm not going to lie--the deck was stacked," Maher said. "Let's face it, when it comes to religion, there is no convincing argument. If you believe in the Bible in a way where you think you can live to be 900 years old and turn your wife into a pillar of salt, you're going to lose any logical debate. Your story just falls apart."

Maher spends a lot of time in the film overseas, particularly in Holland, an especially tolerant country that, because of an influx of Muslim extremists, has been caught up in a struggle over how to react to religious intolerance. What did Maher learn there?

"That if it can happen in Holland, it could happen in America too. The lesson is--don't be afraid to exert the superiority of Western civilization, at least when it comes to free speech, equality of the sexes and freedom of the press. Those are things we have that they don't have in Saudi Arabia or Jordan or Iran. And in my view, if we have it, and they don't, then we're a better place. That's not prejudice. That's just reality."