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Early on in Religulous, Bill Maher throws up a bar chart illustrating the number of people in America who are non-religious. That number is 16%, more than blacks, more than Jews, more than numerous other minority groups who seem to have no problem making themselves heard and getting Congress to do their bidding. Maher wonders aloud why non-religious people are so underground, and why they aren’t having an impact on the national discussion. His film is aimed squarely at that 16% of the country, and almost no one else. His goal, and he clearly has one, is to give those people the motivation they need to come out of the closet and do something… before it’s too late.
Religulous begins with Bill Maher, standing alone in Israel at a place called Meggido; a worthless pile of rubble where many of the planet’s religions believe the end of the world will begin. From there, Maher pushes us into an intense, honest, and brutally funny discussion of blind belief, presenting the possibility that maybe we should all consider doubt instead. We follow him around the world, as he travels from place to place talking to religious people of different faiths on different continents. The surprising thing here is that even though Maher definitely has an agenda, his movie never skews into the realm of propaganda.
It’s not propaganda, because Maher isn’t running out and finding weirdos to use in smear tactics against the devout. Typically anyone trying to make a case against God goes right to the pedophile priests and the suicide bombers, but Maher makes it a point to focus on normal, reasonably sane religious people. He’s not stacking the deck in his favor, because he doesn’t need to. He talks to truckers in a roadside chapel, he chats with random, middle-class tourists at a Christian-themed amusement park.
He talks to religious shop owners, small town preachers, televangelists, Jews for Jesus, fundamentalist U.S. Senators, Vatican priests, religious scientists, secular Muslims, gay Muslims, people in America, Utah (come on, we all know it’s not really America), Europe, and even in Jerusalem. Though those fumbling for an excuse to discredit him may claim otherwise, these aren’t extremists or lunatics. These are for the most part sane, rational, even intelligent people who believe something which Maher believes is insane.