> Well, faith and other spiritual things are extremely important
> to me and imo, ought to be fair game for public discussion.
The following, featuring Bill Maher, preceded with a
warning. He has been known to offend, and I'm not
just talking about his views on religion. Mainly, I'm
referring to his tendency to namecall. He has called
the American people dumb, for example, and he uses
that technique in the following interview (what I would
refer to as 'incivility').
That being said, in response to your comment above,
I offer the following, perhaps helpful to anyone who
would like to think about religious matters in a critical
way, or anyone who is interested in a bit of support for
doubts they might have about something they've been
taught based on a religion:
Religulous Movie Poster
Bill Maher, Larry Charles Interview, Religulous
We have a 'religulous' experience with Bill Maher at
the Toronto Film Festival!
MoviesOnline sat down with political humorist and
author Bill Maher ("Real Time With Bill Maher,"
"Politically Incorrect") and director Larry Charles
("Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make
Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazaakhstan," "Curb
Your Enthusiasm") at the Toronto International Film
Festival to talk about their new movie, "Religulous."
Known for his astute analytical skills, irreverent wit
and commitment to never pulling a punch, Maher
brings his characteristic honesty to an unusual spiri-
tual journey as he travels around the globe inter-
viewing people about God and religion.
"Religulous" is Charles' first feature project since the
critically acclaimed, wildly successful "Borat."
Bill Maher and Larry Charles are two smart and funny
guys and we really appreciated their time.
Here's what they had to tell us about their controversial
Q: How did the idea for this come about?
Bill Maher: That's a good question. What is the origin of
the idea? My evolution really as someone who was a
Catholic, had it drilled into my head when I was a small
child, and then slowly had it drilled out by becoming an
adult and realizing it was a load of nonsense.
And starting to talk about it, it was one of the first issues
I did in 1993 when Politically Incorrect started. One of
the first issues we did was called Religion Does More
Harm than Good. We had a modest proposal about put-
ting a warning label on the bible. And after doing it so
many years on television, I just thought this is the one
topic that is deserving of a broader canvas and then it
was a matter of trying to get someone interested in doing
it as a movie.
Q: Was it timed for this election year?
Bill Maher: No, I would say that's fortuitous.
Larry Charles: But we also think that by the headlines you
could tell that whenever this would come out, it would
tap into something that was going on in the world. There
was always a religious conflict of some kind that was go-
ing on in the world. We have Sara Palin and McCain now
rattling their sabers in the name of God but there is always
something going on like that.
Q: How is the film different from a documentary?
Bill Maher: Well I wanted to make a comedy. That was
Larry Charles: But also laughter I would say is a good
weapon to make your points.
Q: Will it be playing to the converted because I can't
imagine that people who are religious will go to it?
Larry Charles: We actually totally disagree with that. We
feel yes, obviously the converted will to some degree come
to the movie, but we are very interested in reaching those
people who are not converted and that's part of the reason
we made it this way.
We wanted it to be a Saturday night movie. You're thinking
about going to the movies regardless of your religious affilia-
tion. You go to the movies. You go see the Mel Gibson
movie even though you may not believe in what he believes
in. You want to see a great movie on a Saturday night.
Bill Maher: That said, there obviously are going to be some
percentage of millions of people who don't want to go any-
where near this movie. That's okay. That's any movie.
What movie appeals to everybody?
Q: Do you anticipate anyone that you interviewed in the
movie or any of the viewers totally denouncing their religion?
Bill Maher: No, I don't think we're going to get amusement
park Jesus [see reference below] to come across to the dark
Larry Charles: Look at the Vatican priest, Father Foster. I'm
not saying he's going to renounce his religion but he was very
open. He's at a point in his life where he doesn't have anything
to hide. He's totally comfortable with himself and he felt very
comfortable saying "I'm a priest. I work in the Vatican, but this
is all bullshit."
Q: He didn't exactly say it was all bullshit. He said he didn't
take it as literally as some of the other people do.
Bill Maher: But for a Vatican priest, that's pretty close to
saying it's all bullshit.
Larry Charles: He said "That's nonsense." He said "These are
just stories." I mean he does say that.
Bill Maher: And now he's probably going to be thrown out
of the Vatican just because he made those statements. I think
there's a lot of really religious people who won't go near this
movie, but I also think America is a place where a lot of peo-
ple say they're religious but we're phony religious people
You know, the people in Saudi Arabia? Those are true be-
lievers. Everybody here likes to say we're people of faith.
No. You fly a plane into the building because you're so sure
you're going to get the 72 virgins. That's a person of faith.
I mean, it's evil but they really believe it. When they speak
against homosexuality, they're not kidding. They're talking
about let's cut their heads off and they do it in chop-chop
square in Mecca.
This country, we say we believe but people cherry pick.
They take what they want from the bible, they take what
they believe. The Pope says "Don't masturbate." [laughs]
He's a charming character, isn't he? But we'll do whatever
we want. They have birth control, abortion. People do what
they want. They're not that really religious.
When you hear the term 'moderate religion,' what a moderate
means is we ignore a lot of stuff. And you have to because
the bible says "If your child comes home and says he's going
to convert to another religion, kill him. It says if you find out
your neighbor is working on Sunday, kill him. Well, you just
have to ignore that.
So there's that and then there's tens of millions of people
who don't think much about religion at all. They're not anti-
religion, they're not pro-religion. They might pray to God
once in a while when they feel like they're in trouble or
threatened or they're making a deal with him or they're
bargaining like "Please god, can I get the job?"
I want those people to come to the movie because those
people can be moved. I think they're open. They're like the
Q: When you're going after the snake oil saleman and the
senator, I think that's very worthwhile and that's why I think
this is a good movie. Although the scene where you're going
after the guy who dresses up as Jesus in the theme park and
you run rings around him, when I see that I think Bill Maher
is smarter than the guy who works at the theme park. I kind
of know that going in. Do you have any response to that?
Bill Maher: People want to have it both ways. They want to
be able to say that you can be religious and there's this myth-
ical religious person who doesn't come off looking stupid.
There isn't. If you're religious, you come off looking stupid.
You're defending indefensible, primitive, mythic thinking.
If you're an adult and you still believe this stuff, I'm sorry,
you can't have it both ways. You're a rube. There's just no
two ways about it. We all have this imaginary person in our
mind who's somehow this smart person but he's a religious
person but it's never any of us. For a movie that's supposed
to be supposedly the minority movie, I've yet to hear one
person come up to me and say "I'm very religious." Is any-
body here very religious? Did this movie offend anyone?
Q: Are you saying we're looking around because we're not
sure but anybody who is religious is not intelligent?
Bill Maher: ... I have faith in doubt. Doubt is my product.
Doubt suits human nature, not certainty. So, yeah, I do
think if you are adamant in your belief that you are certain
that you know what happens after you die, you are lacking
Yes. There's a certain amount of growth that you have to
do. Now we also try to make it clear in the movie that it
took me most of my life to get to that point so I'm not judging
anybody who hasn't gone there. It's everybody's evolution.
I hope everybody reaches that place and I have great admir-
ation for people who reach it at 20 since it took me until 43
to reach it. But yes, I can have ultimate intellectual respect
for someone who believes in a talking snake. I guess.
Larry Charles: Do we really want people running our govern-
ment who believe the Earth is 5,000 years old at this point in
the 21st century. Do we want people in charge who believe
these absurd things and are making decisions that affect the
world and the future of civilization based on those kind of
Q: Bill, how would you define what you do? Do you see
yourself as a commentator, as a social critic?
Bill Maher: Comedian.
Q: What surprised you the most making this film? What did
you learn that was unexpected that you didn't think you'd
take away from the experience?
Larry Charles: Well I think for instance that Vatican priest.
When we went to interview him, we had no idea he was
going to be so iconoclastic about theology. That was sur-
prising. I think going in the Dome of the Rock and getting
into some of the places we never thought we'd have access
to was surprising.
And then being in there and experiencing that was very sur-
I think when people gave us the opposite of what we ex-
pected, we'd be surprised by that and that happened quite
a bit actually.
We were surprised at how open people were about their
ideas, how willing they were to talk about them and defend
their ideas, and how strongly they felt about them. There
were many quote [unquote] revelations during the course
of the movie.
Q: Devout people can quote passages and they have an
amazing capacity for remembering this stuff. Before you
went in to interview these people, did you do a lot of
research so that you were ready for the battle?
Bill Maher: We've been doing it for decades. I took a bible
course in college. I read the bible in a course with a pro-
fessor teaching it and always did religious issues on my talk
shows. So yeah, it's been part of my life. I think what's
interesting is that actually the religious people, they don't
know the bible. I mean sometimes they can quote. You're
right. They have certain verses in their head.
Some of them can. But it's amazing how ignorant religious
people are of the holy books themselves. They don't know
what's in there and if they did, I think they'd be appalled.
And they can't even name the Ten Commandments. And
when you think, it's 10 commandments.
Larry Charles: Right. It's only ten. When you see people that
are spouting bible verse and scripture, if you ever notice, quite
often they are really talking fast. It's like a rote thing. You hear
them spew it, but they have no idea what they're really talking
It's hard to understand sometimes these lines from the bible
written in that old form and of course, translated a million
times and changed during all those translations. So you have
people like that that spout verse and scripture, but really it's
just a rote thing.
It's not connected to anything. And then you have people like
Jeremiah Cummings in the movie who is a minister ministering
to a large congregation who can't quote one of the most famous
quotes in the entire bible. So there's both sides to this. It is sur-
prising how little people know about their own religion.
Q: But isn't the bible the basis for their religion?
Bill Maher: Of course. And it's another thing religious Ameri-
cans are especially wont to do is to try and somehow separate
themselves, again the moderates, from the bible. I've had peo-
ple come up to me and say "Bill, I hear you. I get your point
about religion. I'm religious, but I don't believe in that bible
stuff." Well where do you think it comes from? To be religious
and try to divorce yourself from the holy book which the reli-
gion comes from is ridiculous.
Q: Bill, what would you like an audience to take from this film?
Bill Maher: Well I'd like to take from them $10.50. [laughs]
I'd like them to laugh, you know. First and foremost, I'd like
them to say "Boy, they made a funny, funny movie." But also
I would like them to at least feel like the questions that have
never been able to be asked, this ultimate taboo, are on the
Somebody asked me yesterday, they said "Boy, you ask some
very basic questions in this movie." And I said "Yeah, because
you have to start with the real basic ones because they've never
You know, why is faith good?
Yeah, it does strike me as a basic question because I've been
asking it for years. But I think for a lot of people, they never
asked that question because in America, faith is always good.
Politicians don't address the idea that faith could be not good.
They just get up there and say "I'm a person of faith. My faith
guides me." It's all about faith and everybody nods along
because they just assume conventional wisdom, faith is good.
And I'm saying "Why? It means suspending critical thinking.
Why is that good especially in your job?"
"Religulous" opens in theaters on October 3rd.
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