Today I was sitting at a cafe doing a few of my readings for classes next week when one of my friends joined me. Somehow we ended up talking about Bill Maher’s Documentary/Movie, Religulous (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Gxc0XEoQpQ). Which to be honest I enjoyed a lot and saw it somewhat as an attempt to criticize Religion in general from an academic perspective. Now I say somewhat because obviously the documentary/movie is full of edited interviews, carefully selected facts and statements meant to provoke. All of it done in a humorous fashion both to keep it interesting/light and also because Maher is a renowned standup comedian discussing religion and this is part of his “image”. So obviously one can’t take this documentary (i’ll just call it that for now) too seriously especially if one is religious and felt offended by the techniques he used to get some of the information the way he did. Anyway besides being very one sided and surely offensive to many believers (to make things clear I consider myself to be agnostic) the documentary sparked one of many conversations with my friend.
The point we couldn’t seem to agree on was the fact that according to her (my friend), the documentary was too one sided and blunt in the sense that individuals who are more gullible would believe everything Maher says or then the opposite, provoke and enrage people hence creating more ignorance and division around the topic. Basically she didn’t want someone to express a extreme opinion about religion with the fear that the rest of the, let’s say normal every day, rational people who practice religion would be lumped together with the more extreme and possibly ignorant views expressed in the documentary by these more radical individuals. I think this is a very fair point and I also agree with this to a certain extent.
However looking at the context of the documentary, firstly being made by a well-known critic of religion, a comedian and the obvious lack of counter-arguments within the documentary itself should point out that the whole idea of it was and is to provoke. Now whether or not it might convince or enrage people is a different matter. Rather than creating a lethargic well-rounded argument of pro’s and con’s which might not have reached a larger audience, Maher obviously wanted to create something that would raise eye-brows, turn heads, ultimately creating something more interesting to watch thus achieving more publicity.
This implies that the other “side” of the story would not be told because there is an expectation that people in general will see this documentary as something which tries to challenge and create discussion rather than state universal truths. Now how people interpret this documentary is up to each individual themselves. Obviously the power of the word in an “uneducated” setting can be very harmful and should be exercised with care but one should not be afraid of expressing ones opinions in the fear that it may influence others in a negative way because there will always be those who do not want to, or are unable to (for whatever reason) think of this documentary for example as an addition to a debate which has existed for however long. In other words it is impossible to please everyone when expressing a personal opinion, especially regarding religion.
Now I completely understand my friend (who is religious) who feels that this documentary gives the wrong impression of religion and its real spiritual/cultural aspects to people who will take the documentary at its face value. It has the potential to make all individuals who practice religion look as crazy as some of the people in the documentary. Now I cannot be sure if that was the intended outcome of the documentary but I highly doubt it. I see it as an attempt to highlight some of the extreme rather crazy aspects of religion (institutionalized and monetary aspect, as well as all the radical interpretations of religion that exists etc.). He could have obviously been a bit more subtle and neutral when picking and editing the material he used, but then again would it have become as popular and created as much debate?
Any comments or ideas?
Either way, religion is always going to be a hot topic, I just feel that people should be more open to alternative challenging views and also be able to take other peoples opinions with a pinch of salt.
(One a side note – this conversation led to another interesting one which I will hopefully be able to post later)