The Rules of Documentary – A Religious Review
Religious (2008) is a documentary in which Bill Maher visits religious people all over the world to compare their views and challenge them about their own beliefs and actions. He talks to fundamentalists in America, a Franciscan monk in Amsterdam and a priest in the Vatican, to name a few.
Bill Maher is an American comedian who describes himself as an atheist, raised as Roman Catholic with a Jewish mother. In this documentary he talks to several people all over the world that express their religion openly, be it in profession or by taking part in a play, concluding that taking the bible literally cannot work in our day and age and should at least be interpreted metaphorically, but not taken word for word.
Religious seems to be done it the reflexive mode, as Maher shows different views and expresses in front of the person saying (and with that, to the viewer) that this specific idea might not be the ultimate truth they’ve all been looking for. Opinion forming happens in front of the viewer’s eyes to give them a chance to make up their own mind and there is a definite awareness of the process as this documentary definitely has a specific layout that gives the audience a specific picture that Maher aimed at.
The type of documentary is most likely a shockumentary, as the attention is mostly drawn to how many people really do take the bible literally and how much they believe that they are right. In contrast it also includes opinions that feature reasonable people, most of them based in Western Europe (can anyone see a pattern there?).
The theme of religious is obvious: religions. Jews, Christians, Mormons, Franciscans & Muslim are all featured and partly explored, pointing out irregularities with science; for example, an American fundamentalist built a park in which Jesus rides a dinosaur – because if the earth was created 7000 odd years ago, there must have been humans and dinosaurs at the same time!
The opinion bias is definitely towards the ridiculousness of people that literally believe their holy script, and maybe also that Europe is a better place for religion as Maher makes it out that people in Europe don’t just faithfully believe in what’s being preached to them but put science into the equation.
The opinion constructed by Maher seems to be that fundamentalist believers are hard to get thinking and they would rather stick with what they know than listen to reason, which in turn gives the impression on Maher rightfully being an atheist. Also again – that Western Europe is the most sensible place for religious people to live as they do take everything metaphorically instead of literally and not blindly believe; for example, that god hates gays but that even though the bible doesn’t say it as such, it should state that god in fact loves gays!
Putting the narrative against the facts quickly lets the viewers pick up on a common theme – that America seems to be full of people that literally believe in the bible as there doesn’t seem to be a religious American interviewed (apart from Maher’s family) who isn’t a fundamentalist. This in turn makes America look worse than it probably is (hopefully) while shining the light of glory onto Europe in which even priests and people of the cloth are allowed to say – yes, some of the stuff that’s written in the bible is rubbish, it doesn’t work with science and must not be taken literally, and please think about things you hear, some might not be entirely true.
Altogether, Religious is quite informative and definitely hilarious at times with a high entertainment value but each topic should probably be researched before anyone blindly believes Maher everything (lesson learnt, I’d say). It is interesting to see so many different opinions out there, with the weirdest ideas about how to live their live according to their god (or, in some cases, what god meant to say in the bible) and it makes the British viewer feel glad to not live in a fundamentalist America.