I saw Religulous today

I saw Bill Maher’s movie, Religulous today.

It had its moments. If you’re an atheist who’s been tuned into the internet goings on among those atheists who are active on the internet, there’s nothing really new in this movie.

Some of the arguments are made in a clumsy way. The main thrust seems to be, “look at this! Isn’t in insane? Of course it is!”

And that is not really news to anybody tuned into what’s going on with those atheists and agnostics and freethinkers in general on the internet.

Nor was this movie likely to convert many believers. it is more a comedy than a serious piece of work. Arguments are made, but for comedic effect more than anything else.

The target audience for this movie, I think, is those non-believers who are not openly non-believers, or those non-believers who sit quietly by while the believers ride roughshod over them. This movie is, I think, trying to get (more) non-believers to come out of the closet, and to be more assertive in their non-belief, to call a spade a spade, and bullshit bullshit, which is, I think, a good thing.

I especially liked that Bill directly attacked the very notion of faith as being the promotion of excessive certainty as if this were some sort of virtue, and I think his words were, “who told you that was a good idea?”, or “what makes that a good idea?” This idea, that faith is not a virtue, and the idea of pointing out what faith really is — that it is really nothing but excessive certainty in some proposition, and that this is somehow intrinsically a virtue, and thus desirable, is something which I have personally been railing against for a very long time, and I am very glad to see this very particular backlash get some traction in a mainstream movie, and expressed in a way very similar to how I’ve been expressing it. I might almost think Bill Maher’s been reading what I’ve been writing on the internet here on this blog, or elsewhere on the internet since 2003. But, this conclusion, that faith is holding a belief to a degree of certainty which exceeds what it warranted by the evidence, and noting that faith is promoted as a virtue, and asking, “why is this a good idea? Why is it a virtue?” is such an obvious line of thought that I do not really flatter myself to such a degree that I really imagine that Bill got this from me.

The movie does perhaps go a bit over the top in the end with its admonition to “Grow up or die!” and I suspect a few believers might take this line as some sort of a threat — almost a “Grow up or we will kill you!” kind of thing, which is of course nonsense, but I fear some might take it that way. This ending, I expect, will alienate believers even more than they might already have been (though I don’t think they were really the target audience) and the target audience has already given up on religion.

But, despite these criticisms, I am glad that this movie can even exist, and be rather widely shown. I credit the emergence of the internet for this over the last fifteen years or so — since the web-browser and the world-wide-web came into being — for making this possible by changing the landscape of ideas in this country by making it possible for freethinkers to realize how unalone they really are.

Prior to the internet, and the world-wide-web more specifically, people who might doubt the religion they were brought up in, or found themselves surrounded by had no means of finding other doubters. They, from what I can tell of reading deconversion stories from the pre-internet days — what few there are — tended to be stories of loneliness and isolation, stories of wondering what was wrong that belief was seemingly not possible, etc. The internet has changed all that. Today, a doubter no longer need feel intellectually isolated. Ten seconds with google can be enough to reassure the new doubter that they are not merely not alone in their doubt, but that doubt is the sane course, and religion the insane course.

So, while not perfect, Religulous is another milestone in the recent swift decline of of the reputation religion and ascent of freethought. It’s been about fifteen years since the internet started to explode, and the viability of religion is suffering immensely from the this bright light that has been shined upon it. If religion is to survive, it must declare the internet to be “a sin,” and forbid its members from participating. Powerful as the light shined by a zillion skeptics connected by the internet might be, religion is not so easily vanquished. The internet will be declared “a sin”, and that will, I fear, to a great extent, inoculate those whose wish to believe is greater then their wish to find out what’s really true.

Edit: (2 hours after I wrote the above): It occurs to me, that in my criticism of Maher’s film, in which I might nitpick about how it might be more apt to alienate believers more than to make them think, or re-evaluate their position, I might appear to be a by hypocritical, in that, on this blog, I hardly attempt to write things in a way which could be construed as designed not to alienate believers. I don’t pull any punches, generally, and say what I think, and if the believers are alienated by this, so be it. So, how can I level such criticisms at Bill Mahers? I suppose it has to do with perceived target audiences, and the sizes of those audiences. My audience is for the most part I expect those who already do not believe, and for those believers who happen across my blog, well, they are and incidental audience for the most part. I do not expect that their are believers out there say, praying for me, and monitoring my blog for reactions to their prayers. Such a scenario seems pretty far fetched. Maher’s movie is aimed at a much larger, broader audience (simply by virtue of being a major motion picture) while its content seems aimed at much the same audience as the main readers of my blog. I think that difference — the actual audience of Maher’s movie, vs. the target audience implied by the content of the movie — is a large part of the source of any criticisms I might have. That being said, I am glad such a movie as this can get made and distributed in this America.

~ by scaryreasoner on October 20, 2008.

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