In his new film Religulous which opened in theaters last month, political humorist and comedian Bill Maher travels the world to talk to faithful people about God. The film bills itself as the “#1 Sacrilegious Comedy in America,” which may explain my discomfort. Discomfort is a nice way of expressing how I felt sitting amid the amused laughter of other movie goers. Anger might be more appropriate. Outrage might get the heart of it.
I think religion can be funny. We should be able to laugh at ourselves and wonder about the strange stories that we tell each other. As a clergy woman, who is familiar with doubt, I know that our Biblical narratives are often hard to swallow. However, I have also sat with people that have opened the Biblical canon and found something that they may never heard or seen before. It happens. In fact, it happens every time I sit down for Bible Study.
As Maher traverses the globe, he talks to people that would never participate in any Bible Study that I would lead (and not just because I’m a young clergy woman). Maher asks these faithful individuals questions are that accusatory and insulting – perhaps because he intends to be sacrilegious. For Maher, to be sacrilegious is to question the virginity of Jesus’ mother and God’s creation of the world in contrast with evolutionary science. He’s right. For some Christians, this is horribly upsetting and indeed sacrilegious.
However, this is not why I am outraged by this film. Maher can ask as many questions about homosexuality and religious fanaticism as he wants. These things do not shake my faith. I can’t help but wonder about how it is possible that there are others that practice my Christian faith in such a different manner. I can’t help but struggle with the questions that are central to how I understand the divinity of Jesus Christ. And yes, this means that I have doubts. I have lots of questions and few answers. This is how I practice my ministry. I attempt to create a space for all of those doubts that faithful people have felt that they could never articulate for fear of being sacrilegious. In my understanding of the faith, it would be religiously incorrect to do anything else in my practice of ministry.
And yet, I am not outraged that no one like me was interviewed by Maher. I’m not upset that Maher and Director Larry Charles (who helped to create Borat and HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm) thought it to be appropriate to bill their rant as a documentary and comedy interchangeably. Instead, I’m furious with the manner that Maher concludes the film. I’m outraged that these interviews with faithful people around the world were manipulated as an opportunity for Maher to conclude that religion must end if our world ever hopes to find peace. Quite frankly, that’s impossible – and I’m not just saying that because Scripture claims that all things are possible with God. I make this claim because I believe in the power of religious practice. I’ve experienced it every day of my life. Even in those times of doubt, I have found the possibility of transformation that faith offers. I can’t explain it. I know that’s a problem for Maher and countless others. However, this is something I know to be true. I’m outraged that my faith erased upon the silver screen because someone else doesn’t understand what it means to find faith.