Bill Maher…But I’m Not Wrong
Release Date: 13 February 2010
Bill Maher is one of our late night heroes, along with Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and recently John Oliver. They hold politics and culture accountable and can be counted on to pop the balloon of many a politician or movement that starts to get a too inflated ego. That all of the above are white men shows the need for someone like Aisha Tyler to take over when Colbert goes to The Late Show on CBS. That they are all liberal leaning is telling too, until you check out what is considered conservative satire on Fox or a Dennis Miller show.
Bill Maher is really the father of the genre…or at least this current version of it. Starting with Politically Incorrect in 1993, his show directly led to the shows of all the above gentlemen and kicked up a lot of dirt. Since 2003 he’s had a show on HBO, since I rarely have access to HBO I’ve only seen it a few times, but from what I’ve seen he’s continuing to carry the cynical flame.
In many ways, these people are our prophets. That’s a statement that would certainly draw derisive laughter from an atheist like Maher, but it’s true. They are the ones saying that the Emperor has no clothes…or brains. In this show that was originally broadcast live in 2010, Maher continues the tradition.
In my not so humble opinion, Maher is not wrong about most things that he talks about on this show. Up until the 00s he could have been described as a small “l” libertarian. He liked his weed, didn’t like being told what to do, and occasionally voted Republican because he was successful and had some stuff. The one-two punch of the ascendance to the Presidency of George W. Bush (or as Maher called him “Drunky McDumbass”) and 9/11 moved him more to the left.
This show takes place in 2010, two years into the Obama Presidency, and Maher has plenty to say about how relieved he is to have a smart person back in the White House. Maher isn’t an Obama acolyte by any stretch but he says that POTUS is the most ubiquitous presence in our lives, constantly on TV and all that, and “for eight years the channel was stuck on Hee Haw.”
Maher does say that Obama had a lot of clean-up work to do after taking over the White House. Kind of like the maid after Led Zeppelin has been staying at the hotel. Maher does admit to wishing that Obama had a little of the Bush/Cheney swagger: The ability to just push through his agenda whether it makes any sense or not. Some of us think it does.
From the vantage point of four years later, we’re almost to the second mid-terms, Obama’s approval ratings are at their lowest, and his time in the WH is almost up. To my mind, Obama will go down in history for three things: First, unless you’re a flat earther, he’s the one who got Bin Laden. He’s the one who gave the order. Frikkin’ deal with it.
Secondly, he pushed through health care reform. Say what you will about Obamacare. Yes, maybe the website was a botch job. Obviously it’s a compromise that nobody was entirely thrilled with, but Joe Biden was completely right, it’s a BFD. He got what no President since at least FDR has been able to get done.
Third, and most obviously, he forever broke the color bar. As a mixed race child, Boodles no longer has to look at the occupant of the WH and feel that people that look like her don’t belong there. Now if we can just get a woman in there…hmm.
Maher doesn’t turn his guns only at Bush. He also saves a little ammo for Sarah Palin. My favorite barb is about how, at a Tea Party event she wrote the words “tax cuts” on her hand. As Maher says, “that’s like Wile E. Coyote writing ‘Road Runner’ on his paw.” He wonders if, for her husband’s benefit, she has written on her ass “other hole.”
In general, Maher just finds stupidity annoying, as do most of us I believe. But that leads us to one of the things that I do happen to feel that he is wrong about: What he sees as the “mass delusion” of religion. He spends a short segment on it, mainly because of the reaction that he has gotten to this 2008 movie Religulous. More on that in a minute, but he clearly sees religion as a greater force for evil than for good.
The other two things that I feel Maher is wrong about don’t show up much in this show. Maher is a proponent of the legalization of marijuana. I don’t agree, but it’s not a hill I’m going to die on. He also has a clear sexist edge on occasion, but he’s pretty even handed in this show. In an encore, he even scores some points for women (and against religious fundamentalism) by hosting a Muslim fashion show. All the “fashions” are, of course, burkas; or as Maher puts it, “First class clothing for second class citizens.”
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
Bill Maher (Written by) (Uncredited)
Bill Maher – Himself
Les Cheveldayoff – Holy Land Experience Jesus (Uncredited)
Jeremiah Cummings – Himself
Jose Luis De Jesus Miranda – Himself
Reginald Foster – Himself (as Father Reginald Foster)
Ferre van Beveren – Himself (as Reverend Ferre van Beveren)
John Westcott – Himself (as Pastor John Westcott)
Release Date: 3 October 2008 (USA)
Golden Trailer Awards 2008
|Best Documentary Poster (For “Toast”)|
Satellite Awards 2008
|Best Motion Picture, Documentary|
Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival 2008
New Visions Award
|Non Fiction Motion Picture
Bill Maher has described himself quite cleverly as a apatheist, someone who just doesn’t care whether there’s a God or not. No disrespect, Bill, but I’m going to have to call bullshit on that one. You don’t produce a 101 minute movie on a subject you’re not passionate for or against.
Maher was brought up by a Catholic father and a Jewish mother. He and his sister attended Catholic church until age 13 when his Dad stopped going, possibly because of the Catholic stance against birth control. He says that he was raised as a Catholic culturally, but that faith was never really relevant in his life. in the movie he talks about his spiritual journey in the back seats of a series of vehicles, never wearing a seat belt. Once a libertarian, always a libertarian.
When he started his comedy career he would poke fun at religion, but not in a barbed way. He shows a clip from the early 80s where he says that because of his mixed Jewish/Catholic heritage he went to confession, but took a lawyer with him: “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I think you know Mr. Cohen.”
As late as the early 00s, Maher admitted on PI that he believed in God just not in prayer. His journey has taken him further from that belief and he now describes religion and faith as a detrimental force to humanity. It is a “shared delusion” that people concoct because they’re “freaked out by death and fear of the unknown.”
Now, my fervent readers will know that I don’t completely disagree with that statement. I still claim a belief in God and an occasionally tenuous subscription to Christianity, but most of what I see in religion is…to coin a phrase…religulous. Maher states that he made this movie to answer the dissonance in his head, I don’t share his atheism/agnosticism/apatheism/whatever, but I do understand the dissonance.
One of Maher’s first stops with his camera crew is to a chapel at a Southern truck stop. As will be a recurring theme in the film, the camera snarkily captures the sign that reads “Jesus love you.” He meets a group of white and black men who initially seem very sincere and open to dialog with him. One trucker angrily stalks out but the others engage and offer to pray for Maher, which he allows although without closing his eyes. He then says to the group, “Thank you for being Christ-like, not just Christian.” Hallelujah and Amen.
One thing struck me, though, and made my “fake-dar” go off. One of the truck drivers claims that before becoming saved he was a drug dealer and a Satanic priest. Two things: A commenter on a Think Atheist post points out that he contradicts his story, and I went back to the movie and it’s true. At first he says that he spent 30 years in the Satanic church and later he says six years. Secondly, as a believer who lived through the 70s and 80s, I can tell you that his story is very close to that of Mike Warnke. Warnke became a sensation with his book The Satan Seller and then toured as a “Christian comedian.” His story was thoroughly debunked by a Christian magazine in 1991 and he was exposed as a total fraud.
Now, Satan only knows how many priests he has out there at any given time. I imagine that Satanism is an even less organized religion than most, and anybody can call themselves a Satanic Priest. Seriously who’s going to check? If you’re at a party and that’s the answer to “What do you do?” Most of us will just back away slowly. Maybe this guy was what he said he was. Maybe Warnke stole his story and made it his own. I dunno, but the whole thing seems a little hinky to me.
Next Maher heads to Raleigh, NC to interview a pastor named Dr. Jeremiah Cummings. “Call me Dr.,” he says. Although, according to the film he not only doesn’t have a doctorate he doesn’t have any kind of a degree. He said it. Some have tried to claim deceptive editing on Maher and Charles’ part. I’ll get to that later, but I think he said it. But, come on, Cummings clearly comes from an entertainment background. As the film points out, he was a member of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes during part of their hey day. He was on my favorite of their songs, “Bad Luck.”
So Cummings left music, converted to Christianity, changed his name from Jerry to Jeremiah, and decided to join the Pastor for Fun and Prophet branch of entertainment. That’s all. And so what if he calls himself “doctor” if he has no degree. Lots of entertainers call themselves doctor. Is Dr. Dre really a doctor? Dr. Who? He’s not a doctor, he’s a time lord. Dr. Teeth? Not even a person. What about “Dr.” Phil? Please. I rest my case.
Being a doctor isn’t the only thing Jeremiah Cummings is full of shit about. Like I said, he is clearly of the Christianity for profit branch. It’s called prosperity theology and, like Joel Osteen and the aptly named Creflo Dollar, he clearly believes that Jesus wants you to be rich. Well…at least Jesus wants him to be rich. Trying to justify his fine clothing and bling to Maher he says that Jesus dressed well. Sure, the Son of Man has no place to rest his head but, damn, look at that robe and sandal ensemble. He chokes so bad trying to quote the whole camel going through the eye of a needle quote that you would think he had old egg salad in his mouth.
Cummings is so off the charts full of shit that in the DVD commentary Maher and director Larry Charles wonder if he really was in the Blue Notes. Well, apparently he really was. In fact he’s happy to share that with you via one of at least seven Facebook pages he has. There it is: Jerry Cummings Blue Notes. Along with…
Apostle Jeremiah Cummings That’s not a typo, he’s got two pages with this name.
At least none of them call him “Doctor,” but srsly, self promote much? This guy makes Donald Trump look like a wallflower. But hey, it seems to be working for him so I would like to invite you to like the following seven new Facebook pages I have started for myself:
OK, but before we move on from Mr. Dr. Cummings, I should point out that apparently he was none too pleased with his depiction in the movie. He’s personally blaming Bill Maher and Religulous for losing his house and possibly having to give up three of his Facebook pages.
Maher continues his tour of the US with visits to an ex-gay ministry, a creation museum, and a Florida Jesus theme park. But don’t worry, rest of the world. He finds plenty of people to talk to, religulous and otherwise, who don’t live in Dumberica.
In fact he and his camera crew were kicked out of The Vatican by their fabulously dressed guards, but outside he found a high ranking Vatican Priest to talk to. Father Reginald Foster stops short of saying that the Roman Catholic Church is full of shit, but he does earn Maher’s respect by admitting to the fact that the Church has some issues. While you watch the movie, you might start worrying about Father Foster. He seems a little too mouthy, knowhatI’msayin? He might have a little accident. Well, he did. He’s back in the US recovering from health problems that began with a broken thighbone in 2008. The same year that Religulous came out. Coincidence? Or did Il Papa order it, Italian style? Remember this was back in 2008, under the old Pope, not the new much more enlightened dude.
In fact, as I do extensive research on this movie, I’m seeing a pattern. As we discussed previously the Rev. Dr. Cummings’ ministry has hit some blue notes since the movie came out, Father Foster had an “accident,” and the “ex-gay” that Maher interviewed has since gotten divorced.
As Arsenio Hall used to say, just some things that make you go…
Well, this review is taking longer to write than God took to make the whole freakin’ universe. Or is it? But we must move on. I would like to post it before the Rapture, an odd Fundamentalist concept that Bill Maher missed in this movie. Saved it for the sequel I guess.
Bill Maher also doesn’t only investigate Christian religulosity. In Israel he interviews a rabbi who has invented several Rube Goldberg devices to circumvent laws that prevent Jews from dialing phones, etc on the Sabbath. He also picks on a couple of newer religions, Mormonism and Scientology. His point is that the idea that Jesus came to live in the US or that evil aliens named Thetans are the cause of all our problems only sounds ridiculous to us because we haven’t been fed them for a couple thousand years.
Maher admits in the commentary that he skipped Asian religions like Hunduism and Buddhism, but that they are just as religulous. Again, maybe he’ll come out with Religulous II: Religious Boogaloo.
Yes, he also delves into Islam. He talks with a Muslim woman in the Netherlands who seems to be just fine with Theo Van Gogh being murdered in the street for making a movie that some felt insulted Mohammed. He also interviews a Muslim rapper with horrendous views but a great name: Propa-gandhi.
While Maher is in the Netherlands, he stops by one church that he could possibly believe in: The Cannabis Ministry. Bill partakes with the Reverend Ferre van Beveren, who’s so (choose one) a.) boring or b.) stoned that he’s unable to really impart any theological wisdom about why the evil herb should actually be a sacrament. He’s also too out of it to notice that a candle behind him has lit his hair on fire. Say what you will about Bill Maher, but he may have saved the good Reverend’s life there. Still, he should have just gone to the Venice Beach Boardwalk and talked to a Rastafarian, they’re much more interesting.
Let’s face it though, things get funky due to religion all over the world…there were problems and a few deaths were involved, but nothing beats the good old USofA for old time religious nonsense. Specifically Florida which seems to be mecca for religious weirdos, fundamentalist or otherwise.
Maher and his crew go to Miami to check out José Luis de Jesús Miranda, a Puerto Rican born gentleman who claimed to be either the reincarnation of Jesus or a descendent and heir to the throne of Jesushood. It’s not clear. He made several claims such as sin doesn’t exist. That’s a good one, that means that a babe magnet like Jesus/Miranda can get lots of follower ass. Miranda seemed to be one of Maher’s favorites because it looks like he can just barely disguise his smirk that says, “Can you believe I’m getting away with this mierda?”
Miranda reminded me of the line from an old Dire Straits song: “Two men say they’re Jesus, one of them must be wrong.” The source of all knowledge lists 35 people since the 18th Century who claimed (or their followers claimed) to be Jesus. It’s a good group that includes Miranda along with Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite. No Ol’ Dirty Bastard though.
Note to self – edit the Wikipedia page
when if you finish this post.
Well, you won’t be surprised that life took some turns for Brylcreem Jesus after the movie was released. He sent his first wife packing because she couldn’t hang with the whole “worship me” thing. Women, am I right? Miranda proclaimed that he and his followers would officially be redressed “into a body of immortality, fire and radiation to rule over all nations.” This was one of a number of events that did not occur as predicted in the year 2012 including the end of the world and me becoming a flying turtle.
Miranda’s body did transform permanently in 2013 as the result of cirrhosis of the liver. His true believers have renamed him Melchizedek or Melquisedec, and claim that he is now in Heaven communicating through the Archangel Michael who lives in the body of Lizbet De Jesus, Melquisedec’s spouse. Or daughter. It’s complicated.
The problem I have with Religulous is partly that it is directed by Larry Charles, the director who worked with Sasha Baron Cohen on Borat and Brüno. As in those movies, the modus operandi seems to be (with a very few exceptions) to find the most pathetic, pig-headed, and…well…religulous of people, turn the cameras on, and let them make fools of themselves and all who follow a faith. Instead of finding caring and loving people who follow Christ’s example, they find a white guy in Orlando who impersonates Him in a daily musical crucifixion show.
Actually, the White Jesus – whose name is Les Cheveldayoff – comes off pretty well. He stands his ground with Maher and answers him with respect. And what do you expect from a guy that blogger Stephanie Brehm calls “Pantene Pro-V Jesus?” He may firmly belief this stuff, but he’s an actor doing a job. That his job is to portray a man who lived in the Middle East and didn’t have lustrous brown hair and blue eyes is problematic, but are you really expecting an authentic depiction of the Holy Land at an Orlando theme park run by the notoriously corrupt Paul and Jan Crouch, the perpetrators of the Trinity Broadcasting Network?
When I wrote down my original notes when I first watched the movie, I wrote that I bet Les/Jesus gets mad tail. He’s probably like one of those Christian rock stars with lots of Christian groupies. Turns out that the major rumor is that he was carrying on with Jan Crouch.
But can you blame him? I mean there’s temptation and then there’s Goddess Jan. Who wouldn’t want to find out if the carpet matches the pink drapes. Seriously, if Satan had her with him while testing Jesus in the wilderness…well, Les would probably be working on a soap opera.
So I talked before about deceptive editing on the part of Charles and the editors. I don’t doubt it. There are times when you can tell that a reaction shot doesn’t quite feel like it fits the flow of the conversation. They also edit in sound effects for comedy purposes. The real deception took place before the interviews, though. Maher and Charles admit that the interviewees were led to believe that they were sitting down for a PBS documentary called A Spiritual Journey. Quite different from finding out that you’re going to appear in a movie called Religulous. Similar tactics were used by Charles in the Sacha Baron Cohen films. Most people appearing in those films had no idea what they were in for when Borat or Brüno showed up.
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
Is Religulous entertaining? Yes. Is it thought provoking? Yes. But to say that it’s preaching to the choir might be an unfortunate statement, but it’s true. Doubtful that Maher’s movie will convert anyone to his doctrine of doubt. It will only reinforce those who already doubt, anger those who believe strongly, and the rest of us who find ourselves in the middle? I can only speak for me, but like Borat and Brüno before it, it left me feeling depressed and a little dirty. Like my soul needed a shower.
Closing Love Theme
A MISPLACED BOY WILL RETURN