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Expect 'Religulous' and Bill Maher to raise Oscars hell

August 20, 2008 | 10:28 am

When I attended a press screening for Bill Maher's "Religulous" in New York on Tuesday, it struck me like a lightning bolt on the road to the Kodak Theatre via Damascus: yeah, "Religulous" will probably be nominated for best docu at the Oscars — and God help us all after that.

We know that "Religulous" is seriously in the derby for several reasons. First, Lionsgate hired veteran Oscars PR reps to handle its ballyhoo (Michele Robertson in L.A., Jeff Hill in New York). Secondly, the studio is giving the documentary its theatrical runs in L.A. and New York to qualify it for academy consideration, as Jeff Sneider notes at Anne Thompson's blog at Thirdly, the hallelujahs that film critics gave it today at the screening. More disciples are sure to follow.


In order to catch on widely like religion itself, what atheism has needed for a long time is a popular preacher to rally 'round. Maher just volunteered for the job that's been vacant since Madalyn Murray O'Hair vanished in the 1990s (eventually found murdered in 2001). Richard Dawkins has been a fine temporary stand-in, but not flashy like O'Hair. Bill Maher kicks things up a notch. He's a pop culture hipster who already has a large, anti-establishment flock, and he has a bully pulpit that O'Hair didn't: his own HBO show plus vast presence across all media.

Up until recently, I didn't realize how few Americans knew about the historical argument against Jesus. As the product of 16 years of Catholic education — from St. Mary's Elementary School in Mentor, Ohio, to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. — I've had more than a casual interest in the pro and con issues. Two years ago, when "The Da Vinci Code" was the big buzz, I was amazed at how many people were shocked when I'd say something like, "Well, there is no historical evidence that Jesus ever existed."

What?! I could expect outrage over the comment but not surprise from sophisticated, educated people, religious or not. Doesn't everybody know that Roman and Jewish writers who were alive during the time that Jesus is said to have lived do not mention him?  Contemporary historical accounts record lots of other messiah figures but somehow manage to miss the one who Christian texts claim posed such a huge threat to the powers that be that the Roman leaders had to crucify him. The first historic record of Jesus doesn't come till AD 93 — more than a half century after the date given for Jesus' crucifixion — and that account, allegedly by Josephus, is widely disputed, as is another oft-cited mention of Jesus in 120 by Tacitus. READ MORE

In "Religulous," you can see lots of shocked faces when Bill Maher mentions casually that none of the people who wrote the Bible — including Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, even St. Paul — ever met Jesus. They're flabbergasted. They can't believe what they're hearing.

Many devout Christians who are aware of these facts accept them and continue to practice their religion anyway because their beliefs are based on faith, and that's fine. There is no historical evidence that says Jesus didn't exist, so God bless them, I say.

But I don't think that most Christians know about the lack of historical evidence or some other hot topics that Maher dares to bring up in "Religulous" — like how many of America's Founding Fathers blasted religion. Maher quotes Benjamin Franklin's line "Lighthouses are more useful than churches," and really nasty stuff from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Most Americans, I've come to learn, really believe that our Founding Fathers were devout Christians. The history books used in our schools somehow fail to quote what Jefferson thought on the subject: "Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man."

"Religulous" not only whips up these subjects but does so in a well-made film that is — God help us all —entertaining. Maher, after all, is a master comedian and satirist.

And he's a savvy media guru too. He's doing lots of PR to push "Religulous" while teaming up with his director, Larry Charles ("Borat"). When "Religulous" opens in theaters in October, and media buzz is cranked up high, it'll certainly cause religious uproar, which will only fuel further interest.

Thus Oscar voters will be forced to pay attention to "Religulous" and, assuming it gets enough good reviews — which I think it will — it will be taken seriously by them as a film. So far it's not a strong year for documentaries, so, barring divine intervention, I think it's in the derby.

(Photo: Lionsgate)

The comments to this entry are closed.


I think Bill, like most atheists, is missing the point. He's right that Christianity has become far from "christ-like" since the days of Jesus, but he's wrong to equate this to a need to strip ourselves of our spirituality. Regardless of who wrote what book of the Bible or whether they actually knew Jesus, the real question is did we come from a God or did we evolve independent of such intelligent design? If you choose to believe the latter, it would do you justice to realize that you are putting your "faith" in something that has not been proven. Science, like religion, often times and under our radar, forces us to believe in things that have little empirical or factual evidence behind them. The Big Bang Theory, for example, has been analyzed down to the millionth of a second following the singularity itself, but scientists have absolutely no data whatsoever to quantify or measure or even understand the actual singularity that supposedly started it all. And still we are taught that it is the truth. I do believe in science, don't get me wrong. But it saddens me how few people actually see what's behind the curtains. How labeling something "science" somehow makes it more believable. I think everyone would benefit from a deeper understanding of how science and religion, for the most part, are just two different faiths.

What ignorant person believes that the earliest writings about Jesus is from AD 93. Has this person heard of Paul the Apostle who wrote his earliest letters sometime between the 40s and 60s!

John the Baptist wrote the Book of John??? Really? That's pretty awesome, especially when you consider that he was beheaded early in the ministry of Jesus!

It is idiots like this person who give religion a bad name, even when religion does such an excellent job at being its own worst enemy. NO ONE knows who wrote the books. The Book of Peter was written in Greek, and yet Peter (1) was illiterate . . . according to the New Testament, and (2) he only knew Aramaic but couldn't either read or write THAT. These books carried the name of an apostle to lend credibility to them and at best were written in a style that the author thought reflected the perspective of that apostle.

In short -- if you're going to defend your faith, please know what the hell you're talking about in order to try to convince anyone of anything.

christians are retards. need proof? read this story without scoffng

bill maher said himself that he's not an atheist. atheists believe with certainty that there isn't a god just as christians believe with certainty that there is. maher's whole argument is that there is no way anyone can be sure. he preaches the 'i don't know doctrine.' when maher appeared on the daily show to promote his movie he specifically said he isn't an atheist as some people would believe. just thought someone should throw that out there since the writer of this blog thinks maher is just what atheists need: 'a preacher to rally 'round.' i doubt the atheists need a leader who isn't an atheist.

Apoligies to Keith Olbermann...I meant Pasteur Fred Phelps (Big difference.) has no problem celebrating peoples' suffering.

You’re out of touch. Have you ever read the outcome of the Kansas School board incident? Michael Behe was disgraced by a simple examination of existing research on flagellum. Bacteria flagellum is clearly not dependent on being designed whole cloth and your understanding of the relationship of DNA and proteins is flawed, but where to start? “Irreducibly complex” has been proven wrong over and over and intelligent design is creationism in science’s clothing. The sun itself implied a designer until we understood nuclear fusion. The cycle of the tides implied a designer until we understood gravity and the cycle of the moon. Over and over through the centuries we have had examples of creator/designer theories of things we see in our world overturned by simple observation and science.

I think you weren’t paying attention in biology. I’m 25 years out of high school but I was never taught that human embryos literally cycle from fish to human…only that stages of development resemble other species.

Darwin did no such thing…you should read the details of what Darwin said and find out why his statement of “turning my work into a religion” is used by apologists. He never denounced his work, but the person quoted as having heard such WAS denounced by Darwins daughter as never having actually visited her father. Are you going to use the tired and false example of Einstein next?

Everything…repeat…everything IS an intermediary form of life. You…me…your dog…the chicken I had for dinner last night. If homo-sapiens is the final form we are to take, then we were “designed” with a lot of physical flaws…not the best work of an omnipotent being. There are, in fact, numerous transitional fossils, but religious apologists refuse to categorically define what they would accept as intermediary so they can then dismiss the fossils we currently do have. Punctuated equilibrium still has to be taken into account with geologic time spans. “Sudden” and “dramatic” changes in this context are in the hundreds of thousands of years, as opposed to millions for phyletic gradualism. But punctuated equilibrium is merely explained as the fact that some changes occur faster than others. But “faster” is still in the context of geologic time.

“…so they make up all kinds of absurd explanations which have no basis in fact at all and then present it as fact…” “If you tell a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it and eventually it will become thought of as the truth.”

Pity, you don’t see the irony in your own words. People want to believe in God because they know that life isn’t fair and there must be some payback for the horrible things that happen on the planet. They’re not so much looking for heaven as they are bloodthirsty for vengeance in hell for things they had no control over in life, though few will admit it. Keith Olbermann certainly has no problem celebrating peoples’ suffering.

It is far from conclusive that Matthew the apostle wrote the gospel which bears his name. It is believed to have originally been written in Greek, not Aramaic or Hebrew and is also widely believed to be based on Mark. The earliest direct evidence of the gospel of John is dated at 100ce, so whether the historical John knew Jesus isn’t as important as whether the gospel of John was truly penned by him. The answer is debatable to say the least.

When people refer to debating Jesus’ existence, the real point isn’t whether someone named Christ (Christus as it is referred to in Josephus…not an uncommon name at the time) was a problem for Romans and Jews at a given time. The point is whether ANY of the supernatural events attributed to him in the bible ever occurred. There are so many hallmarks of his story which are found in mythology centuries and millennia earlier that the Bibles derivative elements must be addressed.

The fact of several of the founding fathers’ practicing deism only solidifies their choice in choosing exacting limitation of religion, and governmental involvement therewith, in the constitution. Extending their beliefs to atheism I think only hurts the more important point above. They were not truly atheists, but they were not truly religious in the conventional sense either.

Rarely is religion a choice in a country of any level of development. Simply because it isn’t enforced by the state does not mean that people choose religion. They are indoctrinated as children, even to the point of segregated schooling, that their parents beliefs are true to the exclusion of all else. Where is there choice here?

200 million deaths being attributed to atheism…hardly. Heinous though it was, communist states merely understood that religion had the ability to redirect peoples’ energy from supporting the state. The people who bore the brunt of the aggression were church leaders for precisely such distraction. Commoners had no real sway in this regard and though many died, their practice of religion was not the primary reason. Again, no one was killed for someone else’s lack of belief in a God. Religions history for killing in the name of God is indisputable.

The earliest evidence for Christ comes from a pre Pauline creed quoted by paul in his letter to the Corinthians 1Cor 15

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures;

that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures;

that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.

Almost all scholars date this to within a few years after the crucifixion-a creedal statement formlated by the apostles.

The highly skeptical Jesus Seminar puts it at 33AD (assuming the crucifixion took place in 30)

So what are these athestic idiots blathering about?

Jesus is Lord!

The only event that may be factual is the Jesus (the “king” of Jews) was tried and crucified, as a direct result of his efforts to rock the establishment of the Jewish orthodoxy and power moneyed elite. Jesus’ back story was entirely fabricated and mythologized. And this point is at the heart of Maher healthy skepticism and doubts. Maher questions the supernatural claims attributed to Jesus/God, and he satirizes the belief in the supernatural of ALL “religion.” Maher is ultimately questioning the sanity of religious absolutisms and many people’s lack of critical thinking.

I believe that one of the gift and curse of our intelligence is we can contemplation our own origin. The best evidence of this is how we have ritualized taking care of our dead. I do believe some female felines do make an attempt to bury their dead offspring close after birth, and elephants “morn” their dead. However, humans stand along in trying to document our beliefs of the afterlife. God, a direct result of our intelligence, is our personification of the unknown. He/She was created by us, not the other way around. There are infinite numbers of paths to the quest for an explanation. What we must understand is we must stop killing each other in the justification of our own dogmas (the brutal purges of atheist communists fully included.) Armageddon does not have to be a self fulfilling eventuality. What Bill Maher is really “preaching” is that doubt about God is really our only true salvation from falling into the abyss.

For those of you who don't think you see evidence of God, try taking a look at molecular biological forms for starters. Have you ever read any Michael Behe? He came up with the term "irreducible complexity." This is the philosophical concept that considers the complexity of living organisms -- if any part is removed, the system loses function.

DNA is irreducibly complex and ultimately all life forms. DNA can only be produced with the help of at least 20 different types of proteins. But these proteins can only be produced at the direction of DNA. Since each requires the other, an explanation for the origin of one must also explain the origin of the other. This entire manufacturing system had to have come into existence simultaneously.

This implies intelligent design which THEN implies an intelligent designer. It takes a LOT more faith to believe in complex lifeforms happening by accident and chance than by intelligent design.

This is just one example in a plethora of examples of why evolution is completely impossible and idiotic. Even Darwin rejected his own theories later on in his life.

Science classes for years and years have been teaching outdated and even disproven theories as fact. For example: most biology students still believe that human embryos go through some evolutionary cycle from fish to human, a concept which was totally debunked years and years ago with the advent of ultrasound and artificial insemination. Another debunked theory is spontaneous generation, but it is still believed by humanists and other atheists.

Absurd concepts like this abound. A really stupid explanation for the fact there is NO fossil record of any intermediary life forms is punctuated equilibrium. This theory states that species maintain a stability in nature for a very long time and then suddenly have very dramatic changes. This theory then supposedly accounts for the FACT that there is NO fossil that any of the major divisions of nature have been crossed - no transitional fossils whatsoever. It's not science. It's science fiction.

People just don't want to believe there is a God, because they don't want to be accountable to anyone. So they make up all kinds of absurd explanations which have no basis in fact at all and then present it as fact and proliferate it in our school systems. If you tell a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it and eventually it will become thought of as the truth. Like this dopey movie.

Wow. Where to begin on this. First off, I'll point off the obvious flaws.

Matthew and John the Baptist wrote 2 of the 4 Gospels. If John the Baptist didn't ever meet Jesus, then I guess Christ was never baptized, eh? And of course St. Paul didn't know Jesus. Chronologically, the events of his conversion and Christian life take place nearly a year after the Crucifixion of Jesus.

As for historical records. Now lets say Bill Maher had said Jesus was a man who has become a myth in terms of His actual life. Offensive, but a logical argument. Jesus was a man who preached a radical message that has been twisted by His modern followers. Correct and makes you think. But to say that a man who was documented by the Romans as a possibly dangerous rebel, the Jews as a heretic, and legally executed didnt exist? May I just ask if this is the typical 14 and 15 year old posting board? Having gone to 3 different colleges studying literature and history, no one debates His existance as a human being, just his divinity.

As for the Founding Fathers of the US. They practiced Deism. It is NOT atheism. It is a belief that God created the universe, but allows man to make his own decisions. Basically, God will not interfere in human affairs. Taking quotes out of context like that from Founding Fathers, you can also say they promoted Fascism, were xenophobic to outrageous levels (even toward fellow Western Europeans), believed democracy to be a failed system, promoted social Darwinism, etc

Now onto my beef with the film. I admit, some serious things have been done wrong in the name of religion, but on that same note, to blame all of man's ills on a religion is a sham. In the developed world, Religion is not forced onto people and perhaps, sociologically, not needed for some people, because even the most poor in the the US/ EU dont have to worry about where their water will come from or if their next meal will arrive in time for their starving family. It can be said that most religious people in the US and EU are defiantly religious by CHOICE, and to a certain degree, atheism in the West is much more diverse and is characterized by groupings such as Humanist, Universalist, Militant Atheist, etc. If we are to use the Western classification of Atheist, a militant is no different from an evangelical. Both are over zealous based on their philosophies on existence, morality, and ideology.

However, in the under developed and the communist world, religion and atheism are different from their Western counterparts.

Religion is seen as a means of sociological survival in the under developed world. It is seen as a way to look forward to the future. Of course it can be manipulated. But in the same way atheism in communist states can be manipulated. Atheism in China and in the past, the USSR, are not like the individualist atheism that are followed in the US and EU. In these countries, competition from a god interferes with control. Thus religion becomes non-existent, ala USSR. Thus the religion becomes the state, which takes god out of the equation. it is an extension of the state In this respect, Atheism is responsible for over 200 million non-combat related deaths in little less then 80 years. But to be fair, that is Communist Atheism. But to also be fair, wed have to break apart every Christian denomination, as well as every subgroup of every group of every religious following for the past 14,000 years (when the first "religions" appeared) in order to get an accurate answer on what philosophy really kills the most.

Grab a dictionary and look up the definition of "faith." Never mind. It's only three words: "Faith - Belief without evidence" I, for one, have never seen any evidence of a god. I've seen magic tricks that seem believable. My advice? Doubt everything unless you have witnessed it yourself and then doubt what you think you are seeing.

what can it hurt to have faith ? you can see the world in two ways as if it were a miracle as just a mistake. i'll choose miracle as it makes me feel good. there is no hope in nothingness.

Religulous was the talk of the town at the Atheist Alliance International convention this past weekend. Check out my review at

Just because Bill Maher doesn't believe in hell, doesn't mean he isn't going there.

Apologies to Cichawoda. My last posts should have been directed towards Sam and Sully, respectively.

Baseless claim. Western civilization could very well have gotten along just fine without Christianity. The same cannot be said for the literally millions of people who lost their lives to Christianity’s zeal. Many would likely have suffered the same fate at the hands of another culture who believed that their god was the only true god.

You never ONLY judge a philosophy by its abuse, but you don’t disregard it either. Unfortunately, since the religious adherents believe, unwaveringly, that they are doing Gods purpose it is those very adherents who are least qualified to objectively judge those abuses.

“More people have been killed by the results of atheistic philosphy than by pervetion of good religions.“
This is demonstrably false. No one has ever been killed in the name of atheism. Never. Not once. Nobody. That would mean that they were killed for someone’s “lack of belief” in a deity. Your reasoning is that had they believed in a God looking over their shoulder it would have somehow triggered some sympathy. The fact that Polpot and others were against religion is incidental, not causal. The reason they killed so many is that they were psychopaths, not because they were atheists.
However, the reason the inquisition, the crusades and scores of unnamed atrocities killed so many people is precisely because they believed they were doing Gods purpose, or more specifically…”God instructed them to kill nonbelievers”. So for us today, either you believe that the entire murderous history of the Catholic Church (or any other religion) was perpetrated by psychopaths, or you believe they were truly carrying out Gods will. It cannot be argued whether they “believed” they were tools of God…they absolutely believed it and had the scriptural citations to back it up.
As to your last point, the seeds of abuse are sewn into the philosophy, so again, it is crucial to examine them in tandem. A simple philosophy such as, “Love they neighbor” can be perverted easily enough. “There are many more people who are not my neighbor, so it obviously doesn’t apply to them, does it.” But it’s easy to see that it is a perversion of the simple concept. On the other hand, the seeds of torture and death are written directly into the Bible, so it really isn’t about interpretation. It is about examining the psychology of an extant God who has a will for us to follow, which allows for completely un-falsifiable assertions to manifest in every manner of abuse up to, and including genocide.

On the advice of a previous poster I did look up Joesphus as apparently he talked about Jesus and Joesphus was born in 4AD. But my websearch said Josephus was born in 37AD and wrote The Antiquities of the Jews in AD93. I hope when I am 56, writing about something that happened years before I was born people might believe my words with such conviction.

The most critical thing we can say about Religulous is that it's not even handed. All religion should be put under scrutiny, just that the "Religion of Peace" cannot be lest we fear for our lives.

Fact: Western civilization especially America could never have existed without a christian heritage.

You never judge a philosophy by its abuse.

More people have been killed by the results of atheistic philosphy than by pervetion of good religions.

Problem is for the first time in history religious or none religious we are intelectually challenged and cant see the difference between a pure philospohy and its abuse.

Elephants have ears, I have ears wow I must be an elephant.

As earth changing as the Declaration of Independence is, it does not contain anything that is legally binding on the American people. It is a declaration...nothing more. The Constitution contains the foundational laws of our country and the founding fathers were wise enough to make the only reference to religion a limiting one. It makes no difference what their personal religious convictions were and many of them were, in fact, non-religous. The ideals they chose for our country were woven into the constitution and the constitution it is expressly against governmental entanglement with religion.


Matthew, Mark and Luke may have known the historical Jesus, but it is generally accepted that Matthew and Mark, did not write the gospels to which their names are attached. Luke is still being debated.

So we are still talking numerous years difference between the actual events and their being recorded. Strangely, there is precious little to be found in any other historical records of the day for such enormously important events.

As for this comment"...we came as an accident with no one/nothing being responsible for the design of the World as we know it?' You need to read up a little more about Evolution before posting an ignorant comment like this.

Bill Maher is the light of the world. His preaching will make this truly a better place. I hope my children become just like him. What channel is he on this Sunday? Be sure to give him your money.

Bill Maher and Rosie Odonnell, leading a bunch of fools to the box office to watch this film that will be long forgotten 1 month later. AS MY JESUS WILL LIVE ON LIKE IT OR NOT LEFT WING NUTS>

First of all, I'm a pretty devout Catholic and hang out with and believe half the things that make Maher go apoplectic and crank up his insult mechanism. But it takes all kinds to make the world go round, and any REASONABLE Christian (I think Maher would call that an oxymoron) will see that Maher actually tells some pretty sobering truths about religion. Give it a chance, brethren; look in the mirror. And don't forget to pray for Bill.




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