Who is “Religulous"?

On the occasion of the release of Bill Maher’s movie, “Religulous”, on DVD


Who is “Religulous"?
by Mahmoud Sadri

On a rainy evening in the autumn of 2008 I took the students in one of my graduate seminars to see Bill Mahr’s Religulous [tralier]. I wanted them to consider the film as a cultural artifact that embodied the “tradition-constituted” debate on the reasonableness of faith.  I was also seeking a broader perspective on the film. Everyone found Religulous rib-ticklingly funny but several of us found it blatantly unfair. Consider our reasons:

Laying traps
Maher is clearly uninterested in engaging authorities on religion.  No cameos of Houston Smith or Karen Armstrong here.  Instead, he targets the humble and the unsuspecting: a lay pastor of a store-front church with folding chairs, an Imam in a mosque under construction in Amsterdam, and a peacenik Rabbi in a cramped Brooklyn synagogue.  He then goes on to badger them with irreverent questions and clever asides.  You can’t help but feel for these folks who have been framed—in both senses of the term—as ignorant fanatics.  One must have a twinge of sympathy even for the Christian fundamentalist senator whose verbal gaffes Mahr flashes across the screen lest the viewers miss the extent of his ignorance.  My students’ reports on Maher’s antics resonated with mine: “He sounds like a bully who picks on younger kids because he will not be taken seriously by his peers.”  

Doing Michael Moore
Borrowing a trick from the contrarian activist and film maker Michael Moore, Bill Maher, uninvited, descends with full camera crew onto places of meditation and worship, putting those charged with protecting these spaces in a no-win situation: either they permit him to walk around and crack jokes at the expense of the faithful or they ask him to leave, thereby appearing as bigoted dunces.  He repeats this stunt in the Mormon tabernacle in Salt Lake City, in The Vatican, and in a Christian theme park in Florida.  What lesson are we supposed to learn from these little field trips? Are we expected to conclude that religious people are inhospitable and scared of spontaneous chats with a harmless intellectual gadfly like Bill Mahr? One wonders how Mahr would react if the tables were turned. What if a Mormon missionary, a Jesuit polemicist, or a Muslim seminarian tried to crash one of Maher’s laid-back soirees with camera and a sound man in tow? Should it surprise anyone that the Pope’s handlers are as vigilant in protecting their turf as Maher’s handlers would be of theirs?  Granted, it is funny, but it is a cheap laugh. Speaking of which, one of my students wondered why this inexpensively produced movie is on the Cineplex circuit when many of Michael Moore’s best works are available on-line, in their entirety, for free.  

Playing the agnostic
Finally, why would someone who is certain that all religion is at best ridiculous and at worst insidious, go around calling himself an “agnostic” – as he does in this movie – rather than stand up for counting as an atheist; and not only an atheist but a proselytizing atheist. Yes, there is a difference, as one of my atheist friends says, between someone who holds a belief or non-belief and someone who goes around trying to strip others of theirs.  Shouldn’t Bill Maher have the courtesy of leaving the term “agnostic” for those who are genuinely unsure of the answers? If Religulous demonstrates anything, it is that Maher stopped being an agnostic a long time ago.  One of my students described Mahr’s attitude in this movie as “religious in his anti-religiosity”. Now if that is not “Religulous” I don’t know what is.   

Mahmoud Sadri is Professor of Sociology at Texas Women's University. 


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more from Mahmoud Sadri
Natalia Alvarado-Alvarez

I have my answer

by Natalia Alvarado-Alvarez on



yet again, as is typical of

by bob (not verified) on

yet again, as is typical of you religious ignoramuses, not a single mention of a single point in the film. no assessment of the arguments and FACTS stated therein. you just attack bill maher, find fault with his approach and style. why? because like all you religious wackos, you CAN'T put forth an argument. because you don't have one. all you can do, all you've been doing for thousands of years is bury your head the sand and pretend.


I disagree with your evaluation

by IRANdokht on

There was no bullying, no intimidation and no exaggeration in this documentary.

Maher didn't say he's an athiest, maybe because atheism is also considered a religion.
He was straight forward and fair.

The most important parts of the documentary, the message if you will:

- Non-believers although more in number, are intimidated and not-organized enough to have a voice in the society.

- The fundamentalists in charge do not fear total destruction and the Armageddon because that's what they actually want to happen to reunite with their own kind of "Messiah". It's up to the non-believers to save the world from the fundamentalists destructive agenda.

I find nothing wrong with Maher's message, nor his delivery.



Fastidiously maybe – Facetiously never!

by Liteary critic (not verified) on

This “must” be a first. Professor Mahmoud Sadri , uncharacteristically, is teased out of his hermetic hideout to defend his piece against an anonymous critic. An honor rarely bestowed upon a named commenter, let alone a nameless one! The fact that the good Professor is compelled to say something is telling. The Professor ridicules his literary citric for daring to find grammatical errors in his text and writing a literary critique about it. But did it not occur to our good Professor that perhaps the literary critic did not find anything worthy of literary critique in his prose? I am, nontheless, thankful for his Professorial response.

Hamid Y. Javanbakht

Culture Jamming

by Hamid Y. Javanbakht on

Faith: loyalty, confidence, trust, devotion to some cause or trust in some ideal without relying on direct proof.

Religion: an activity which someone is extremely enthusiastic about and does regularly.


Good for him and his following, if only he could get into the broader sense of what a 'religion' really is, he should have instead made a film about people who suffer from herd mentality, because theology can be practiced in many useful, healthy, and logical ways. It's the universalists (who come from all backgrounds), with a mentality that believes there can only be one, platonically hygenic, explanation for every phenomena. This creates problems for human evolution, natural competition, and ecological diversification by discouraging independent experimentation with mythological multimodality and cognosocial innovation...some memes are too disruptive for well insulated cultures, especially those powers who benefit from an ideology based on materialism, consumerism, and unbridled hedonism.





"literary criticism"

by M. Sadri (not verified) on

I would like to thank all who have responded to my post. This response, however, concerns one anonymous poster with the alias of "literary critic. I hope he/she claims the nickname facetiously because I see no trace of "literary criticism" here. I advise the author to check the meaning of that term before using it.

Among the six objections enumerated in the response, the only valid point is one about the typo in which an e is omitted from Maher’s last name. That, of course, is not a consistent practice. The name is spelled correctly at the top as well as in the rest of the piece. The other five bullet points are “suggestions” rather than corrections. If I were to implement these rather pedantic suggestions, my style would tend toward a more pedestrian English, not a more correct one. Since I write for a more mature and sophisticated audience, I see no reason to change my style to please the pallet of my critic


Mahmoud Sadri


Religions come and go. In

by teapot (not verified) on

Religions come and go. In the long history of religious beliefs and practices, only one is recorded lasting more than 10,000 years, and that was some 40,000 years ago. The more history appears to accelerate, the faster religions emerge and then vanish into almost complete oblivion. However, the puzzling fact remains that according to archaeological findings, the need for believing in an alternative reality, in an underlying but all powerful system of non-visible and intangible forces underpinning what we call 'reality', goes all the way back to the dawn of our species. From the moment the Cro-Magnon began to roam the earth and walked out of Africa into the ME, Europe and Asia, the new species of highly intelligent, but belligerent hominids, manifested a special inclination for symbolic and abstract thought that seemed to have eluded the very smart Neanderthals. That peculiar inclination probably led simultaneously to articulated and very creative linguistic abilities, to art, and to the search for the divine essence of the Universe.

We are bickering now about the three rather recent and shallow Abraham religions that so pervasively dominate our lives today, but in the larger scheme of things human, they amount to very little. They will all very soon disappear from our mental horizon as a species, and it's probably not because of the rise of empirical rationality and scientific inquiry, but merely because they will follow on the foot steps of all other previous religious beliefs towards inevitable extinction...but it's my personal belief that the search for true divine revelation will not go away, as I see such quest as consubstantial to the deep nature of our species.


Evolution vs Creation

by Aryan-Sorna Anonymous (not verified) on

It is so funny to see the brain washed masses are engaged in perceived notion of battle between the three desert dogma branches of Semitic culture.

For the first time, by inapt partnership of Constantine (Roman Emperor) with murderess gang of Christians, the Semitic culture moved beyond its lizard infest borders around forth century AD. By seven century another Semitic clan under the flag of Islam moved beyond their infested land of darkness to mimic their Christian’s cousin strategy of expansion and annihilation of other cultures. The third branch of Semitics the Jews (oh, I’m sorry, the chosen ones) adapted the real clan strategy by not expanding with sword but, by moving among other cultures and control their money supply (Oh, I’m sorry, mind and money supply).

The real struggle is between the Aryan's culture of hard work, humanity and respect for Mother Nature (Evolution theory) with Semitic’s culture of superstitious (Creation hypothesis), laziness, lying and thievery.

Infinite consciousness

Zionism - Deceit - Brainwashing

by Infinite consciousness on

They create an individual who becomes later on respected and appreciated by some fans, in order to send their propaganda out to the masses with the aim to brainwash. Bill Maher is a puppet of the zionist manifesto!!!


Professor Sadri

by Literary critic (not verified) on

Your prose is very good but not perfect. It goes to show that even Professors of Sociology are prone to make spelling and grammatical mistakes:

1. You may not approve of Bill Maher's opinion but this is not an excuse to spell his name as "Mahr" as you have done a few times in your text.

2. "You can’t help but feel for these folks who have been framed" should read: You can’t help feeling for these folks who have been framed.

3. "Should it surprise anyone that the Pope’s handlers are as vigilant in protecting their turf as Maher’s handlers would be of theirs?" should change to:

Should it surprise anyone that the Pope’s handlers are as vigilant in protecting their turf as Maher’s handlers would be (or were) "in protecting" theirs?

4. "... when many of Michael Moore’s best works are available on-line, in their entirety, for free."

should read:

when many of Michael Moore’s best works are available on-line, in their entirety, "and" for free.

5. "and not only an atheist but a proselytizing atheist." should read:

and not only an atheist but a proselytizing "one".

6. "Finally, why would someone who is certain that all religion is at best ridiculous and at worst insidious," should change to either:

Finally, why would someone who is certain that all religion "stands for" is at best ridiculous and at worst insidious, ...


Finally, why would someone who is certain that all "religions are" at best ridiculous and at worst insidious, ...



bill maher

by bj (not verified) on

well i have watched and listen to bill maher a lot. I think he is confused about spirituality and understanding of god.He have to know that when billions of people believe in GOD and religion there must be something there that attract them and make them to do so.I think he is one those people who love to be different or may be he could not get his answers from his religion if he had one.you know we persians always love to be aginst something we feel educated,diferent and makes us superior.If something is bothering us all we can do is walk away from it.


Mahmoud: I dare you to send

by Not Anonymous (not verified) on

Mahmoud: I dare you to send this review to Bill Maher.