O holy nightmare: Bill Maher travels to Jerusalem in Religulous.
RELIGULOUSdirected by Larry Charles, written by and starring Bill Maher. A TVA Films release. 100 minutes. Opens Friday (October 3). For venues and times, see Movies.
Bill Maher is on a crusade. Well, not a crusade, exactly. Think of it as an enlightenment tour.
The stand-up comic and politically charged host of HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher has arrived at the Toronto Film Festival with Religulous, a documentary about the fallacy of religious belief that he's made with Borat director Larry Charles.
"Religion is about certainty," he says. "Not only are they sure, but they're sure the other guy is wrong, to the point where they want to kill him. That's how wrong they think the other side is. So what I'm saying is, I have faith in doubt. Doubt is my product. Doubt suits human nature, not certainty."
Born to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, Maher was raised Catholic. "I had it drilled into my head when I was a small child, and then slowly had it drilled out by becoming an adult and realizing it was a load of nonsense."
He sees his personal evolution as research for the film.
"I took a Bible course in college, I read the Bible with a professor teaching it, and I always did religious issues on my talk shows. When Politically Incorrect started in 1993, one of the first issues we did was ‘Religion Does More Harm Than Good.' We had a modest proposal about putting a warning label on the Bible. After so many years of doing it on television, I just thought this is the one topic that is deserving of a broader canvas."
The problem, as Maher sees it, is that Americans' relationship to their beliefs has become elastic in the era of megachurches and evangelicals.
"People have come up to me and said, ‘I'm religious, but I don't believe in that Bible stuff.' Well, where do you think it comes from? It's like saying you're American, but you don't believe in the Constitution of the United States.
"I think what's interesting is that the religious people don't know the Bible. Some of them quote it - they have certain verses in their head - but it's amazing how ignorant religious people are of the holy books themselves. They don't know what's in there, and if they did I think they would be appalled. They can't even name the Ten Commandments.
Maher knows he isn't likely to change the minds of the faithful.
"There obviously are going to be millions of people who don't want to go anywhere near this movie," he says, "and that's okay. What movie appeals to everybody? Not even everybody went to see Batman.
"But there's tens of millions of people who don't think about religion at all. They might pray once in a while when they're in trouble, or they're bargaining, ‘Please, God, could I get the job.' I want those people to come to the movie, because those people could be moved. I think they're open. They're like the independent voters."