Religulous

Last night, I saw the new film Religulous, a word play on Religion and Ridiculous. With such a name, it should come as no surprise that it has Bill Maher front and center, interviewing mostly unsuspecting “salesmen of religious beliefs”. To call it a sacrilegious documentary would be putting it mildly.

http://www.religulousmovie.net/

Bill skewers the beliefs of traditional and fundamentalist Christianity, Muslims, and Jews. While he is doing so with “humor”, it is attack humor. But it is quite remarkable some of the things people say to him, with a straight face. The film got many laughs, a few shocks, and some applause at the end.

He makes a number of observations about the silly nature of some beliefs, such as the issue of taking the Bible literally when sources are second hand at best, and how many of the beliefs central to modern Christianity are not even mentioned in the Bible. He also touches on the consequences of politicized faith. It at least says something of the interviewees that he was not punched. Some were certainly taken aback.

The film stirs up many hornets nests and it seems they are vying to get it nominated for the Oscars. So it’s controversial and high profile. Commentators are bound to be extreme.

The differences between the old and new Testaments clearly illustrate the changing nature of faith in 2 eras. Yet traditional churches have not evolved proportionally to our own times. Thus we see the dropping congregations for such churches as they loose relevancy or fall into conflict over such modern issues as reproduction and relationship.

People are responding in three ways – by stepping forward, by stepping out or by stepping back. They are stepping forward into new paradigms such as ‘new age’, pseudo-eastern, New Thought, and related strains. Seeking new pathways. They are stepping out into atheism, agnostic, or simple skepticism. Or they are stepping backwards into fundamentalism, into old testament style fire and brimstone, a kind of western jihad. Curiously, the fundamentalists view their beliefs as literal yet tend to be the least in touch with the actual teachings. As Bill observes, nationalism is contrary to what Jesus taught.

All of this is symptomatic of change. Change that brings us to a point of reexamining our lives is a good thing. Stepping out of the box can be good. But world events that trigger fear may cause us to step back into a black and white world. Or if our vision is great enough, we will instead step forward.

Bill is clearly in the middle camp. He joins those who have stopped to question their beliefs and the “salesmen of religious beliefs” and found them wanting. He clearly states in the film that he doesn’t know. He has no answers. But he knows some of the other answers make no sense.

The trick he misses is that he is choosing that which he is skewering. He is putting forth a belief in not believing. He fails to recognize that the mind always has a story about the world. That is its nature. It is not comfortable unless it has answers. But then it sees other answers that don’t match as wrong.

This is why there are names like atheist. It is a belief system, what Bill calls “my version of enlightenment”. He feels we cannot find the answers until we die. Thus, he goes on to suggest that anyone who has the answers is wrong because they are not smarter than I.

What he does not see is that the answers to the big questions are not answered by the mind. They reside in pure consciousness, in Being. Some may tell you what they have found, but as Ruiz suggests, that is their story, their experience. Find out for yourself.

Now – what is important to get from this? When we rise out of the bliss of ignorance, we seek an answer to life’s challenges. This is what I call Tribal perspective. We seek a leader who can tell us how to think. Sometimes people fall back into this when they become fearful and uncertain as well. As the ego becomes stronger, we begin to outgrow some of that belief system and become more self actualized, more independent of thought. Then the Seeker arises and the rest of the story is seen through. The belief system collapses and the opportunity arises for us to step out of the box completely, to awaken to our true nature.

Bill personifies someone who has stepped out of a belief system and remains angry with it. And he has replaced one system with another belief, one he considers superior. But where does a belief take you when there are no answers except doubt?

The critical point is not to trade one belief system for another but to transcend them altogether. To go beyond mind and find out what is true for you, without opinion or position. To discover your true nature, under any belief preference you may have.

This is when you find the truth that is there in all faiths, under the noise of conformity and dogma. Under the resistance to what is.

As popular films are speaking to audience demand, what this film and others like DaVinci Code illustrate is what some have called the “Great Rethinking”. Enough people have been rethinking their beliefs that its showing up in popular culture. The trend is growing and the quality of the rethinking is improving.

That is really good to see.
Davidya

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10 Responses to Religulous

  1. Eric says:

    I have long enjoyed the biting wit of people like Bill Maher and Dennis Miller. But Bill’s closed mindedness surrounding religion while presented as open mindedness has always saddened, and sometimes annoyed, me. He makes the same mistakes I did many years ago. He judges a belief system by the worst of it’s practitioners. He points only to negative historical impacts by religion.

    But he also embodies something I have been saying for a long time. Any belief system that cannot stand up to rigorous questioning is not a belief system worth having. A big part of my sitting practice is reminding myself that I know nothing; that when I say “I believe” what I am really saying is “I don’t know”.

    I think, if I read him right, the difference between Bill and I is that he assumes there is nothing to believe in while I have faith there is.
    But I have an advantage. I once experienced Stillness. That is where I put my faith. Bill only knows thought so that is where he puts his. Understandable.

    Davidya, I believe you are right when you say “the quality of the rethinking is improving.” But that is so precisely because folks like Bill Maher have challenged us to hone our talking points, become more fluent in the language of awakening. He has forced us to admit that traditional religious structures and tenets do not deliver the peace they advertise. In his own way Bill is very much a part of the process of the spiritual evolution on this planet, as are all of us.

    Peace to All.

  2. Davidya says:

    Hi Eric
    Thanks for the feedback. Yes, there is unfortunately a throw the baby out with the bathwater approach to faith by many who stop and look. But at some point, life brings us back to the question again.

    I suspect you will find that you have experienced Stillness more than once. But its hard to notice unless it stays for a bit as it is quiet. Indeed, we step into stillness each time we shift states of consciousness.

    Belief is a tricky thing. It is natural for the mind to make stories about the world. The trick is in remembering they are stories, not believing in them. When you say a big part of your practice is telling yourself you know nothing, watch to see if this is just another belief. It is no different to say I know everything if it is just another belief.

    But you do raise a good point. We use story or belief to cover what we don’t know. When we know, it is no longer about belief. This is a very curious thing when we start to talk about God or past lives or stillness. It is not belief if it is our experience, yet others will assume it is belief and debate with their own.

    But even those experiences are a form of story or illusion. Only the stillness is real, not any experience or belief. That is, until it is all seen as stillness.

  3. Evelyn Lim says:

    Interesting points you’ve brought up. In your response above, you said that it is natural for the mind to make stories about the world. I’m just wondering to myself if the mind can sit without the dramas, illusion or stories: It’s okay not to know; it’s okay to be empty of all thoughts; it’s okay to be still.

    My past life memories are, at this point, real to me. They provide the necessary healing that I need to go through first in order to free my mind from its beliefs and conditioning. Then, there is that space to go beyond. To experience the stillness beyond the dimension of thoughts, feelings and emotions.

  4. Davidya says:

    Hi Evelyn. Thanks for your thoughts.
    We can have periods of time when the mind is quiet so the stories don’t come up. We can replace poor stories with better ones. But as along as we are out there in the world, the mind will engage and respond.

    As our experience deepens, the stories will come closer to truth, as you suggest. But at a certain point, the stories of the mind begin to lose their hold. We begin to see they are stories and see through them. Then they loose their grip.

    It’s OK to be still. And it’s OK to have stories. The idea is to be OK with all of it. In peace and in not peace.

    Even the very awake have stories of the world. They will tell you the path to God and what is real for them. This can have great value. But it is never something we should just believe. That is simply making another story. The awake are not caught in their stories but rather use them as a vehicle.

    Its like I have reviewed the forms of Maya. Maya can be illusion but it can also be ladder to truth.

    For myself, I found past lives to be valuable in understanding the oddness of the present. They also ended fear of death. But the key is still not to be caught up in the story they may create. I am this or I am that. Simply take what has value and remember that it is just memory. This opens you to experiencing them as a flow, as all in the moment, and in collapsing the the ‘false’ causality.

  5. Eric says:

    I understand what you mean about my not knowing anything as being just another belief. This raises the question of whether or not any thought representing a belief is strictly of the ego and to be seen as a diversion from what is.

    Lately I have conceptualized belief as a fortress the ego hides in, fearful of the unknown.

    As for my experience of Stillness it lasted for 20 or 30 minutes so I certainly know that! The language to describe it though has not been invented. Suffice it to say that I carry around in me the understanding that time and space do not exist and that, when stripped of thought, judgments and belief, we are the Universe itself. But here I am, seemingly back at square one.

    Anyhoo, the post is about Bill Maher and his disingenuous claim to be opened minded. He says he is just questioning but I sure catch a whiff of certitude coming off of him. Not judging, just observing. His argument that in this 21rst century of empirical science there is no longer a valid reason to believe in the spiritual underpinnings of various religions is without merit. I cannot cite specific ones, but there have been blind studies on the effectiveness of prayer, the physiological changes that occur when one meditates deeply, not to mention the “laws” governing quantum physics and the phenomena of non-locality. These findings seem to point, for me at least, to a dimension of reality that should be explored, if not in the context of spiritualality, then at least as other-worldly.

    So when he uses a belief system like Scientology to make his point he’s just proving that he ain’t lookin’ hard enough. But then, he makes me laugh so I cut him some slack. My only concern is that others will take his “proof” as their “proof”. But then I remind myself that the universe is unfolding exactly the way it should.

    Peace to All.

  6. Davidya says:

    Hi Eric
    Some beliefs are a construct the ego uses to feel safe, yes. Some are simply reactive. And some have value, like believing the sun will come up again tomorrow.

    It’s not necessary to have beliefs about things like the sun but many do.

    You may find it useful to consider that your experience of Stillness is a memory. It as deeply affected your beliefs about the world. But unless you become that, it is simply a memory. This is important as we also gain beliefs about memories. If you hold to the memory of stillness as reality, it can get in the way of becoming. I have seen people ripe for waking but faced with having to let go of their past experiences before they can become. The experience is very valuable but it’s memory is not That. It is a pointer.

    That’s a curious thing about opening. Nothing changes, so no ‘progress’ seems to be made. Yet by your description, everything changed.

    I agree – Bill spends the whole film judging, making wrong. And clearly, the film is edited to highlight the illogical aspects of some faiths. The emotional tone gives his agenda away.

    It’s true – some will join the Bill bandwagon and throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s easy to be a cynic. But that is part of the process of growth – to reject the old. Soon enough, people will come to find doubt to be less than satisfying.

  7. Eric says:

    Prior to experiencing Stillness I did not know what to expect; only that the technique being used would stop my thoughts. There were no expectations to meet or conceptual barriers to overcome. I am aware that the memory is probably my biggest stumbling block now. The experience is what I am after, not the being experiencing, if you know what I mean.

    It’s like Woodstock, I guess(the one in ’69). It only happened because nobody knew that it would.

    Thanks for your feedback. Peace.

  8. Davidya says:

    It’s a curious thing, but there are no stumbling blocks for you. Those are just part of the illusion. Eric is not trying to experience Silence, Silence is experiencing Eric. In that process the boundaries of Eric are created, then dissolved.

    It’s deeper than experience or experiencing. It is being. There is nothing to experience, so thee is nothing you can pursue. As you mention, there are no expectations. It is a process of allowing. The silence becomes increasingly dominant until one shifts from experiencing silence to being it, experiencing Eric. Soon, the silence is more dominant than the Eric. It absorbs everything about Eric and his experiences.

    Also curiously, it will not happen as there is no time involved. Eric already is the silence. It is simply to allow and the apparent boundaries will dissolve faster.

    Thanks for drawing the silence out.

  9. Louise says:

    Although I understand what Bill was trying to accomplish and I agree with him on much of his focus in this film, I found it dissappointing and a bit too critical. I think we are all on the same path that leads to the same place and we each need different things to help us along the way, even obstacles allow us to learn, ultimatley, and, therefore, it is all good.

  10. Davidya says:

    Hi Louise
    Thanks for the feedback. I agree – it is one thing to see through illusion. But if we spend our time making it wrong, it does not lead us to clarity.

    The name of the song comes to mind – Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.

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