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.
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 lose 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.