A Film By Bill Maher .. Directed by Larry Charles; from 2008...
Reviewed by Brother Tracy Gibson...
Comic Bill Maher takes a close look at His own skepticism concerning traditional religions in this funny film that paints a pretty dreary picture of something that is all some people have to hold onto--their Faith in GOD and or their religion.
While the film is definitely tongue-in-cheek, it does something that no other film on the subject of religion that I know of does--it actually questions theologians, specialists, experts and Men and Women of GOD in the churches and other Sacred Places concerning why they have Faith in GOD and how they came to have such faith. [There is a more well-researched film on Christianity by Peter Jennings that examines the issues in a more historical and serious context as well as several films by Black filmmakers, the titles of which escapes me right now.] The film might have done better to have a partner with Mr. Maher, who acts as host, narrator, guiding journalist and sit-in comic. This Way people would have had a chance to take this serious subject--the focal point of People losing their lives, financial backing, livelihoods and the lives of their children--with the seriousness it deserves instead of just getting ribbed. But then again, to ask that of a comic, might be more than can be expected.
Reilgulous travels far and wide to talk to people in far away and exotic religious places. The humorous documentary also shows the viewer actual Religious Places such as: The Vatican; Headquarters of the Mormon Church; a sacred Muslim Mosque; and several sacred Religious locations and artifacts in Israel; and visits with an obviously wealthy Black Preacher and a small town country church. Maher stumbles over His words as He tries to explain His own skepticism, but does a lot better that some of the People He questions, who have little solid answers for why they believe in GOD. [Which is the most fascinating thing about Faith and Religion in the first place.] Maher comes away just as baffled after the film as He was before the film. This is NOT to make fun of Him, per say, but to recognize that making sense out of religion, GOD, Christianity, Islam and Judaism is certainly NOT a priority of most of even our most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States.
I will give Him a pointer from my Mother, MRs. Jessie mae Gibson, who, when I asked Her if She believed in the basic tenants of the Bible and Christianity such as the idea that Jesus walked on Water; fed the multitudes with seven fishes; and healed the sick--She looked me right in the eye and said ``No,'' ``I go to church for the fellowship,'' Believe me I took that quote and made it part of my life.
I am a very deep believer in GOD, Jesus and now, our African Ancestors and our Positive African Spirits. I especially believe that my deceased Family Members are looking over our futures, through a Spiritual Process I don't understand and can't really grasp. At the same time, I believe Religion and Faith should be and, in fact, must be something that motivates us to go do good and GODLY deeds and things for ourselves, the world and others--such as: to fight for justice, truth and freedom; and to help the poor and left out. [I agree with Mr. Maher that people who drop bombs and make weapons that kill people are definitely NOT engaged in anything that the God I have come to LOVe would approve if. I believe Mr. Maher is really a true believer--don't laugh--because He made a film that questions our government's war efforts, other countries was efforts and asks why we and other countries are so war like in the name of GOD. [This is interspersed in the film]. Spreading peace, LOVe and Joy are things that are spoken of very highly in many sections of the Bible such as the first part of Psalm 45, I believe, [``I'll have to check.'']
Mr. Maher also questions how can we have so many people with money and so many people with no money and people, like the Muslim, he points out, using bombs and violence to solve their problems. [This is a short-coming of the film because he never points out that very, very few options are left open to Muslim People living in or near Isreal because they are not allowed to take part in the political systems and political and social processes that would rectify their historical political oppression, legitimize their views and take up some of the legitimate political, economic and social gripes and the complaints they have. This, basically, is why Muslims so-called extremists use violence and force. Maher also never points out that Israel and Jewish People have used brutal state force ever since the state of Israel was formed in 1948 [the same year Apartheid was started in South Africa, mind you]; and he never points out the Jewish responsibility for the violence, stress and strife in the so-called Middle East. There is also an active and viable Peace Movement among some Jewish People in Israel that gets very little exposure in the Western Press, that I know of. This, I feel is a major downfall of the film.
Another major problem in the film is that while Maher interviews a rather commercial, and unethical Black preacher, he never interviews a more People-oriented, fair, ethical, grass-roots preacher--White or Black--who deeply cares about Black People and His or Her congregation. There are several such churches that have soup kitchesn for free to serve the poor; child care for free; and other community programs. [There are many such Preachers in the Philadelphia area such as Pastor Kevin R. Johnson of the Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia; Pastor Holston on the New Vision United Methodist Church near Broad and Westminster Avenue [which has a fabulous child care program and a free breakfast program run by my Good Friend and Future Pastor William Cody with the much-appreciated help from several Black Church Women; the new Pastor at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia; and our Pastors at Unity Fellowship Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pastor Jeffery Haskins and Reverend Victoria Skeete. There are literally hundreds of other pastors in Philadelphia alone who would have loved some good publicity for the programs they hold dear to their churches such as those at Women's Baptist Church near Broad and Poplar Street as well.] Why weren't such People interviewed? Because Mr. Maher was selling skepticism--his own ideas, not hope, Possibility, LOVe, sharing, Religious Dignity and Peace--which many churches profess, but he chose not to look at or examine.
I have to also mention that Mr. Maher missed the boat also in the literally thousands of White churches that have White Pastors, male and female, who also have free services and food programs for the homeless; child care; shelters for HomelessPeople and Homeless Women and Homeless Children such as the Arch Street United Methodist Church at 55 North Broad Street near Center City Philadelphia, Pastored by Reverend Robin Hynicka [By the Way, Pastor Hynicka allows our tiny church--Unity Fellowship Christ Church of Philadelphia to house ourselves in His tiny Chapel at a reasonable rate.]
Moreover, Mr. Maher's film is very one-sided and weak on looking at the Ancient Black and Ancient African foundations of elision and especially Christianity--which I feel is how we get to the crucial crux of where religion and the belief in one GOD came from. There are any number of Black and African scholars who he could have interviewed about this subject including Professor Molefi Kete Asante of Temple University and the Doctor Kete Asante Institute [at 5535 Germantown Avenue; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19144; and Professor Maulana Karenga--the Creator of Kwanzaa and a Black teacher at California State University, Long Beach, California; and several others, Black males and Black females. Such information sources can be very viable, respected and established WITHOUT being from or associated with any university, scholarly foundation or regularly accepted information source. In the scene where he talked about Egypt's The Book of the Dead, for example, Mr. Maher uses photo overlays of White religious figures, which is an obvious misrepresentation of historical fact.