I've followed Bill Maher down a similar path. He was raised Catholic and is now a non-believer. The same is true of me. The difference is that Maher has turned his rabid agnosticism into an ideology as forceful and obnoxious as the religious extremists and fringe believers that he interviews in the new documentary Religulous. The film ends with a warring call-to-arms locker-room speech from Maher to other non-believers (and "modest believers") to rise up and fight the fight against faith for the good of humanity. Maher's crusade doesn't preach violent conversion but his line drawing comes off just as ignorant as the "infidel" speak of radical Islamic Imams.
Maher's subjects are so dead certain of their beliefs that they refuse to budge from a stance even when a twinkle of doubt is apparent in their eyes. Such is the case when Maher confronts an owner of a Christain gift shop and asks him if he truly believes in the Old Testament story of Jonah and the Whale. The store owner gets smiley and noticeably shifty when Maher says how ridiculous it is to believe that a man could live inside a fish for three days and nights.
Yet Maher suffers from the same blind stubbornness. When he stops at a tiny truckers chapel for a gotcha session with a handful of members, one trucker tells Maher that he was saved by Jesus and feels reborn. Prior to being a Christian, this man was a Satanist, living large off rolls of cash, drugs, and women. Director Larry Charles then quickly cuts to a shot of Maher in his traveling van snidely saying, "and why did he leave Satanism again???" This shows Maher's blanket unwillingness to accept even the positives that faith can have on people.
Such is the problem with the entirety of Religulous. Like Larry Charles previous film Borat, he and Maher have chosen easy marks to air their quibbles and argue their points. More than once, an interviewee says that they were unaware that "this type of documentary" was going to be made. And like Sacha Baron Cohen, Maher treats his interviewee's generosity with disdain. After the conclusion of one interview - a one-on-one with a gay conversion counselor - the interviewee offers Maher a hug, yet he can only respond with, "you didn't get an erection from that did you?"
More telling of Religulous' agenda is the way Maher and Charles run from information when it doesn't fit into their tunnel-vision screed. In one fascinating aside, Maher talks to an astronomic scientist from The Vatican, who mentions that Pope John Paul II said evolution is "more than an hypothesis". Yet Maher doesn't take this as an opportunity to explore the large chunk of Christians in America who find no conflict between their faith and the foundations of science.
But, you see, it just doesn't make for entertaining propaganda to have two opposing scholars sit down and debate faith versus agnosticism, no, cuz that would be too beneficial to people and could perhaps seal cracks that exist between disagreeing parties. Sadly, much like Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, whom Maher references often because of his wish to see Israel "wiped off the map", you get the feeling that Maher doesn't care to coexist with people of faith. He'd just prefer that once and for all they be wiped off the ideological map.