In his new documentary Religulous, Maher endeavors to explore what he views as the irrationalities of religion and faith with a comedic twist. Maher travels the world, interviewing believers from major faith traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Mormonism, stopping everywhere from the Vatican to the Dome of the Rock to a roadside chapel in North Carolina. While attempting to present his views in a humorous way, his main point is simple: religion is inherently irrational and dangerous, and it “must die for mankind to live.”
…Maher thinks he knows so much more about the target of his opprobrium than he actually does. He makes his first mistake in the first line of the movie by referring to the “Book of Revelations” — it’s not plural — and it just snowballs from there.
Within a few minutes Maher is denying not just the divinity of Jesus Christ but his actual historical existence, a question disputed by almost no credible scholar. You can argue that it is difficult to believe in Jesus’s existence considering that primary records for his existence are recorded by only a precious few devoted disciples who recorded his allegorical teachings in detail as well as the social unrest they inspired. Then again, if that’s the standard – you probably don’t believe Socrates either.
Still, Maher isn’t exactly on solid ground in questioning what he sees as the more fantastical elements of Christianity. Maher asserts that there are a slew of uncanny similarities between Mithraism and the worship of the Egyptian god Horus, on one hand, and Christianity, on the other, and that these beliefs, which predate Christianity, were bastardized to make up the foundations of the new religion. Here too he falls flat on his face; at best there are some commonalities (present among nearly all religions), and most of the specific similarities asserted in the film, e.g., that Jesus, Mithras, and Horus were all the product of virgin births, come from dubious sources.
The example of the virgin birth is particularly telling because Maher makes much hay of the fact that only two of the four Gospels mention the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. That others would omit this important fact is somehow proof that they were making it up. Well, Mithras was born out of rock (and the earliest known account of his origins seems to postdate the writing of the Gospels), and Horus was conceived by his mother Isis with a golden penis which may make her not quite a virgin? For the Gospel writers to ignore the virgin birth is no more strange than for a comedian to ignore the existence of the penis and all of the potential for hilarity it presents. Unfortunately, Maher ignores it because it doesn’t make his case. And again, we’re just getting started dissecting the facts in Maher’s documentary.