Here's an extremely obvious test of how secular our entertainment culture has become: Bill Maher can make a film that strenuously aims to mock all religions. His ads on the Internet show three monkeys: one Jewish, the second a Muslim monkey, and the third, a monkey Pope. The reaction? Our cultural commissars yawn. National news and entertainment magazines howled at the supposed insensitivity of "The Passion of the Christ," but Bill Maher can't seem to locate an ounce of outrage in all the fashionable places.
The film is called "Religulous" -- a lame merger of "religious" and "ridiculous." One reason it's not urgently mentioned is that while everyone knew "The Passion" was going to be an enormous box-office hit, Maher is hearing the sound of crickets in the fields of controversy, which may match cricket sounds at the box office.
Frank Rich of the New York Times attacked Mel Gibson and "The Passion" with a feverish pitch, but he hasn't penned a word about Maher. Maher can mock Hasidic Jews as subhuman monkeys in his Internet ads, but Frank Rich is too busy chasing after Sarah Palin with his flamethrower. He has a problem with orthodox Christians, but certainly not with Hollywood atheists who think the Jews are as silly as any other faith community.
The New Republic was another fount of scholarship and outrage against Gibson's cinematic vision of Christ's crucifixion, but they've offered no Maher critique.
Time film critic Richard Corliss, who scoured "The Passion" as "The Goriest Story Ever Told," can only say of Maher: "Even the affronted Christians who gathered to oppose Bill Maher's docu-comedy 'Religulous' (one sign read MAKE PEACE NOT MAHER) looked more like a welcoming party -- what would an antireligion movie be without protesters?"
Newsweek, which has passionately displayed an ongoing love affair with atheism, has failed to notice any controversy in the Maher film.
Maher's pseudo-comic jeremiad can't even score a positive review in The Village Voice. That's in Greenwich Village. In the most bohemian corner of New York City. Their film critic J. Hoberman decries the movie in the headline as an "adolescent case against religion." Hoberman wants to like it, but scorns Maher: "Still, as a polemicist, he's hardly fair -- more than a few exchanges are recalibrated in the editing, and too many end with Maher flipping Pascal's Wager, rejoining a believer's 'What if you're wrong?' with an emphatic 'What if you're wrong?' Such one-sided encounters are more depressing than fun."
But this hasn't stopped Maher from spreading his trademark drivel on every television set that will allow him. He hit all three major networks at different hours: ABC's "The View," CBS's "The Early Show," and NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."
On ABC, Maher was so doctrinaire that American historical figures from Lincoln to FDR were a cavalcade of morons for having the audacity to speak of God. When Elisabeth Hasselbeck raised these figures, he could only sneer: "of course, it's, it's a religious country, unlike every other civilized western democracy in the world, this country is still extremely religious because we're young and dumb."
But then Maher grew ridiculous. He claimed he wasn't engaged in mockery, that in his faith-mocking film, "we don't judge. We don't point fingers. We're not making anybody feel bad." Maher's film ends with pictures of exploding nuclear bombs and a chorus of the Talking Heads song "Road to Nowhere." But Maher's not trying to make anyone feel bad about his religion.
CBS touted him as bringing "the gospel of doubt." Maher announced, "I don't like the word atheist because to me it mirrors the certainty of religion. I preach the gospel of I don't know." Calling a religious country "young and dumb" would seem to have a heaping helping of certainty in it.
On NBC, Maher made cuckoo noises to mock Sarah Palin and others who believe in a biblical account of creation, and declared, "I would love people to see it for no other reason than just to make a statement that we are not going to let the Sarah Palins of the world take over this country."
None of these forums even located any controversy for all of Maher's dishonesty in filming. "We never, ever used my name," Maher told Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times when asked about how interviews were arranged. "We never told anybody it was me [sic] who was going to do the interviews. We even had a fake title for the film. We called it 'A Spiritual Journey.'"
It is amazing that Maher thinks it's religion that's the "supreme hustle," and not his lying movie.