Some Quick Thoughts on Bill Maher’s Religulous

I watched Bill Maher’s pseudo-documentary Religulous the other day. I knew I was in for a treat when it opened with Maher standing in Megiddo pronouncing the book of Revelation as “Revelations,” a subtle indicator that he has little to no familiarity with the subject matter of this video. This is confirmed later when Maher is talking to an actor who plays Jesus in a Holy Land theme park. This is part of the transcript of their conversation:

[Jesus’] bio was something that was going around the Mediterranean for at least 1,000 years. We’ve got Krishna who was in India 1,000 years before Christ. Krishna was a carpenter, born of a virgin, baptized in a river … There’s the Persian god Mithra, 600 years before Christ. Born December 25th, performed miracles, resurrected on the third day, known as the Lamb, the Way, the Truth, the Light, the Savior, Messiah.

Maher has apparently brought into the Zeitgeist parallelomania nonsense hook, line, and sinker. But, unfortunately for Maher, virtually nothing he says is correct. Krishna wasn’t a carpenter and wasn’t baptized in a river. The only thing that really comes close to showing a modicum of truth is that Krishna was born of a virgin but even that is technically incorrect. While Krishna was virginally conceived (i.e. his mother became pregnant with Krishna without engaging in intercourse), his mother did have seven or eight children prior to him who were conceived through the regular means of intercourse. Besides, attributing miraculous conceptions/births was standard fare with men of renown in those times.

Regarding Mithra, if I recall correctly, there is no evidence linking the Persian Mithra to being born on December 25th, though there maybe for the Roman Mithras (who, as I understand it, was the result of a syncretic Mithra-Helios cult that landed in Rome in about the 1st century BC), but this isn’t that relevant due to the fact that the birthday of the solar gods in Roman religion was invariably December 25 due to it being the time of the winter solstice (e.g. the festival, Dies Natalis Solis Invictis, “the birthday of the Invincible Sol/Sun”). But this is ultimately an irrelevant issue because Jesus’ birthday was not observed on December 25th in earliest Christianity but arose a few centuries after Christ and therefore this has nothing to do with Christian origins. Saying Mithras performed miracles is also irrelevant as miracles or miraculous feats were attributed to a wide variety of figures back in those times and is not evidence that the story of Jesus was dependent upon Mithraism. Mithras wasn’t resurrected on the third day. He wasn’t known as the Messiah (facepalm!) or by any of those other titles as far as I can ascertain.

This parallelomania nonsense that Maher spouted off was also accompanied by text on the screen showing parallels between Christ and the Egyptian god Horus. If my memory serves me correctly, it said that the Horus was baptized by Anup (Anubis) the Baptizer (who was then beheaded), that Horus was tempted while alone in the desert, and that he walked on water, cast out demons, and raised Asar (Osiris) from the dead, adding that Asar translates to “Lazarus.” Furthermore, it said that Horus had 12 disciples, was crucified, and that two woman announced the resurrection of Horus. While there definitely was a syncretism with paganism in early Christianity, none of these parallels between Horus and Jesus are true (and it doesn’t take a PhD to figure this out so I don’t get why Maher is oblivious to the fact).

There was quite a few funny parts in this documentary, especially the interview with the (liberal) senior Vatican priest, Reginald Foster, who admitted that the Vatican’s wealth is ostentatious and that the doctrine of hell is “all gone, all finished” and is just part of the “old Catholic thing” (see it on YouTube). But overall Religulous was a huge fail. Maher makes no attempt to present a fair or objective examination of religious belief. Most of the people he interviews are on the religious fringe (e.g. Ken Ham and some guy who claims to be the second coming of Christ). This isn’t too surprising considering that Maher is a comedian and what better way to make your documentary funny than by interviewing complete lunatics. But still, if Maher is going to emphasize how Christians and other religious people are just gullible idiots, he shouldn’t then go and spout off the demonstrably false parallelomania nonsense that Jesus was based off of pagan gods, as it only makes himself look like an ignorant and gullible person.

5 responses

  1. Maher wouldn’t spout parallelomania nonsense in his pseudo-documentary if he actually knew that it was parallelomania nonsense. For someone with his biases, it was all too good to check.

  2. You say that Maher is off-base for comparing Christianity with other, earlier religions. “Parallelomania”, you call it. You then go on to state that _of course_ Christianity’s miraculous tenets (virgin birth, etc) are borrowed from pre-existing religions. By implication, these miracles are fantasies – they never actually happened.

    This is exactly what Maher is saying.

    So what is it that Maher says, that you object to? Are there certain Christian miracle stories which you believe in? Does it matter to your belief level, if earlier religions had the same beliefs about their gods/divinities? It seems you don’t believe in the virgin birth, because it is rehashed from earlier religions. If this is a general principle for you, then you’ll find (if you research it) that there is nothing left for you to hold on to. You’ll find it impossible to believe in any miraculous events recounted in the Bible.

      • So you have a strictly pedantic objection. Yes, Maher is right that Christianity borrowed its miraculous elements from pre-existing religions. But Maher doesn’t know which ones where borrow from where.

        Or are you saying that Christianity’s miraculous elements are not borrowed from pre-existing religions? Maybe some, but not all? Which are not borrowed, in your opinion?

  3. Chuck,

    Pedantic?! If that is what you want to call pointing out a bunch of gross historical errors that should not be in a documentary and could have been prevented with a simple Google search, then sure I guess it’s pedantic.

    I do not agree with Maher that early Christian beliefs (such as the virgin birth) were *directly* borrowed from a certain religion. It is moreso that Christianity was born in a milieu where it was common to give famous heroes and religious figures a miraculous conception and birth where a god plays a direct role.

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