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.

6 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.

  4. I agree that the Zeitgeist content regurgitated in Religulous makes it a documentary of over all poor quality. There are plenty of similarities to Mithra that don’t have to be simply invented out of thin air but can be directly quoted from the Vedic. Instead, his research seems to only have been from that ridiculous film Zeitgeist.

    The fact that the myths of Christianity were derived from previous myths is an easy one to make without resorting to lies. Even the Bible itself contains part of this conversion and merger in the Old Testament, where it sloppily uses plural forms of certain god names, speaks of gods of gods, and describes very different gods compared to other sections. I think his point was made, even if he used incorrect information to accomplish this. It was a dishonest way to make a point that could have been made using actual facts. But the point was valid nonetheless.

    The point about his decision to interview primarily the crazy fringe is kind of missing his greater point. He could have spoke with more moderate rational theists. But he chose to focus mostly on the fringe because it is in the ignorant ridiculous fringe that the greatest dangers of religion reside. The moderate rational peaceful theists are not really that much of a problem, except when they legislate their views on the rest of us (remeber he spoke to an actual creatard US senator who admitted you don’t have to pass an IQ test to be a senator – basically declaring himself as stupid). He did not ONLY focus on the fringe but did cover the less crazy theists.

    He did go to a typical Christian mega-church to show the typical sheep waving hands in the air as they are ‘entertained’ into a shared emotional state. This was important to show, as many of these people are reguar rational people in their every day lives. But when it comes to religion, they are told this ‘feeling’ comes from the Holy Spirit, which they then believe is the actual cause, in a circular logic that only a religion can perpetuate. He explains how perplexing it is to him that regular, normal people can be so duped on this one subject. He doesn’t adequately cover this, or go into the whole aspect of ‘faith’ in any depth.

    It would not take much time to explain this as the shared delusion of people indoctrinated to abandon reason for this one specific set of beliefs (the religion invokes the mechanism of faith as a loophole to get around the rational analysis that would otherwise make it unbelievable). He should have spent more time explaining that the faith mechanism is invoked into existence BY the religion, which subsequently uses faith to support those beliefs which lack any evidence. The obvious demonstration of the error of using faith is that it can support ANY religious belief and as such does not get anywhere close to any truth. That would have been a powerful thing to explain but he completely skipped it, even after showing the more benign religions.

    He also covers Mormonism briefly and speaks with regular non-crazies that left the church since the church itself is very intollerant to dissent as well as secular inquiry. He covers the banishment of family members who simply disagree. This is a lesser harm, so again, he spends little time here. He even covers Scientology, another somewhat benign religion, other than its intended design to take tons of cash from the ultra-gullible.These more benign forms of harm are not as important as the potential apocolyptic harm of the fringe, nor as entertaining, so he quickly moved through them and on to the more funny, crazy, and potentially detrimental theists and their beliefs.

    His closing monologue was about the potential for mass destruction over a difference of religious beliefs and the actions of people trying to make prophecies come true. That was the point. As such, the fringe were the primary focus. The fringe nonetheless influence global politics, have nuclear weapons at their disposal in some cases, and are the active cause of much of the strife in our world. They lack evidence that their beliefs map to reality, just as moderate theists do, but this ‘faith’ mechanism, invoked by the religions themselves, permits them to believe such absudities which have caused some to commit atrocities, and may cause others to do even worse acts against humanity.

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