Saturday, October 04, 2008


Bill Maher's documentary on ridiculous religion (hence the title Religulous) would probably cause an obligatory riot or two in India; so it is something to be celebrated that it can be made and exhibited peacefully (so far) in the US of A. As much as a documentary can, it skewers the absurd in religion and makes the point that given the passions that religion arouses, and given that man now has the power to obliterate himself, religion is something we can no longer afford to indulge in. I don't expect the documentary to make a dent in anyone's belief, however. Religion is more powerful than that. Religulous does make for a great weekend movie.

Maher makes at least one error - in a section on the Christian myth being predated by other myths with much the same elements, he says Krishna was born of a virgin, baptized in a river, etc. Not so, Krishna was born of Devaki and Vasudeva. He was smuggled across the Yamuna after his birth because his uncle feared a prophecy that he would be slain by a child of Devaki and Vasudeva and so, we are told, had killed the previous seven.

In Hindu stories there is no virgin birth - to create the world, Brahma effectively committed incest.

This next too will sound like apologia, but Hindu stories have, in my opinion, enough elements in them that they are not to be understood to have happened at any particular place or time. Of course, lots of people do not share that idea.

There is another level at which the documentary fails for me. An easy way of putting it is that Maher fails to take on the Buddhists or the Hindus. Prof. Balu might say it is because what we had in India is not a religion. Nevertheless there are all kinds of rituals and paraphernalia that seem absurd to non-Hindu eyes even surrounding someone like Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who has one outpost of his teachings at Saylorsburg, PA. Putting that aside, and just looking at the core of what the Swamiji teaches - he would be largely in agreement with Bill Maher.

Namely - we do not need religion to teach us what is right and wrong. People have a pretty intuitive understanding of that, and it can be sharpened with reason. There is no heaven, no hell. God - to the extent Iswara corresponds to God - God does not reside in some remote place. God is neither angry nor jealous nor hates anything in the universe. Good and evil to a large extent are human categories. There is nothing to be believed in, only something to be understood; and that too, only if you want to. What is to be understood is the nature of the world. This understanding is not from one prophet or other, but has recurred and recurs in myriads of people.

I'm not going into what that knowledge is; but rather trying to point out that here is what we would call a religious teacher who agrees with Maher and not in the manner of the Catholic priest that Maher interviews; and so Maher has to be missing something.

PS- fixed some typos.

1 comment:

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Interesting comment.

I am unlikely to see Maher's movie because I usually don't like the guy and because I tend to think that anti-religion is mostly just another religion. I agree, though, that it is a good sign that such a movie can be shown without producing riots.