Last week Bill Maher was a guest on the Daily Show, promoting his new movie Religulous and offering a clip. The clip happened to show a sardar in a London park, which was the extent of any Sikh’s appearance in the movie.
The name, ‘Religulous,’ is a portmanteau blending the words 1) religion and 2) ridiculous, and examines the overlap of those concepts. The movie’s proclaimed purpose is to promote doubt in the minds of those who have blocked doubt in religious teachings completely and subsequently hold totally irrational beliefs (i.e. reject evolution), though those who actually go to watch the movie probably wouldn’t be completely opposed to such doubt to begin with. Of course at some point the explanations of rationality end, and there is the unknown. The point of the movie is to admit that it actually is unknown, and show that those who claim to know, really don’t.
In the movie, Bill Maher interviews people from a variety of backgrounds and religious faiths (from a former head of the Human Genome Project and the former Director of the Vatican observatory to a British rapper). Some hold more nuanced views than others. He listens and asks questions of people who staunchly believe in literal translations of age old texts even when their beliefs scientifically absurd, and has some interesting (and comical) conversations. My favorite interview by far was with a very rational Vatican priest who happily admitted that Jesus’ birthday is not on December 25th and the Catholic church has absolutely no idea when it really is.
It seems that not all of the interviewees are happy with the way they’re portrayed in the movie. Some feel their complex views were oversimplified after editing.
The problem, according to some people in the film, is that Maher’s fast-paced, edited versions of exchanges don’t truly reflect the complex beliefs they shared with him. “Bill Maher was quite aggressive in pursuing his atheist agenda,” said Dr. Francis Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project, which successfully mapped human DNA. Collins filmed lengthy conversations with Maher about the relationship between faith and science, making “the case that acceptance of evolution is entirely consistent with belief in God,” he said. That conversation apparently ended up on the cutting room floor; Collins appears briefly in the film, discussing a non-science related topic. [link]
Though none were interviewed, there are definitely Sikhs who don’t want to critically examine what is ‘taught’ by a granthi, sometimes even leading to religulous beliefs that are in conflict with the actual teachings of Gurbani (i.e. ritualization). But we might also be less likely as a group to become religulous because we actually can access and attempt a first-hand understanding of the original teachings that were laid out by the ten Nanaks, instead of relying on bad translations (if we’re willing to put in a little effort with a dictionary of course). But only if we actually make an effort to understand and critically examine what we’re taught, will we be free from religulousness.