Fireproof is the story of a firefighter whose marriage is falling apart because of pride and neglect, but that eventually is revived because the Cameron character experiences a religious conversion and gets his life’s priorities in order.
Religulous is a story of one man – comedian and HBO talk show host Bill Maher – and his quest to show organized religion as a silly, even dangerous thing.
There’s been an effort within the evangelical community to support family-friendly Fireproof, partly because the movie is supportive of family values, but mostly to stick a thumb in Hollywood’s eye. I haven’t been, but I know some people who have seen Fireproof; I’m the only person I know – Christian or non – who has seen Religulous.
It’s a shame because I think Christians could learn more from Maher’s film than from Fireproof. And it’s not the lesson they expect. If Maher’s film is an unflinching glimpse into the mind of an unbeliever, and if it offers a hint as to what the world thinks when they view the Christian church – especially in America – we’ve got a lot of reputation repair to do. Our brand, as it were, has been tainted more seriously than I thought.
Make no mistake: the premise of Maher’s film, that he is genuinely questioning the validity of organized religion, is a canard.
It’s clear early on that he set out to make sport of the world’s Big Three religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, with a particular focus on Christianity. And through artful writing and editing, including the frequent use of video showing examples of some of Christendom’s most notorious charlatans – too bad the Inquisition came before the invention of the camera – he largely succeeds. He takes his microphone, camera, and acerb, ambush style, into a truck stop chapel and a Christian-themed amusement park, among other venues, posing questions to the unsuspecting, including truckers and an actor who portrays Jesus at the Holy Land Experience.
By the time Religulous had run its course I had seen some amusing moments (interviews with a former homosexual who runs a ministry for those who wish to break from that lifestyle, and a colorful Vatican priest), some troubling moments (interviews with Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda and an anti-Zionist rabbi) as well as some moments that were cringe-inducing (interviews with Arkansas’ U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, the truck stop scene).
There is one important message that Maher unintentionally conveys: that we Christians, by and large, have done a lousy job at preparing to defend our faith. Maher’s questions should be easily answered by any believer – but I’ll admit that I had to research some of the issues he raised after I got home.
Still, what I saw through the eyes of Bill Maher confirms what I have intuitively known for a while: many people see Christians as less than genuine, and believe – with some reason – that few of us are prepared to convince them otherise. What I didn’t know was the extent of the problem and its consequences.
While Maher avoided engaging our leading apologists in conversation, he shouldn’t have needed to engage the likes of Ravi Zacharias to hear a true defense of our faith. If Maher had stuck the microphone in front of my face, I should have been able to answer his questions – but I’m not sure I would have fared much better than the earnest folks featured in the movie.
So thank you, Bill Maher, for opening my eyes and showing me the cost of my complacency. Time for me and evangelicals everywhere to get on the ball and prepare ourselves to do a better job following Paul’s advice in 2 Timothy 2:15 – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”