In a usual kind of coincidence, I saw the movie Religulous
at a time when I'm also reading a book of the same ilk, Help!:
Debunking the Outrageous Claims of Self-Help Gurus. At least the film
was, for the most part, entertaining. Comedian Bill Maher made short work
of most of his interviewees, lampooning them to their face: Mormons, gays,
Catholics, anti-Zionist Jews, Muslims, fundamentalist Christians ... In
the process he unashamedly preached his own brand of agnosticism, the religion
of "Doubt," of which the central and only tenet of belief is "I
Along the way, Maher betrayed his supposed objectivity by remaining faithful
to his 50% Jewish heritage. He insistently reinforced the stereotype of
Islam as a "violent" faith; walked out on the interview with the
anti-Zionist Jew while presenting no critique of orthodox Judaism; and gave
a one-sided (pro-Israeli) view of contemporary Middle East conflict, jabbing
at Palestinians and Iran/Persia without so much as a glance at their Israeli
The end of the film, likewise, betrayed the comic intent of most of the
film. We are met with a barrage of apocalyptic scenes and statements, overdubbed
by a serious sermon from St. Maher on the folly of organized religion and
the warfare it spawns from intolerance and self-righteous, self-fulfilling
Unlike the artful conflation of genres in a film such as the Coen Brothers'
latest, Burn after Reading, Maher's documentary clumsily sidesteps
comic detachment in an attempt to frighten viewers into giving up faith.
"I don't know" becomes, in effect, "You don't know, but I
Paul Damien's book Help! sounds promising enough, as a critique
of the wave of self-help books such as Rhonda Byrne's The
Deepak Chopra's Ageless
Body, Timeless Mind,
Scott Peck's The
Road Less Traveled,
and Fritjof Capra's The
Tao of Physics.
But after 36 pages, I realize that the attempt to characterize all of the
above as "fluff" and "claptrap" consists of nothing
more than the same method of "repetitious drivel" as the works
Damien criticizes. In effect, the unanalytical and pre-judgemental treatment
of the Eastern mystical approach to personal growth causes the critique
to tread on equally slippery ground.
Now, in taking the above approach I might well fall into a chain of the
same errors. Then again, I admit a bias in "accepting on faith"
a fundamental personal affinity for Eastern mysticism. Basically in all
of above disputations of faith, whether of organized religions or their
New Age spinoffs, it comes down to personal taste and inclination. If you
are a person of faith in whatever system suits you, it is unlikely that
the slapdash efforts of "debunkers" such as Maher and Damien will
dissuade you. In the end they, like the prophets and pundits they so self-righteously
ridicule, are also trying to carve out their piece of the philosophic /
entertainment pie. If their bottom-line premise is "buyer beware,"
then I would apply the same disclaimer to their own presentation.
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