Criticism of Mormonism/Video/Religulous
This page is based on an answer to a question submitted to the FAIR web site, or a frequently asked question.
How accurately does Bill Maher's film "Religulous" portray Latter-day Saints?
The film's title is a combination of the words "Religious" and "Ridiculous," thus providing a one-word summary of the film's tone and intent. The film follows Bill Maher as he travels to various locations throughout the world for the purpose of demonstrating the absurdity of religious belief. Maher accomplishes this by seeking out believers and posing questions which allow the respondents to appear foolish in their responses. As one reviewer put it:
- Mr. Maher's M.O. involves getting in the face of a believer, making a mockery of his or her beliefs, asserting his own atheism and then waiting, in the hallowed tradition of "Candid Camera," for the amazed, outraged or, in some cases, amused response. 
The bulk of the film is directed at Christianity, Judaism and Islam, however, approximately four minutes of film time is directed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Filming the Mormon segment was apparently a challenge for Maher, as his attempts to use subterfuge to obtain his interviews weren't always successful. According to Maher,
- It was simple: We never, ever, used my name. We never told anybody it was me who was going to do the interviews. We even had a fake title for the film. We called it 'A Spiritual Journey.' It didn't work everywhere. We went to Salt Lake City, but no one would let us film there at all. 
Eventually, Maher had to settle for interviewing two ex-Mormons, who were more than willing to mock their former religion right along with him, noting that to leave Mormonism is to commit "social suicide."
How does the film treat Latter-day Saints?
- It is interesting to note that while Maher interviewed believers for most of the film, for the LDS segment he chose to interview two ex-Mormons. The interviews, which lasted a total of three hours, were arranged by an officer of the Ex-Mormon Foundation. According to her, Maher's three hours of interview time with these two ex-Mormons "was a 3-hour laugh-fest!"  According to one reviewer at the Baltimore Sun, Maher interviewed ex-Mormons because "no practicing Mormons would talk with him." 
- The film mocks temple garments, referring to them as "magic underwear." A still picture of a man and woman in garments (an earlier version of a photo originally posted in the "Undergarment" article in Wikipedia) is displayed.
- Elements from Ed Decker's 1982 anti-Mormon film The God Makers are shown: Specifically, the animated portion that makes the rounds on YouTube under the heading Cartoon banned by the Mormon church.
Non-Mormon critics have also realized how biased and sensationalistic the film is. It is interesting to note that many of these quotes come from reviewers who actually liked the film. A sample of media quotes about the film:
- "At one point the film presents a cartoon about Mormon beliefs almost as if it’s Sunday-school material — when it is in fact from a notorious anti-Mormon film."
—Mark Hemingway, Maherly Fair, National Review Online, Oct. 7, 2008.
- "He [Maher] loves the sound of his own voice and the intellect and seeming intelligence behind his own theories. Nowhere in this movie does he really attempt to get answers."
—Gary Wolcott, Religulous doesn't have much of a prayer, Tri-City Herald, Oct. 2, 2008.
- "If you can accept the comedian and talk show host's ill-mannered shtick and can stand a robust lecture from someone who speaks critically of what others hold sacred, Religulous will reinforce what you already think."
—Duane Dudek, There’s no doubt ‘Religulous’ rips faith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 2, 2008.
- "I enjoyed Religulous, but I think it would be better if Maher had the confidence to spend more time talking to articulate believers."
—Chris Hewitt (St. Paul), 'Religulous' has a host so good, it will renew your faith in the docu-essay, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Oct. 4, 2008.
- "Thought is absent in Religulous, as is imagination. The movie is Maher's monument to Maher, as ugly and hateful as anything he decries in the film."
—Glenn Whipp, Maher ridiculous in 'Religulous', Los Angeles Daily News, Oct. 3, 2008.
- "Bill Maher does something amazing in Religulous. He makes Michael Moore look incredibly likable in comparison."
—Mick LaSalle, 'Religulous' - comic on a crusade, San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 3, 2008.
- "[Maher's] scattershot and ad hominem attacks against many different forms of religious hypocrisy don't add up to a coherent critique, and he's not qualified to provide one."
—Andrew O'Hehir, Bill Maher vs. the "talking snake", Salon.com, Oct. 2, 2008.
- "A provocation, thinly disguised as a documentary, that succeeds in being almost as funny as it is offensive."
—Joe Morgenstern, 'Religulous', Wall Street Journal, Oct. 3, 2008.
- "In the end, for all its genuflections towards free inquiry and rational debate, Maher is as close-minded as any of the preachers he despises."
—Stephen Whitty, Religious 'doco' funny but a fixed fight, Newark Star-Ledger, Sept. 30, 2008.
- "Maher’s first film project, Religulous, is a major disappointment because here, unlike on Real Time, he aims for laughs instead of insight -- and aims low."
—J. R. Jones, Fishes and Loaves in a Barrel, Chicago Reader
- "One of the rules of satire is that you can't mock things you don't understand, and Religulous starts developing fault lines when it becomes clear that Maher's view of religious faith is based on a sophomoric reading of the Scriptures."
—Neely Tucker, Religulous, Washington Post, Oct. 3, 2008.
- "For most of the film, Maher uses the devout as straight men to set up his jokes. Though initially sidesplitting, over the course of Religulous, Maher has diminishing comic returns."
—Carrie Rickey, Comic Maher has faith in his lack of faith, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 2, 2008.
- "Maher's antireligion documentary, Religulous, has numerous blasts of raucous humor amid passages that feel like a screed."
—Colin Covert, Maher finds 'Religulon' in documentary, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 2, 2008.
- "Being snarky and smug doesn't equate to providing insight, and there's more than one occasion when the filmmakers lose sight of this in their zeal to spread the Gospel According to Maher."
—James Berardinelli, Religulous, ReelViews
- "Employs a debilitating brand of smug disingenuousness, feigning interest in discussion while arrogantly and speciously preaching in the very same manner that its subjects are ridiculed for."
—Nick Schager, Religulous, Slant Magazine, Sept. 20, 2008.
- "The film is basically 100-plus minutes of Maher making fun of others for their beliefs. However, he does nothing to prove his own points and contentions."
—Jeff Vice, "Maher is Smug in 'Religulous'", Deseret News, Salt Lake City
- "In the end, Maher suffers from the same rigidity of thought - the certitude that he's right and those who disagree are wrong - that he dislikes in people of faith."
—Sean Means, Review: Maher takes on religion but sounds like he's preaching to the agnostic choir, Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 2, 2008.
- "Leaves the viewer wondering how much more interesting the movie might have been had Maher picked on more people his own intellectual size."
—Gary Thompson, "Maher's 'Religulous' fights to a draw", Philadelphia Daily News
- "This movie doesn’t seriously explore how religion affects politics; it’s just a snide attack on religious belief."
—Armond White, The Gospel According to Maher, New York Press
- "It's a nasty, condescending, small-minded film, self-amused and ultimately self-defeating. Its only accomplishment is to make atheists look bad -- and in this political climate they didn't need Maher's help with that."
—Rafer Guzman, 'Religulous', Newsday, Oct. 1, 2008.
It is curious that Maher felt that the best way to ridicule Latter-day Saints was to enlist the help of those who would be guaranteed to mock the Church. It raises the question: What was he afraid of that he could not solicit or use the opinions of believing Latter-day Saints? It may be just as well—those whom he chose to interview simply repeated the standard mockeries of the Church in true "God Makers" fashion. These criticisms have long been asked and answered. One movie critic alluded to Maher's approach to interviewing believers as similar to "shooting fish in a barrel." In the case of Mormonism, however, he appears to have simply chosen fish that were already caught.
- [note] Joe Morgenstern, 'Religulous', Wall Street Journal, Oct. 3, 2008.
- [note] Patrick Goldstein, "Bill Maher hates your (fill in the blank) religion", Los Angeles Times, Aug. 7, 2008.
- [note] Sue Emmett, "Fun News About Bill Maher's New Film - Religulous!", posted to Recovery From Mormonism board, Sept. 25, 2008. "If any of you have noticed that in the last year or so, Maher has gone off about the Mormon religion several times on his show and in interviews, that's a direct result of his 3 hours..."
- [note] Michael Sragow, Bill Maher's spirited humor carries 'Religulous', Oct. 3, 2008.
FAIR wiki articles
- 8: The Mormon Proposition—
A June 2010 documentary called "8: The Mormon Proposition," written and produced by Reed Cowan, claims to be an expose of the role that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints played in the passage of California Proposition 8. Reviews of the film generally agreed that it was a polemical treatment of the issue, pitting the Church as villain in a quest to limit or remove the rights of same-sex couples. FAIR reviews some of the individual claims made in the documentary. (Link)
- "Big Love" episode "Outer Darkness"—
It is not our intention to discuss details of the portrayal of the temple ceremony here. We will, however, address some of the portrayals of other LDS beliefs and practices that were depicted in this episode. We found these portrayals to be highly inaccurate. In fact, there is ample evidence of anti-Mormon "advice" present in the episode. We treat some of these in the following sections. (Link)
- The Bible vs Joseph Smith—
We review a film produced by Living Hope Ministries and Sourceflix which claims that Joseph Smith is a false prophet. (Link)
- The Bible vs The Book of Mormon—
A review of a film produced by Living Hope Ministries and Sourceflix that attempts to disprove The Book of Mormon. (Link)
The film's title is a combination of the words "Religious" and "Ridiculous," thus providing a one-word summary of the film's tone and intent. The film follows Bill Maher as he travels to various locations throughout the world for the purpose of demonstrating the absurdity of religious belief. Maher accomplishes this by seeking out believers and posing questions which allow the respondents to appear foolish in their responses. (Link)
- Search for the Truth DVD (Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith)—
This video claims to contrast the beliefs of Mormonism and the beliefs of Christianity. Although the producers of this video state that it was produced out of love, the numerous mischaracterizations, misrepresentations, errors, and outright falsehoods found on the DVD make it difficult for believing Latter-day Saints to see that expression of love as sincere. (Link)
- September Dawn—
"When an independent film company produced a grossly distorted version of the Mountain Meadows Massacre two years ago, the Church ignored it. Perhaps partly as a result of that refusal to engender the controversy that the producers hoped for, the movie flopped at the box office and lost millions." (The Publicity Dilemma, LDS Newsroom, March 9, 2009.) (Link)
- The God Makers—
The God Makers is an anti-Mormon film that was produced in 1982 by Jeremiah Films. The film represents an appeal to ridicule, by taking beliefs or doctrines of the church and presenting them in a manner which makes them appear so strange and bizarre that nobody could possibly accept them. (Link)