I saw it tonight with my wife and her parents. I was not exactly overwhelmed. I mean, yadda yadda, it’s all true; religion really is rather absurd. But it’s easy to argue when you can censor the other guy’s reply. Also, I was rather disappointed in the quality of Maher’s arguments. He starts off well, saying “There’s no proof of that” to various assertions, and then watching the moonstruck expressions. Most amusing, certainly; there are a lot of religious people out there who have never been exposed to the concept that anyone would dare to contradict basic tenets of their faith. But of course the basic problem with this approach – for a movie, that is – is that it has no conclusion. It’s a rare theist who will give up his belief in a single interview. There do exist people who are exposed to this sort of criticism – basically just “Where’s the proof” and it shatters their entire world view, but they’re rare, and usually it takes them a few years to work through it. Often they set out to do quite the opposite – they realise that they actually aren’t very educated about their own religion, and decide to learn what the proofs are so they can shatter that dang smartass atheist next time. This generally leads them either to atheism or creationism. But in either case it takes a year or two. So once you’ve shown the moonstruck expression of people who suddenly realise that they don’t really know the foundations of their own beliefs, there’s not much more you can do given the format. And then Maher goes off into just plain mockery of the Virgin Birth and whatnot. Which, yes-yes, is most amusing if you don’t believe in it, but these are after all people who literally believe in miracles. Given miracles, it’s not so funny as all that. And anyway the Bible doesn’t actually say anything of the sort. (And let’s also note that his presentation of Mormon beliefs verges on outright bigotry. I grant that the Book of Mormon does state these things about Kolob and whatnot. But the LDS church doesn’t believe them. This sort of thing will happen when your religion is more than a century old. If you’re going to demolish someone, it doesn’t generally pay to attack what his great-grandfather believed. Honestly, I expect this sort of thing from fundies; my own side ought to Do The Dang Research a bit better.)
So, eh. Granted, in my case Maher is arguing to the choir. Perhaps this sort of thing will hit a bit harder to people who haven’t been debating the issue up and down the internets for years. I must say I rather doubt anyone who would really benefit will watch it, though. If you’re already an atheist, I would only watch it if you can drag someone moderately religious along; one of those moderates whom Maher quite rightly calls enablers. The automatic respect that religion gets has to end, and this movie will at least do that. But don’t watch it on your own account; you won’t learn anything, and you’ve likely heard all the jokes before.