is a very funny guy whose new documentary, is, for most of the flick's 100 minutes, a very funny movie. But Maher — who told MTV News he set out to discover how "otherwise intelligent people, rational people, could believe in [religion]" — doesn't want you to leave the theater with a smile on your face.
He wants you to be angry. And scared. Because "religion is one day going to get us all killed," he matter-of-factly sighed.
"We feel like we took people on a funny ride for 85, 90 minutes, and now we can take five minutes to kind of sum up the case, and to me, it's necessary," he said of the flick's final minutes, in which Maher and director Larry Charles abruptly change tones from one of general bemusement and ridicule to downright seriousness. "To me, to just make it about 'ha ha ha' is not quite enough because this is, after all, especially troubling."
What Maher and Charles find troubling is the Christian belief in a literal apocalypse — the biblically prophesied End Times described in the Book of Revelation — where the world goes through a period of tribulations to prepare for the second coming of the Messiah. It's troubling not necessarily because of the belief itself — although Maher certainly finds that ridiculous and irrational — but because, given that Christian belief posits Jesus can't return until the world goes through a period of unrest under the Antichrist, many are actually rooting for Earth's destruction to hasten Christ's arrival, he said.
"It's very, very troubling to me that people are rooting for the end of the world. I mean, they call it the Rapture. That doesn't sound bad to me — that sounds kind of sexy. And that's how they think of it, they are horny for the end of the world," Maher insisted.
Rooting for the end of the world is one thing, but Maher believes many people in important government positions (or who are currently running for important government positions) are doing more than rooting — they are actively participating in the Earth's decay and destruction through policy and executive decisions.
And that's not just irrational to Maher — that's dangerous.
"Someone like [vice-presidential candidate] Sarah Palin has gone to almost as many churches as she's been to colleges, and finds in all these churches one common thread, and that is the literal translation of the Bible. And just like Bush, she believes in the End Times. She believes that the end of the world is probably coming in her lifetime because she's a narcissist. And she's not against it!" Maher asserted. "I mean, why, in her interview with Charlie Gibson, does she seem positively giddy about the prospect of a war with Russia? Because maybe we'll get to exchange nuclear weapons and that will bring back Jesus! Why do you think the only thing that she seems to have gotten into her thick skull about foreign affairs is that Israel gets to do whatever they want, with whoever they want? All these right-winged evangelical Christians — who pretend to be such good pals with Israel — they're not really pals with Israel. They just need Israel because that's where Jesus comes back. They like Israel because that's where all the Jews die when he comes back! Convert or die."
Finishing on such a serious note after more than an hour of ribaldry was "the only way to end the movie," he said, partly because he wanted to highlight the seriousness of the situation, but more so because he wanted it to serve as a wake-up call to non-religious Americans.
"I hope that people go to my movie — one, because they want to be entertained, and two, because they want to send a message that there's a lot of us out here that aren't religious nuts," he said. "We want our country back, and we don't want to give it over to the likes of the Sarah Palins of the world."
"Religulous" opens Friday.
Check out everything we've got on "Religulous."
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