I have long appreciated Bill Maher.  He is a very funny and irreverent guy, two qualities I hold near and dear. I also have a soft spot for lampooners of religion.  So I eagerly, expectantly took my seat with popcorn in hand to watch Maher’s sacrilegious movie, Religulous.

Maher’s frolics take him all over.  He journeys, for example, to a peculiar truckers chapel where he meets with  truckers and chides them about their evangelical beliefs.  He makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land adventure park in Orlando where he challenges the faith of the one dimensional guy who plays Jesus in the park.  Among other excursions, he interviews gay Muslims and tours the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, keeping his tongue steadfastly in cheek.

His commentary is sprinkled with one liners—and some of them are very funny.

He toys with his subjects, and, just when it seems he is going to cross over the line, Maher shuts his mouth and simply smiles.  To his credit, Bill Maher is not disrespectful of the religionists he so readily disparages.

Nonetheless, this is a gotcha documentary as is captured in the movie trailer’s funniest and most telling moments.

But even though I laughed out loud while watching this movie, I couldn’t help but think of the best selling books written in recent years by atheist authors.  I especially remembered Christopher Hitchins’ book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.   Hitchins and the other atheist authors claim that God does not exist because God cannot be proved by rational or scientific means.

They are right about that.  The existence of God (however understood) cannot be proved.

As I say in my book A Voluptuous God, I agree—God cannot be proved.  This Mystery we call God can only be experienced. The experience of this Mystery confounds the intellect and boggles the mind.  And as the mystics have properly suggested, God is a mystery that cannot be defined.

But Bill Maher doesn’t allow for the experience of God as an inexplicable Presence. He doesn’t go there.  He understands God only as a Big Guy in the Sky, a Supreme Being who takes sides (as in going to war in Iraq or convincing someone to become suicide bombers).

Maher makes a shallow and one dimensional case.  He seems to lack any comprehension of a God who might be a more ubiquitous, deeper or subtle Presence.

In this way Religulous lacks depth.

It is endearing that throughout the movie Maher says that he doesn’t pretend to have the answers—that he just doesn’t know.

Bravo, Bill!

But it is one thing to say that who/what is the meaning of God cannot be easily defined by any one religion.  It is another thing to say that this supreme mystery lives at once in our experience and beyond our grasp.

If Bill Maher were in my documentary I would ask him if he has ever had a moment while out in nature—say standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, on a cliff overlooking the ocean, or in a vast forest—or perhaps a moment with another human being where he lost self consciousness. If I were interviewing Bill Maher, I would poke and probe, asking him questions like: Have you ever been so open to a moment that you stopped thinking about yourself and felt perfectly connected to the moment you were in?  Then, I would ask, “Could that moment of unity consciousness be God?”

In the world’s religious traditions the mystics teach that a God who is a product of dogma is not God.  The mystics say to experience God is to experience the mystery of life’s unity. But in Religulous, Maher only rails against a literalist religious understanding that insists that believing in God as an excuse to see the world as us and them.

This, in part is why Maher claims the mantle of agnostic.

He says he doesn’t know what the truth is.  Nor do I.

But even though I don’t claim to know it definitively, I do feel that I have experienced it.  I have experienced a mystery that connects me to life, to others, to this moment.  And I believe, almost every human being has at one time or another experienced this mystery.

I call this mystery God—and in my experience this mystery cannot be limited or defined.

I love Bill Maher’s brazen honesty and biting sense of humor.

I just wish he would have gone a little deeper.

He could have closed his documentary with quotes from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who said, “ God is not a hypothesis derived from logical assumptions, but an immediate insight, self-evident as light.”  Or perhaps something from Mahatma Gandhi: “You must watch my life, how I live, eat, sit, talk, behave in general.  The sum total of all those things is my religion.”

Maher is right in saying he doesn’t know. Indeed, none of us does.

But the greater ambiguity is knowing there is something in us, in life—something larger, more mysterious and connecting than we can possibly comprehend.  

Unfortunately, Religulous  is totally devoid of any awareness of this greater ambiguity.