So, I just finished watching Religulous, and I have to admit I was unimpressed. Now, I am assuming that this was not simply a work of comedy, but instead intending to inform and convince, as stated in his ending monologue. Nor do I believe that it is a documentary, since there were way too many blatant personal oppinions for that. As such, I am just going to take it as Bill's personal comentary on Religion with some random (and sometimes inaccurate) factual information thrown in.
That being said, I first want to make the general criticism that Bill has created a list of interviews that will obviously support his argument. There is no 'other side' and there are NO knowledgeable experts or theologians in many of the areas which he addresses. He does not back up or give sources for any of his facts which make it impossible to verify or respond to them. That actually makes a response to this piece somewhat difficult due to the often grandiose natures of his claims with little other than an interview at a Trucker church to back them up.
From someone with such high claims of intelecualism and reason, I would have expected higher standards of reporting, and for him to create a full reasoned argument instead of presenting the strawman of tourists in Miami or a random Ex-Jew that appears to run a curiosity shop. The only Experts interviewed are listed here on another blog.
I found Dr. Francis Collins, interesting, as Bill interviewed him about things completely beyond his subject matter expertise (making him no different from a layperson on the street). Also, Dr. Jeremiah Cummings (who Bill Tells us is not actually a doctor) is a classic example of the (Biblically inaccurate) "Health and Wealth" gospel view which says riches will come to those who have faith.
Finally, the closest thing to a theologian or subject matter expert was George Coyne, who although he has theological/philosophical training, his primary area of expertise is astronomy.
Overall, this is not a very impressive group.
Next, I want to look at the 'factual' evidence:
By 15 minutes in, Bill has made the following claims:
There are no eye-Witness Accounts - False - Both Matthew and John are Apostles while Mark and Luke would have interviewed Peter and Luke respectively for their gospel accounts
Accounts are Decades off - While this is true, it overstates the Case: Craig Blomberg has been cited (Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel, Page 34) saying that Mark (the earliest gospel) was written no later than 60 AD, and possibly earlier. While it is true that this is 'decades' (with Jesus' death in 34 AD) 26 years is still plenty of time for Eye-witness accounts to still be alive to verify facts. (By comparison the first biographies of Alexander the Great were written about 400 years after his death)
Proof for Jesus is Circumstantial - False - See Above
None of the gospel writers ever met Jesus - False - See Above (I am really not sure where these facts are coming from)
Texts don't match - This is the second somewhat reasonable criticism he has made. While it is true that there are some apparent inconsistences, Blomberg would analyze the text this way:
"once you allow for the elements I've talked about earlier - of paraphrase, of abridgement, of explanatory additions, of selection, of omission - the gospels are extremely consistent with each other by ancient standards, which are the only standards by which it's fair to Judge." (Strobel, 45) - In other words, we must realize that biographers at the time did not write the same way we do today, and that we cannot put them up against the same standard. (similar to the way we analalyze other ancient Histories.
All the Gospels do not contain the virgin birth - True, this is another straw man, since I do not understand why he takes the virgin birth as the definitive miracle which MUST be represented. I would assume this is due to the importance placed on the event by the Catholic church, but most Christians if asked to pick out the most important event of Jesus' life would pick his crucification followed by resurrection, which IS represented in all four accounts. Besides, I don't understand the logic behind his claim that this fact invalidates the text, simply because the biblical authors did not ALL have the same set of priorities as him that makes them wrong?
"I don't hate [homosexuals], God hates them." - Biblically inaccurate statement made by a layperson on the street
(Note here, I have no real desire to get into that debate, just point out Bill's incorrect information)
Now, in fairness to Bill, after about the first half hour, he stops his endless barrage of incorrect information and moves to more of a commentary. The fact that many of his facts are wrong does not completely nullify his later points, but it does weaken his general position given that he is advocating a view based on careful thought. To demonstrate, disproving several of his claims is as easy as this: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=non+biblical+accounts+of+Jesus
His first main target is the Christian view on homosexuality. In a surprisingly unbiased step, Bill interviews an 'ex-gay' Christian who is now happily married. Aside from a couple of funny lines, there is not a whole lot that comes out of this. Bill criticizes the man for his views, and claims that he cannot know how these other gay people feel. (I find this fascinating mainly because Bill seems to be implying he understands these people better than the man that used to be gay.) He then cuts to some protests and people on the street to make yet another straw man argument about the horrible Christians and how they treat homosexuals. While his point is valid that there have been many atrocities committed by Christians (in the name of Christianity even) the fact that human beings have screwed something up does not in anyway disprove the truthfulness of the religion. One simply does not follow from the other, especially not given flawed human nature. He makes this logical misstep several times throughout.
There is a relatively short segment which involves Bill disagreeing with Christian Nationalism. To be honest, I really dont understand where he comes to the conclusion that "Christianity is incompatible with Nationalism." I honestly just don't get it. Christianity itself certainly allows for support of your government, so I am assuming that it is not from there that he gets that statement. I think most likely he believes that due to the importance we have placed on separation of church and state that the two must hate each other or something? The church/state separation (as long as not taken to extremes) is actually quite positive, and was put in place originally to help protect the CHURCH from the government's influence (such as what happened in England). Also, he tries to claim that the original signers wanted nothing to do with God. He uses 3 quotes to justify this. Now, ignoring the fact that he was only able to obtain 3 quotes out of 56 signers, I would point out that the principles and ethics that the country was founded on had to be somewhat informed by religion since all men are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..." (Declaration of Independence)
Bill's then moves on to interview a layperson Ex-Jew, where he makes some very good (and biblically accurate) criticisms of the Man's "low standard for miracles." He also interviews Dr. Jeremiah Cummings here, who helps him to make the point that Religion is corrupted. To explain why this doesn't work, think of a bag of apples. If you pull one apple out, and it is bad, what does that say about all the other apples in the bag. The analogous claim that many people make is that because that one apple is bad, ALL the apples in the bag must be bad. Bill is actually taking this one step FURTHER. He is essentially saying, "Because apples CAN go bad, and because several apples DID go bad, ALL Apples EVERYWHERE are bad, and we should BURN all apple trees and never eat apples again."
As Bill moves on in his commentary on religion, he moves his targets briefly to Judaism, Mormonism, and Islam. I am not informed enough to speak to the individuals, or the critiques that he made in those areas, so I will not attempt to do so. Overall, I think he made some very good criticisms of the corruption and problems that exist in many of the world's religions. I agree completely, and would add that the corruption in all walks of life, both religious, and non-religious should be fought, but that is an issue unique to humanity, not religious humanity.
In his ending monologue, Bill claims that faith is "the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken," and "Making a virtue out of not thinking..." Now, although he somewhat overstates the case, these are some of the same criticisms I have made of many of my fellow Christians. Biblically defined, "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1) In other words, proper biblical faith should be powered by reason, knowledge and careful thought. Bill goes on to complain that when people cry out to God, it is dangerous since when God does not answer them, there is only people left. I find this particular complaint especially ironic since according to his view there are ONLY people. Instead, I think it is a much better idea to use reason, and logic to make decisions, which are guided by Biblical principles and morality. (Completely Biblical system, explained more fully in "Decision Making and the Will of God" by Gary Friesen) The majority of Bill's complaints seem to be centering around one subset of Christian culture, but that does not mean the whole of Religion is bad. Nor does it in any way disprove the existence of God out there.
Overall, if you are looking for a quality and intelectually respectable presentation by one of the New Atheists, go for someone like Richard Dawkins. While I still disagree with Dawkins, at least he is not using blatant logical fallacies or wrong information throughout his works. This is honestly not worth the time for anyone who is looking to actually take an honest careful look at this debate. There are much better sources, and many better critiques of Christianity and Theism out there if you are really looking to find someone who is attacking the meat of Theism instead of just putting up straw men. Still, I think that the Christian record, as well as philosophy stands up equally well to them as it does to this attempt to huff and puff and blow the house down. At the end of the day, this might work for a house made out of straw (which Bill attempts to create) but not for the real ACTUAL Christianity which is built out of some stronger stuff.