Monday, September 29, 2008

Bill Maher & "Religulous"

Bill Maher's new film "Religulous" is due for release this week, though how wide the release will be isn't clear. It is highly unlikely to be shown at our local cinema, but perhaps we'll be able to see it in some city not too far away. The title, Maher says, is a blend of two words - religion and ridiculous. That tells us a lot about the film's theme! From here :

"Hang on to your vestments, everyone. "Religulous," certain to be among the fall's most discussed movies, arrives Wednesday. The documentary is comedian Bill Maher's brutal takedown of what he calls "the most controversial, taboo topic ever": organized religion. The subversive film, directed by fellow comic Larry Charles ("Borat") finds Maher traveling the world to question true believers. Maher's point is that believing absolutely in dusty scripture causes more problems than it solves, and that "mankind needs to shed this skin before it can really progress." "

Bill Maher's views on organised religion are well known by those who watch his HBO weekly show, "Real Time". He's scathing about religion in general but rather than defining himself as an atheist, he says his stance is "I don't know". On this point, as on many others I'm with Bill. I have been annoyed on several occasions by the sexism/misogyny he occasionaly throws around, but even so have never missed a show.

Bill has an interesting natal chart. Born 20 January 1956 at 10.32pm in New York, NY.

Rather than trying to interpret his chart in general, I'll concentrate on what strikes me as particularly interesting about it, and on where his anti-religion streak comes from.

Interesting: so many very early and very late degrees:

Sun 00 Aquarius
Saturn 00 Sagittarius
Mars 04 Sagittarius
Neptune 00 Scorpio
Uranus 00 Leo
Moon 02 Taurus
Venus 04 Pisces
Chiron 05 Aquarius

Pluto 28 Leo
Jupiter 29 Leo

The first decanate (10 degrees) of each sign is thought to be most characteristic of the sign in question, having the sign itself as sub-ruler, whereas the second and third decanates are sub-ruled by the other two signs in the same element. This could make for a particularly clear-cut planet-in-sign interpretation in Bill's case, but because so many planets lie in early degrees there are numerous close aspects in the chart, which in turn form webs of interlinked aspect patterns. Perhaps the simplest translation is that Bill has a particularly complex personality. The most interesting aspect patterns here are the Grand Cross and the Mystic Rectangle.

The Grand Cross, which I've outlined heavily in blue, includes four square aspects and two oppositions. Astrologers see this type of configuration as indicating stressful, tense energy which needs a clear focus if it is to be constructive. In Bill's case the Grand Square is in Fixed signs: focus will be inflexible, opinions not open to persuasion. I've recently noticed this type of configuration in the charts of a couple of other ascerbic well-known personalities - Keith Olbermann and Randi Rhodes. All three of these critcal observers focus on the political scene. Aviator Amy Johnson's chart contained this pattern too - her focus was on feats of flying, in her time unusual for a female. These people seem more driven than the average person, almost as though they house a hidden looped dynamo.

The Mystic Rectangle, which I've outlined in purple, isn't actually mystical. The configuration combines helpful and tense aspects (2 trines, 2 sextiles and 2 oppositions). This feature of Bill's chart may act as a partial antidote to the Grand Cross, bringing in a softer more adaptable side, especially as some of the aspects are "out of sign" - which means that early aspects of one sign link to late aspects of the previous sign, combining two elements/modes. Eg. Pluto/Jupiter in late Leo (Fixed Fire) trines Moon in early Taurus (Earth), a degree or two more would put the Leo planets in Earthy Mutable Virgo, indicating the potential for a rather more adaptable attitude than indicated by the Grand Cross.

His quick wit and ready ability to see the funny side of most things probably help Bill to deal with many of the stresses of his lifestyle. Mercury, the communication planet isn't closely tied into any aspect or pattern, it lies at 12 Aquarius (in the second decanate of Aquarius, sub-ruled by Mutable Gemini). Symbolically here Mercury acts as "an observer" of the tangled web of aspects - rather as Bill himself observes the tangled web of the world's political and religious scene.

So....back to "Religulous", and Bill's antipathy for organised religion.

In astrology Sagittarius and Jupiter connect to religion. In Bill's chart Jupiter, planet of religion, conjoins Pluto in Leo. Pluto is an outer planet, not usually significant in a personal chart unless closely tied to a personal planet, which, here, it is! Pluto energy is challenging and transformative, often in an initially negative way. Jupiter's religious flavour is being seriously challenged and modified by Pluto in this chart. The conjunction forms a part of the Mystic Rectangle rather than the Grand Cross though, and links to a few softer aspects, bringing a somewhat enigmatic feel to Bill's personality.

Two conjoined personal planets, Saturn and Mars, lie in Sagittarius the sign of religion. These two planets are traditionally thought of as malefic, they can add an awkwardly negative energy. Here, there's a conglomeration of linked challenging and helpful aspects. Sagittarius's religious flavour colours Saturn the old fashioned structurer and blends it with Mars the aggresive fighter. The two planets lie in helpful trine aspect to Uranus (the avant garde) ruler of Bill's natal Sun, which also links into the Grand Cross configuration. A tangled web, and it's not surprising that conflict on the matter of religion is evident in Bill's life.

In a nutshell, I see this web of linked but very different aspects in his chart as indicating that Bill Maher, though sharply critical of organised religion, still retains certain doubts. His humour softens and warms the harshness of his judgement, and this is always going to be his saving grace. For every challenging aspect in his chart, there's a harmonious one - which doesn't happen very often. Many viewers of his programme, myself included, have forgiven Bill much in the past. It's possible to sense an underlying kindness and softness beneath his overtly critical and prickly nature. Even so, not all will forgive him this time. Those who hold very fixed views on religion themselves are likely to be sorely offended by "Religulous" in spite of its humour, should they venture to watch it.


Wisewebwoman said...

Yes, I'm with you on the misogyny, T, but some of his bits are hysterical, I'm particularly thinking of that segment about the French, did you see it. The bottom line being how sophisticated and grown up they were compared to the toddler tantrums and behaviours of the US.
Yes he's an interesting character and I've always sensed with him that there is some sexual confusion? It might explain a lot.

R J Adams said...

I can't comment on the misogyny, as I don't watch him very much (no HBO) but I agree heartily with his "Don't know" when it comes to 'God and the Afterlife'. Any other stance, including atheism, is to my mind arrogant in the extreme. We're not capable of knowing. Our brains cannot comprehend anything outside of the feedback provided by our five senses. Why should it, it was designed to interpret those five senses, and nothing else.
Anything left over is imagination. Ah, I hear you cry, but what's imagination?
Don't know. My brain will only comprehend five senses.

As for the film, Maher loves to raise hackles. I doubt they'll allow it in central Illinois.

Twilight said...

WWW - I remember that, about French attitudes v US ones. True too! LOL!

He's a very odd mixture, and a fascinating individual. I don't really sense the sexual confusion, I suspect he likes women well enough, but some types of Aquarian tend to shy away from commitment, that could be why he's not married. I don't think Olbermann is married either - another Sun Aquarian oddity. ;-)

Twilight said...

Hi RJ ~~~ Agreed on the atheism point - we can't know. I'd feel reluctant to label myself as such, but I have considered it. I quite like the Humanists views, but am not keen on joining or on labels.

It'll be interesting to see the public's reaction to Bill Maher's film. I'm pretty sure Oklahoma cinemas won't give it house room, perhaps Texas might. I don't fancy the trek to Dallas or Houston though, so perhaps we'll have to wait for the DVD to appear.

anthonynorth said...

Well, I disagree with the premise. We don't need to shed organised religion, but try to understand just what it is, and place Scripture in perspective with the times.
This is, of course, much more difficult.

Twilight said...

Hi AN ~~~ Difficult indeed! And not funny, so it will never be on Bill Maher's agenda.

If we did, by some strange quirk of fate, shed organised religion, I wonder what would happen. Would we invent something else? Yes - I think we would, it's in our DNA.

lela said...

I am not 'Religious' I just love the Lord however I think I will check this film out. You make him sound a little agnostic that is a step closer than athesist. As his elder by a year I can and have been like him in a very distant past. :) Thanks for your site.

This is another place I occasionally blog.

Twilight said...

Hello Lela - thanks for visiting and commenting. Nice to meet you!

I think we all go through cycles of believing then re-thinking matters, sometimes returning to belief, sometimes sticking at "don't know" about religion in general.

It's good that Bill Maher wants people to think more about exactly what they believe. Thinking things through can never be a bad thing, and if he does it with humour it could help to buffer any hard feelings. We won't know for sure just how far he's gone until we have opportunity to see his film though.

If you manage to see it, please do come back and let me know your views on it. :-)