Matt has been sending this response to emailers, and I have gotten his permission to repost it here on the blog.
Thanks for writing! Most of us have seen Zeitgeist and we've commented about it numerous times on both shows. I've actually watched it several times, and if others hadn't already done a brilliant job of debunking the nonsense in that film, I'd probably devote more time to doing exactly that.
The first third of the film is an unscholarly, sophomoric, horribly flawed, over-simplification that tries to portray Christianity as nothing more than the next incarnation of the astrologically themed religions that preceded it. Like all conspiracy theories, they combine a few facts, focus on correlations and build an intriguing story that seems to fit the pieces together nicely - provided you don't actually dig below the surface to find out where they might have gone wrong.
The second third of the film is full-on conspiracy theory nonsense that is a virtual cut-and-paste from the "Loose Change" 9/11 conspiracy video. The flaws in this portion have been expertly addressed on numerous websites, video responses and investigated not just by responsible publications like Scientific American but also thoroughly debunked by peer-reviewed science. There is no reliable evidence to support the fascinating fairy-tale they weave. Again, like all conspiracy theories, a few facts a compelling story and as long as you don't look behind the curtain, it can be fairly convincing.
The final third of the film is complete bullshit. The claims that taxes are illegal and that one doesn't have to pay taxes have been bandied about for years - and they've been tested in the courts. Anyone willing to actually refuse to pay their taxes based on the information in this film is likely to find themselves in a court room appearing very foolish as mountains of case law and precedent demonstrate the absurdity of their claim.
Zeitgeist is perhaps one of the most damaging films I've ever seen, because people who don't exercise proper skepticism buy into a flawed story and then repeat it. They may convince other folks, and what we'll end up with are a bunch of people who reject Christianity, for example, for very bad reasons - and the minute they come face to face with someone who can defend Christianity from these easily dismissed claims, they're likely to not simply be convinced they were wrong but also convinced that Christianity is therefore true (after all, we're talking about folks who weren't bothered to investigate the truth in the first place).
There are some facts in the film, but it's not particularly difficult to take a few facts, spin a clever story and make a very convincing case for something, despite having no rational, evidence-based justification for their beliefs.
I'd highly recommend you spend time looking around for websites and videos that offer rebuttals to the information in Zeitgeist. You might find that it's far less impressive than you originally thought.
To Matt's very thorough answer, I will add some links of my own.
- This is an episode of the TV show that Matt and I did on conspiracy theories. While it is not about Zeitgeist in particular or even any 9/11 conspiracy, we touch on similar issues that are obviously intended to apply.
- This is a blog post I wrote earlier describing my general reaction to the so-called "9/11 truth" movement.
- This web site is a very thorough response to most of the various claims of the "9/11 truth" movement.
- Everything you could possibly want to know about the ridiculous notion that you don't have to pay taxes is here. And here. And also here.
- Updated, 6/24/09: A full critical analysis of the movie as a whole is here.