Why did Michael Palin think that it was a worthwhile endeavour to create The Life of Brian? He was facing unsatisfactory answers from Christians about behaviour that is still appallingly incongruous with their Christ.
For this, Jesus was crucified. So Christian nations could feel free to wage war.
The Life of Brian
It’s interesting watching John Cleese and Michael Palin trying to talk sensibly about the dangers of listening to authoritative leaders about spiritual matters without carefully considering what they have to say and making up one’s mind about what is true and what is not. In this exchange with Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood (the then Bishop of Southwark), I find Palin and Cleese to be far more reasonable intellectually, far less pompous, and more grounded in reality because they have a sense of humour. They also seemed to understand the message of Jesus better than the religious leaders of their day, who were more interested in defending the traditions of Western Civilization than the nonviolent protest of a Jew against the violence, extortion, authoritarianism and capital punishment used to maintain oppressive control over the populations of the Roman Empire.
“But the more that we read about Jesus and the background to his life, it was quite obvious that there was very little to ridicule in Jesus’s life. And, therefore, we were onto a loser. The characters we like to portray in Python are failures and dim or idiotic, sort of incapable in one way or another. Jesus was a straight, direct man making very good sense. So, we decided that it would be a rather shallow film if it was just about Jesus, so we got Brian in.”
We remember wars brought on by Christian nations against other Christian nations, and for what? The freedom to sell arms to Saudi Arabia to continue the worst humanitarian disaster of our times.
Just 39 years after John Cleese and Michael Palin we’re debating in the UK with the religious leaders of their day, in the USA, the political debate is about the same issues, about the interpretations of these ancient stories and the lack of thought that people give to the implications for daily life and for public policy.
“I feel my approach to the film was: I was confused, I feel I am still asking questions, seeking solutions. I am very confused and perturbed by a religion, an established religion in this country where people can go to church on a Sunday morning and the same people can sing hymns and say prayers, and at the same time, these people can stand by while their money is spent making bombs, making guns, building up appalling weapons of destruction and can sit by, sing hymns, say their prayers and agree with a policy in which hospitals have to go without money.”
None of this makes any sense
That is why comedians continue to point out the senseless absurdity of the reality, the hell that we create for ourselves because of blind obedience to authoritarians.
Prerequisites for Religious Leadership
I remember a story about a man trying to give a history lesson to the religious leaders of his day. He tried to tell them that they were missing the point by thinking that God lives in temples. Worse than that, they had just murdered the Messiah they had been waiting for.
“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”
A prerequisite for religious leadership is the inability to listen.
- Step one: close your ears. “Yes, I know you started with an open mind. I realize that.”
- Step two: murder your opponents.
“I mean four hundred years ago we would have been burnt for this film. Now, I’m suggesting that we’ve made an advance.”
What is mind-boggling about American politics is a poor reading of history, and this rush to hand back the powers of authoritarian rule, capital punishment and the perpetuation of senseless violence and wars back to religious leaders.