In 1979 famed British sketch comedy troupe Monty Python produced a satirical film regarding the New Testament, The Life of Brian. The story depicts the “tragic comedy” of Brian, a luckless fellow who is mistaken for one of the numerous messiahs popping up in Judea two thousand years ago when Jesus of Nazareth was alive and preaching, and his doomed efforts to avoid the stigma of having hordes of maniacal followers creating a religion around him because, well, they desperately need someone to deliver them from Roman rule.
The film naturally sparked a huge backlash from religious circles, particularly in England, the Pythons’ native land. On the BBC 4 program Friday Night, Saturday Morning, John Cleese and Michael Palin defended their work from verbal attack by two religious right figures, journalist and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge (who was Roman Catholic), and the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood, who was Anglican. You can watch the full program on YouTube.
The discussion got rather lively, with Muggeridge and Stockwood delivering verbal insults and Cleese and Palin returning in kind. There were points at which Palin and Cleese were visibly frustrated with their debate opponents’ closed-mindedness and misinterpretations of the film, the point of which was to challenge viewers to adopt a critical view of religion rather than blind, unquestioning faith. In 2013, the former Pythons re-enacted that 1979 discussion, and that is well worth the listen too.
Whatever your beliefs and opinions on Christianity or religion in general, this is the sort of animated discussion that is sadly lacking in today’s hyper-polarized society.