2005 October 20 Thursday
Former Archbishop Of Canterbury Loves Life Of Brian

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey demonstrates superiority of Christianity to Islam in Britain.

Speaking as a member of an all-party group of peers opposing the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, Lord Carey said he wanted to live in a society where people were sensitive to the feelings of others.

"But in being sensitive, what we mustn't do is create a society in which certain stories are not told," Lord Carey told a news conference.

The former archbishop said that, following the publication of Salman Rushdie's book Satanic Verses, Muslim groups came to him asking him to support their campaign against the novel.

"They were very offended by Satanic Verses but I said you are living in a country and civilisation where we are quite used to this," he said.

"They say: 'Why as a Christian don't you condemn the Life of Brian?' I said: 'I love the film and I think it is good for religion to be knocked, to be criticised, to be challenged because we have done a lot of damage in the past'.

Now, you listen here! He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy! Now, go away!

Islam takes the humor out of life. Christianity inspires much more humour.

arriving at Brian's crucifixion Brian: Thank God you've come, Reg.
Reg: Well, I think I should point out first, Brian, in all fairness, we are not, in fact, the rescue committee. However, I have been asked to read the following prepare statement on behalf of the movement. "We the People's Front of Judea, brackets, officials, end brackets, do hereby convey our sincere fraternal and sisterly greetings to you, Brian, on this, the occasion of your martyrdom. "
Brian: What?
Reg: "Your death will stand as a landmark in the continuing struggle to liberate the parent land from the hands of the Roman imperialist aggressors, excluding those concerned with drainage, medicine, roads, housing, education, viniculture and any other Romans contributing to the welfare of Jews of both sexes and hermaphrodites. Signed, on behalf of the P. F. J. , etc. " And I'd just like to add, on a personal note, my own admiration, for what you're doing for us, Brian, on what must be, after all, for you a very difficult time.

The Swedes said the Norwegians banned Life Of Brian because it is so funny.

This film was initially banned in Norway for blasphemy. It wasn't released there until 1980. Subsequently, it has been marketed in Sweden as "The film that is so funny that it was banned in Norway!"

At least the Norwegians didn't issue a fatwa calling for the death of the Monty Python troupe.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 October 20 11:52 PM  Culture Open Versus Closed Societies

Martin Bauer said at October 21, 2005 1:35 AM:

I force-saw this film in school, and apart from not understanding the text very well (for its shrill voices matching its shrill humour, and the lot of spectators laughing even in anticipation of any silly quirk) I sensed enough of it to know I WAS AGHAST; - even at asking my teacher (for religion, btw) afterwards, I couldn't see any appreciable meaning in that film.

Religion, patriotism, authorities win with being criticized, - very true. But that presupposes that criticism is really criticism, not an undignified fruit of a mockery cramp, - that should backfire for its "message" and produce an awkward yawn for its "humour" with any sensible observer, believer or not.

A strange superiority of rationality, liberal Christianity is showing the world with cheering to that film!

Bob Badour said at October 21, 2005 7:32 AM:


After I first started working with Germans on a regular basis, it took me a few weeks to develop an ear for the German sense of humour. People who first struck me as dour and humourless turned out to have very robust, keen senses of humour that, initially, I did not understand. However, even after considerable time, some few German individuals still struck me as dour and humourless, and my Germand friends confirmed that these individuals were, indeed, dour and humourless.

Some of Python's comedy is obviously meant as satire by taking religious dogma or the traditions of english public school education to absurd extremes.

Certainly, the bits about the People's Front of Judea--including Reg's martyrdom speech quoted by Randall--took an early stab at political correctness, which was still a new and growing fad the time. (Sadly they failed to kill PC in the cradle.) And those bits certainly captured the periodicity of a time when 'splinter group' was a common term on the nightly news.

However, Monty Python mostly used self-deprecation and incongruity to make things damned funny for the sake of being damned funny, which is the real meaning of the film.

In short, don't be such a fuddy-duddy.

Bob Badour said at October 21, 2005 7:35 AM:

Just remember the last laugh is always on you and always look on the bright of life.

Martin Bauer said at October 21, 2005 12:41 PM:


1) It's nice you try to give me some of the background information I would have expected to learn from my teacher at that time. Maybe, if I understood those things about 'splinter groups' and PC (I'm just not interested enough to give it further thought) I would feel sympathy for the possibility of someone finding this thing comical.

2) I happen, however, to be a staunch member of the first group of queer Germans (though you like to place me in the second). I can, I love to and may at times laugh heartily just for the fun of seeing stern things under a disrespectful angle. I admit that I would like to be of lighter spirit, though that's a dangerous thing to do in the open, for many people who think themselves experts in humour just are too grim to take easy the shortcomings of others under this aspect of life.
But, I think that contrary to public notions, it is the counterpart of the Platonic simplification of life to judge that it's self-deprecation if people try to make things look "damned funny" or that this strategy is the adequate way for themselves to be "damned funny" too. It is just the other way around: Be cheerful and you will increase the weight of things that are funny (for yourself and others), and you will finally be absolved from being either damned or funny.

3) Nevertheless, you're welcome to laugh, I don't grudge you anything. There is a time for laughing and there is a time for seriousness, though there is no chronometer to teach you which is what.

Final note: Please, let me ask you a favor: I honestly do not understand (grammatically) the intended ring of the last sentence ("Just remember the last laugh IS always ON you ...", esp. the ON). Can you give me another version of it with equal meaning and connotation? Please, laugh and try ...

With greeting and grimace: Your fuddy-duddy.

Bob Badour said at October 21, 2005 3:39 PM:

I was (mis)quoting the song "Always Look at the Bright Side of Life", which ended the movie.

If someone says, "The joke's on you!", it means the joke was at the other person's expense and they did not realize it. It's often said to a cheater who was outsmarted by someone else.

The verse in question is:

Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true,
You'll see it's all a show,
Keep 'em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!

The song is about having a pollyannaish cheerful attitude toward one's own death. One could see the line as an admonition that it's not worth always trying to have the last laugh because death inevitably has the last laugh at your expense.

Perhaps these sorts of discussions would be best done via private email, though, to keep the thread from drifting too, too far and boring Randall's readers.

I think you misunderstand my point about self-deprecation. It's a method to be funny not a result of humour. Perhaps Germans just don't understand self-deprecating humour--I know none of my German friends ever used the technique.

Martin Bauer said at October 21, 2005 5:19 PM:

Bob, thanks for your explanations. I think we will come back on the e-mails suggestion before long. However this post, for once, was actually about humour, in part. So I have less misgivings of getting on Randall's nerves than I had at former occasions.

    "... It's a method to be funny not a result of humour. Perhaps Germans just don't understand self-deprecating humour--I know none of my German friends ever used the technique."

If that's the case why, for the love of God, was I afloat on a single prolonged heave of laugh in that classroom?
(I really don't know what makes the humour of this movie self-deprecatory. At best, I can see a glimmer of such a quality in the second half of Reg's speech in Randall's long quote, a glimmer for there, the prime note is British black humour, isn't it. But on the whole, I remember shrill deprecation either of Christian faith or of whatever other people do actually, or may sensibly or stupidly be suspected to, take for it.)

Wait a moment: I think I do see a self-deprecation if you assume a collective self: not of the several characters speaking, but as a self-reflexion of culture, - for you spoke of PC and public schooling traditions. But this way to appreciate the humour would presuppose that the Monty Python troupe intend to preserve some living relation, some identification with the dogmatic structure which it ridicules. And that, in turn, would be a very liberal kind of Christianity at best (with a far-going "de-mystification" of the historical Jesus, including the whole variety of smart-alecky birds-and-bees "revelations").
Is it really honest if you or Randall demonstrate the (relative) superiority of Christian culture in the discipline of subversive humour, by putting forward exactly that persuasion of its religion whose social philosophy you heartily abhor?

Martin Bauer said at October 22, 2005 9:30 AM:

Bob, let me offer you a little truce: I will formally retract my statement about "cramp" and what "every sensible observer" should do, withdrawing to the position that this brand of humour (loud, hectic, annihilating - whether of self or others) is simply not to my taste, if you will give me a hint as to how you would like us to manage the clash of civilizations with the Moslem world, other than by the posturing of sophisticated mind ('tribalists hate fun').
I presume that they, upon looking at us, strongly think that it's not political correctness which haunts the Occident but moral incorrectness [thereby being 50% right, for pressing the truth in coded phrases is a form of immorality too], and your self-confidence must drive them to the conclusion that to value freedom obviously leads a culture to blister the very source of morality on which it was (co-)erected, without being sure of whether it will ever be able to dispense with it completely (see the appeals conservatives reiterate towards religion).

I do not ask rhetorically, there may be answers. But I haven't heard them from you, until now. Do you not feel any urge to expand the love of freedom via persuasion? If not, where do you see our assets in reaching a "decisive victory" (Bob Badour on September 4, 2005 07:31 PM, point 4)) against Islam when you all but hear them thinking our societies are henhouses and our organized power is a Moloch? Persons who wear their own face as a mask of moroseness will die sooner, that's true. But does this hold for an entire culture?

Brent said at October 22, 2005 10:02 AM:

I suspect this is true in general, but remember, the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn't speak for the vast majority of self-identified "true Christians" in the US who *are* a lot more like the radical Muslims in this respect. There were some people talking about lynching the cast of the The Last Temptation of Christ, plus other so-called "Christians" who indeed were more than a little peeved at Life of Brian.

There are also some Christians who believe so strongly in the Rapture, they're actually anxious for a little environmental destruction or nuclear war since they think this might hasten the Second Coming or somesuch. This represents not only an arrogant imposition on everyone else (including other Christians who don't share their extreme beliefs), but another argument against any country holding a large stash of nuclear weapons. Holding and managing nukes assumes that a country and its leaders are rational, but as we can see, there's an awful lot of irrationality going on here.

"I think you misunderstand my point about self-deprecation. It's a method to be funny not a result of humour. Perhaps Germans just don't understand self-deprecating humour--I know none of my German friends ever used the technique."

Eh? I've found exactly the opposite, at least when I was in Frankfurt. The folks there habitually poked fun at themselves and their own goofy traditions and customs (in addition, of course, to regularly making us crack up about the Berliners). Maybe this just varies from city to city, I guess maybe the way that New York and Denver would probably have two very different cultures from each other.

Martin Bauer said at October 22, 2005 1:39 PM:
    "The folks there habitually poked fun at themselves and their own goofy traditions and customs ..."

I think you are right, Brent, though there are some traditions that only become goofy BECAUSE we obstinately see them so. Max Weber, in his analysis "Protestantische Ethik und der 'Geist' des Kapitalismus" produced an interesting observation relating this somewhat schizophrene strangeness to one's own life, fate and history (that regularly causes Germany to be in a kind of late developer's position with social and economic advances) to the predominance of Lutheran tradition (nowhere else seen in Europe, with the exception of Scandinavia) with its peculiar mixture of practical submission and spiritual imperviousness towards authority. (He calls to attention the mentality of "Sich schicken" [to resign o.s. to callings, customs, constellations of life, foreign authorities ... ], which, of course, implies the keeping up of an inner reserve, that may erupt at some time to the astonishment of everyone else.) If that background is relevant to our topic of self-deprecation you would expect to find it predominantly outside of deeply Catholic regions (Southern and Western, especially rural, parts), so e.g. in Frankfurt, as you say, but also as a general mood throughout our country.

Thus we manage to somewhat live beside ourselves. I only suspect Bob Badour wouldn't let this artificial joy pass for anything genuine, such as humour.

Other thought: This new brand of bibliolators you mentioned, who seek to precipitate the end of the aeon, are indeed completely irresponsible people, and they are violating Scripture too. On the other hand, Randall is right in pointing to Christian roots underlying our culture. The Gospel ethic was the leaven that, upon being blended with Hellenic and Roman traditions, allowed western nations not only to thrive, but bequeathed us both, a sense of meaning in piety and industry, and an appreciation for religious latitude. This alloy is far too fragile and valuable to be so foolishly frivoled away in our pathetic squabbles between Left and Right, seculars and fundamentalists, or the 'diagonal' forms of liberal zealots and conservative rationalists.

To sum it up: I am not peeved at the "Life of Brian", I do not grudge, and those who laugh shall enjoy it. The thing that bothers me is not that a piece which I judge to be beyond the borderline of decency (and unsavoury for me) should be enjoyed be others, nor do I hesitate to admit that such a judgment of dignity must needs be and remain arbitrary and subjective in the last resort, what I deplore is the fact that so few people decide that a movie which may be good for a hearty laugh might even be more good to be shunted, because it will rob more from your heart than it will give to your temper.

Bob Badour said at October 23, 2005 8:56 AM:


First, I don't know where you got the idea I think we need to defeat Islam. To have enduring peace, we need to defeat Islamism and to do that will require Islam to abandon the doctrine that the fractured and rambling Qu'ran is the complete and accurate word of God. I do not foresee any enduring peace with Islamism in the next several centuries.

In the meantime, if we are to survive the seige, we need to improve our defences.

Second, I fail to see the need to persuade any other culture to our values. Is the world not a richer more beautiful place for having bengal tigers in it?

You once accused me of ignoring the golden rule. I am not the one advocating to do unto Islam what I would not have Islam do unto me.


I retract what I said about self-deprecation. The Germans I worked with practised a subtler more intelligent form of self-deprecating humour.

Everyone else,

Please don't look at Martin as proof that the western world is just as humourless as Islam. For the most part, Christianity did stop executing we blasphemers and heathens. (Now if only we could get those damned socialists to stop it we would have the problem completely licked.)

Martin Bauer said at October 23, 2005 11:05 AM:

Bob, a bengal tiger is an excellent example of all creatures loving the freedom of their nature, isn't he? How will Islam abandon the pride of its religion without acquiring the same spritual latitude which we needed to overcome narrow-minded versions of Christian faith? If they shall ever become tolerant they must (be allowed to) find their own hold on liberal values, i.e. the loving of freedom. Isn't it as simple as that?

It is really as I say: First you engross the value of freedom (not the idea - that one is truely yours -, but the ideal, the appreciation for the reality which inspires the idea), then you can find mutuality in respecting each person's choices (which, against your own individualism, you align with the choices their culture makes for them), to be free or unfree, just as they like. How exactly do you define cynicism?

Sorry, this debate starts getting beyond my good humour. Therefore I will only talk about principles and structure of judgment and try to restrain myself from passing that judgment (I ASK you what is cynical, I CHALLENGED, but did NOT ACCUSE, you). But I really wonder how you make up the self-assurance of (what you do along with the mass of) (y)our culture?

Brent just gave us the pertinent hint to show how offensive (and HATE-PERPETUING) a strategy "to improve our defences" may become if we screen nations with such wide-meshed a standard as loving freedom or not. Five years ago I would not have dreamt of the possibility that an American president will develop new atomic bombs with the explicit design of using them (under realistic conditions) with a public so callous as not even to make the semblance of that outcry that would be his due. I was naive, yes, for I caught rumours of neo-conservatism in the nineties. I just could not believe what I heard. Is the majority of a nation freedom-loving who tolerate such ideologues? Does fighting for freedom mean pumping fission products in the organisms of those whom you grant the freedom of their own values?

But there again, I am unobjective and emotional. I confess. But I do not repent, for I didn't accuse you (of being a neo-con yourself, or any other such absurdity). I ASK you (why you don't see neocon machinations and their symbiosis with the American "missionary" dream as disproof of your idea either of (a) freedom-loving America or of (b) America's liberal values guaranteeing an inoffensive or freedom-engendering America) and I SHAKE you. Wake up, - or tell me how I shall CONVINCE ME THAT I AM THE ONE SOMNAMBULATING. As I said it would be a nice thing to detect, for maybe it would produce a more joyful person under my hide.

But still it holds: Better uncool through life, then smiling to hell!

Bob Badour said at October 23, 2005 3:45 PM:

Martin, Dude... chill!

Is this how you convince folks you have a sense of humour?

As long as they stay in Islam and do not come here, who cares what they tolerate? Is it any of our business? If it is, why is it?

I fail to see the relevance of cynicism. This was a discussion of humour inspired by Britain's recent PC fascism--now there's something for British comedians to satirize!

Fighting for freedom and democracy means doing whatever it takes to preserve it. Is detonating a nuclear device any greater evil than detonating TNT--or pouring burning pitch onto the heads of soldiers, for that matter?

From humour to nuclear weapons--Martin, what is your definition of "killjoy" ?

Clicking through to the original article, I think the last phrase of this quote has great significance:

I wanted to assure Salman Rushdie that although many of his statements may have been in bad taste he had the right to say it as a lapsed Muslim.
What can one say about a religion that demands death for apostacy? Talk about a bummer dude!

I am not a fan of the neocons or of Bush. I once thought Bush's religious convictions would give him the necessary resolve to prosecute the war effectively, but I was wrong. His religion only reinforced his delusion, arrogance and stupidity. He is an evil man. Not as evil as some but evil nonetheless.

Martin Bauer said at October 24, 2005 1:03 AM:

1. I agree there may be some depth concerning the British background which gives the "Life of Brian" an artistic value which escaped me. So what? I did not call for a ban on this film (just for the mood to ignore it), much less to index it in any way. And any "death sentence" or other step to outlaw it would find me solidly in the lines of freedom of expression and civil peacefulness, - did I give reason for doubt on that?

2. What is my definition of "killjoy"? I do not hold a definition. However, I presume my first comment may have worked to that end. I explained (at great length) why I deem this justified in the given case. Besides I did not spring from humour to nukes. May I bring to attention that the import of the "Life of Brian" for Occident-Oriental relations was already broached in the original post by Randall? My jump to nukes was, very obviously, a direct response to your mention of a "siege".

3. "What can one say about a religion that demands death for apostacy?" What I say, wherever I have the courage to do so, is that it is one very broad way to hell, - which needs finally been taken seriously again (i.e. not misused as a veil on geo-strategical power-ambitions) and pushed back from streets and schools into the mosks once more.

4. At least we agree broadly on the character of the president. Though here too, I'd like to add he is a very poor person in some way too. He is thoroughly spoiled and deluded by the way self-appointedly born-again Christians idolize a person pathetically unfit for this fiendishly demanding job.

I think, I'll try to quit our discussion here. You are welcome to give the last statement.

Bob Badour said at October 24, 2005 7:46 AM:

While the former Archbishop of Canterbury stands in stark contrast to the humour vacuum among Islam's religious leaders (all puns intended--yes, I think they suck), it's encouraging to catch a whiff of humour at Islam's grassroots base. Let's all hear it for that wudu voodoo!

Perhaps ironically, I found this breaking news item through the "Winds" of Change.

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