When Religious Leaders Complained About Life of Brian, Monty Python Was Ready for Them

When Monty Python’s The Life of Brian was released in 1979, a group of religious leaders tried making comedian John Cleese feel very, very bad about it because the movie rips on religion.

Cleese (and the other Pythons) responded beautifully :)

(via Boing Boing — Thanks to Gil for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • flyb

    I’m somewhat amazed at how relatively polite they all were towards each other; just a few jabs here and there. A panel discussion like this now would probably be a mess given the way the mainstream media outlets (in the US anyway) play up the who-can-be-louder drama in their broadcasts. 

    • fett101

      They should go ahead and move on to this method of debate, Python related.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–mtDpfCNkU

    • Revyloution

      Not only would it be ‘who can be louder’,  it also would have never exceeded 5 minutes.

    • amycas

       I’ve watched quite a few discussions about controversial issues aired on BBC, and that’s just generally how they go in the UK. I think the “shout everybody down” version of panel discussion is a particularly American form.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=673706079 Rocker Rosehip
  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    That cross is epic.

  • Faerie Fey

    OMG, I had no IDEA that the spoof of an interview from not the 9 o’clock news was a spoof an an ACTUAL interview!  I’ve had that skit for decades (had it on an actual ALBUM called the laughingstock of the BBC).  I can’t believe how close it is to the actual interview “10th rate film” indeed. *rofl*

    • Crodley

      A little youtube searching and I came up with the spoof you talk of, it’s brilliant, here it is:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asUyK6JWt9U 

    • http://www.quietatheist.com/ Slugsie

       Same here. I had seen the Not the 9 O’Clock news skit several times without realising that it was a direct skit of an actual item. Superbly done.

  • Gaby A.

    Regarding the Socrates reference…they did make fun of him.  “…and Socrates himself is particularly missed, a lovely little thinker but a bugger when he’s pissed.” -Philosopher’s Song
    …or this? http://youtu.be/i2TicMbH4OY

  • gski

    It sounds like the religious people are not doing their job re. the 14 year-old or they have a weak message that is easily undermined.

    • Stev84

      I found it silly that the guy complained that there are supposedly kids that haven’t been taught about Jesus at some point in their lives. What? Where? Even if they haven’t been taught about in school (which in the UK is pretty unlikely from what I understand) they would still have been taught about it at home in all likelihood. Especially considering that this was 30 years ago.

      • Guest

         I like the implication that the reason they shouldn’t portray Jesus ‘non-accurately’ is not because it’s blasphemous or disrespectful, but because someone might watch Monty Python and think that’s how Jesus really acted? I mean, at least I get why they would complain about disrespect even if I disagree, but really – if a 14-year-old watches this movie and has no idea about Jesus, then the movie’s not really gonna make a difference!

  • Paige Jeffrey

    Michael Palin’s point about people remaining ignorant about what it is that they’re supporting is one that I constantly try to make with religious friends and family. I remember how keenly his words struck me the first time I saw this full interview. It’s quite entertaining.

    Everyone should see Life of Brian. Brilliantly hilarious and subversive.

  • LesterBallard

    “All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?” 

  • CanadaGoose

    Who IS that old queen in mauve with the ludicrous cross?

    • Erp

       Bishop of Southwark,  Mervyn Stockwood.    An odd character, Labour, Anglo-Catholic and a bit of a maverick.   Retired in 1980 and died some time ago.    His obituary in the Independent is interestinghttp://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituariesthe-right-rev-mervyn-stockwood-1568004.html 

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P
  • Phil Bellerive

    Perhaps I’m dating myself here, but, as a Python fan, I remember when this movie came out and the  bad press it was getting from the religious types.  I was 19 at the time and attending a small, very catholic college.  Among the students, very few were willing to go see it because of all the press about it.  Just made me want to see it more, so I went and saw it and thought, “OK, what was the big deal?”  More and more people I knew went to see it came away with the same impression.  

    I too was struck the relative civility of the conversation, but, believe it or not, back then, this was how people debated religious issues.  The Moral Majority and its crass and divisive techniques were just getting started.  Nowadays, there’d be people burned at the stake or something!

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      *passes bong*

      …what? Wrong “stoned”?

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    I saw the documentary on Python the other day on IFC and they played parts of this interview.  As I understand it, Cleese was trained as a lawyer (barrister?) and could have gone much harder of the theists. 

    • Gus Snarp

      Yeah, it’s pretty clear they’re taking it easy, which is a pretty good approach when you’ve got religious critics attacking your comedy film. Address the complaints in a light, good natured, humorous way and let them hang themselves while your box office numbers skyrocket on the controversy.

  • Daniel Schealler

    04:30

    Socrates himself is particularly missed…

    A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he’s pissed!

  • Daniel Schealler

    05:20

    Not a lot has changed, eh?

  • jdm8

    I stopped a third of the way in. The priest-type was droning on a bit too much to continue putting up with it.

    • Stev84

       I fast-forwarded through most of their babbling

      • Sindigo

        Okay, fine but don’t criticize the religionists for their not being familiar with the facts when you can’t be bothered to listen to their arguments either. Ridiculous though they may be.

    • Sindigo

      Okay, fine but don’t criticize the religionists for their not being familiar with the facts when you can’t be bothered to listen to their arguments either. Ridiculous though they may be.

      • jdm8

        I understand. I’ve stopped the video with a secular humanist that talks in a similar monotone, which was my complaint. I just find someone else that tries to represent what the group says.

      • Gus Snarp

        On the other hand, there just aren’t that many religious arguments, and there’s very little in this video that can’t be found in many other religious arguments. It only takes a small sample to know where it’s going when you’ve listened to the same arguments repeated ad nauseam. 

        • Sindigo

          True. But, if we don’t give our religious friends the respect of listening to them then we give them ammunition along the lines of: “You don’t even give Jesus a chance to speak to you.”

          This will mean we hear the same, tired old arguments a great many times but  if the lines of communication are broken because one party feels they are not being listened to then there is no possibility of  finding any common ground and the debate becomes increasingly polarised.

          At that point, religious moderates, especially younger people who might actually listen to our arguments never get the chance to hear them. I know that there is a certain irony in the religious claiming that they’re not being listened to but you can bet they will clutch that straw with both hands should we give them a chance to.

    • Gus Snarp

      Too bad, you missed some brilliant responses. Its really worth sitting through the brief religious statements to get to the witty ripostes.

  • John Hawkins

    This is an amazing pre-internet example of a phenomenon we’ve all probably witnesed countless times: Someone bashing a film they haven’t actually seen

    The whole complaint is that The Life of Brian doesn’t present an accurate picture of Jesus when the only two scenes featuring Christ had him acting completely serious and exactly as he did in the bible. They even put glowing halos over the heads of Mary and Joseph!

    • http://profiles.google.com/kelvins273 Kevin Smith

      Exactly. The film’s really about this mob of idiots who keep following the wrong Messiah and can’t be talked out of it.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

       Blessed are the cheese makers!

  • Octoberfurst

     As a Monty Python fan I loved “Life of Brian.” I never saw it as an attack on Jesus. I saw it as a slap at religious gullibility and fanaticism.  Even though I was a “born-again Christian” at the time I saw it, I thought it was hilarious and was not offended in the least.
      I must also say that I agree with other commentators in that I was amazed at how civil this debate was. If this took place in present day America you would see the debators screaming at each other and talking over each other.  It would be horrible!  All I can say is that Brits must be much more civilized that we are.

    • Glasofruix

      You mean Faux News would host it and Bill’O would talk nonsense the entire time.

    • Gus Snarp

      I too was pretty deeply religious when I first saw the film, and I never had a problem with it. It was funny, and it made a person think, but there was no reason to find it personally insulting to one’s sacred beliefs, unless one just didn’t want people to think…

  • http://www.braintarts.wordpress.com/ MichaelL65

    The guy in a dress is pissed?

  • Sindigo

    “Not a funny building.” 

    Ha!

  • Ken

    The assumed air of condescension was pretty overpowering from the religious side.  “Tenth rate film” is hardly a respectful way to start a discussion.  And they wonder why we get angry.

  • Mark O’Leary

    Muggeridge was such a pious old trout. Hitchens takes some pretty good whacks at him in God Is Not Great. 

    But as others have pointed out, these two have not seen the film. Of course, Jesus DOES appear in LoB. And he is not presented satirically or even humorously. What is being satired (is that a verb?) among other things is the process of belief, the human tendency to make something out of nothing.

    • eonL5

      Satirized is the word you want.

  • http://www.travismamone.net/ Travis Mamone

    Cleese is right about being so wrapped up in your own worldview that you can’t accept any fact or logic that contradicts what you believe to be “true.” I used to be like that. Then I discovered that the facts were more liberating than harmful.

  • Gus Snarp

    Man, I always forget just how smart the Python guys are/were, and how unconsciously funny. Especially John Cleese. The man is the epitome of wit. His mind is just so fast, and it’s like he doesn’t even have to think about it, yet clearly he’s very thoughtful. Especially loved when he turned “10th rate” back around on them.

    As to the religionists’ arguments, mostly utter bullocks. A British 14 year old wouldn’t know anything about Jesus before seeing this movie because of secular education? That would be the parents’ choice then, wouldn’t it? And what the hell’s wrong with that? He just misses the old privilege of getting a free pass at indoctrinating anyone.

    Some group at some church got them involved in helping a hospital? No one doubts churches help with certain charities (and are especially fond of hospitals, perhaps because they can get a free chance to proselytize to people when they are at their most desperate and emotionally weak moment). This has nothing to do with the larger point: why aren’t they rising up en masse to oppose war, weapons of mass destruction, and much more. Why are only a minority of church goers and church leaders really involved in social justice issues, but they all get up in arms when it comes to indoctrination and control?

    But then, even the religionists sound smarter with those accents and those thorough, classical British educations…

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

    It’s very satisfying to see that, with over 30 years’ hindsight, this “10th-rate film” is now considered a classic, whereas the arguments by the religious folks in this debate are just as stale and impotent as ever.  The fact that Cleese, Palin, and the other brilliant Pythons were able to get away with such trenchant commentaries on the absurdity of religion (among other aspects of the human condition) during that time period amazes me to this day.  My own involvement with religion (Catholicism) was in its death throes when this film came out, so it resonated with me even more at that time.

    On another note — and in response to criticisms from the religionists — what better message to leave the film with than to “always look on the bright side of life”?  That’s a more positive sentiment than most of the crap in the Bible (plus, it’s got a catchy tune… thank you, Eric Idle!).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoaktW-Lu38

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Oh, goddammit, now it’s stuck in my head!

  • Commander Vimes

    A bishop criticising Palin for a lack of evidence says it all.

  • http://twitter.com/aleriverahe Alejandra Rivera

    Also worth a watch is a recent semi-biopic of the event called Holy Flying Circus (Can’t find a full version on YouTube, but here’s the intro Holy Flying Circus intro)


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