02 January 2007

The Life of Thomas

Last night I watched a documentary about the controversy surrounding Monty Python's 1979 film The Life of Brian. It is, of course, the story of the greatest sense of humour failure by members of organised religion since the Spanish Inquisition. I have always wondered not just how certain self-aggrandising theologians could condemn the film without watching it, but why they would want to. I think it takes a certain schooling in the ways, practices and beliefs of a religion in order to really get the most out of the film. Those who watch it in the hope of a scabrous attack on the life of Christ will be the most disappointed.

Probably the most depressing thing about the programme was what wasn't in the film: the fact that, were the same film to be made today, it is almost certain it would not be able to get general cinematic release - at least not without blood being spilled on either a small or large scale. Thirty years ago the worst we had to fear was Malcolm Muggeridge getting his hairshirt-lined Y-fronts in a twist. Now, much like the middle ages, there is a very real fear of death.

At what point did we let the hard-of-thinking dictate what was acceptable for people to profess? Having conquered more or less every sexual taboo in the name of art, it seems the oldest and most obvious target for restricting the development of the human mind has somehow managed to protect itself using the oldest and most obvious methods.

There is, of course, a time and place for religious fundamentalism. It's called the 17th century. If they are still looking for candidates for the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, then I'd like to nominate Thomas Paine. Then visitors to Britain could see what all those forgotten Generals, immortalised as statues, were fighting to defend.

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