Monday, July 21, 2008

Brian in the news

The BBC reports that the mayor of Aberystwyth, Sue Jones-Davies — who played Judith Iscariot in Monty Python's The Life of Brian — is trying to overturn a 30-year ban on the movie in her western Welsh town. I came across this story because of the discussion at the end of Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show today. Like every caller into today's program[me], I have to say I'm a bit surprised that a ban on a movie can still exist today; it seems the ban was simply forgotten at some point in the last three decades.

As I listened to the story, and as I read Ben Myers's review of Kotsko's book on Žižek and theology — specifically, that "a certain humourlessness could be said to dominate the entire Christian tradition" — I remembered Kathy Griffin's "offensive remarks" at the Emmy Awards show last year.

In the cases of The Life of Brian and Kathy Griffin, I think the church's "humourlessness" has become acute and manifested severe symptoms. It seems to me that we Christians have a hard time distinguishing between attacks on Jesus and attacks on Christians and/or the Church, though this distinction is vitally important. When Brian pleads with his followers, "Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't need to follow me, you don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!" only to have have them agree in unision, "Yes! We're all individuals!" the satire and irony aren't making a theological point (or aren't necessarily doing so) so much as a cultural one. When Kathy Griffin accepts an Emmy and says, "A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now," we should recognize the shot taken not against Jesus or even the Church but against celebrities who thank Jesus for their award in a, frankly, meaningless gesture.

The actual insult against the Church, I think, comes from the Church itself. How often do we here someone complain, whether rightly or wrongly, something like, "It is a sure bet that if Griffin had said, 'Suck it, Muhammad,' there would have been a very different reaction," (Bill Donohue, president, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights)? For the sake of argument let's accept Donohue's point. Does this legitimate a similar Christian response? Instead, it seems to me that Christians can't complain about violent protests against cartoons depicting Mohammed in a Danish newspaper and mobilize protests against offensive or uncomfortable images of Jesus and the Church in the wider world. We either speak out in support of Islamic offense at unfavorable depictions of what they hold sacred or we accept similar offenses against Christian institutions and beliefs.

Isaac Hayes's hypocrisy was obvious to everyone when the voice of Chef left the cast of South Park complaining that the show's portrayal of Scientology was offensive. Can't we see that our own hypocrisy is similarly obvious? Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that the Church, as Christ's body, is made of various and sundry parts — a foot here, an eye there. I'd like to ask, Where are the Church's shoulders, and could they please be broadened to handle a little bit of satire and critique without being offended at every perceived slight?! To those Christians who disagree here, I would point out that Jesus himself was remembered as having predicted this very situation. "If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first" (John 15.18). We should at least take solace that we can locate ourselves in the biblical narrative with such little effort and stop complaining about what little discomfort Western Christians may be subjected to in the public marketplace!


Jake said...

Sorry to comment on an old post - just discovered your blog! Loved this entire post, and particularly the comment about broadening the church's shoulders. Very amusing.

Seriously though - you're right on target about the hypocrisy when we complain about other people's reactions to criticisms of their faith, and still get angry when the same is done to us. Of course, we're often good at pointing out the faults of others, but not good at being self-reflective regarding our own faults . . . those darn specks and planks.

I suppose some of it also comes from the fact that Christians often have little to no idea how to live in a religiously plural society. After all, we have the truth, so why should they be offended when we proclaim it loudly and belligerently?

Rafael said...

Nicely said, Jake. I think you're right (that we don't know how to live in a pluralistic society), but I still think the fundamental point is that we don't know how to distinguish criticisms aimed at us versus criticisms intended against God. And even in the case of the latter, we think, somehow, that God needs us to defend him! That, I think, is offensive.

Jake said...

Oh, I agree completely. I think the pluralistic society issue contributes, but you're completely correct that many Christians have virtually no ability to distinguish between the two types of criticism, or to take valid criticism of the church - and sadly there is often plenty to criticize.

As for defending God, not only does he not need us to do so - we often make things worse when we try. Instead of defending God (or our ideas of God), we would do well to focus on living our lives the way he has called us to live - that is the greatest defense we can offer anyway.

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