John Cleese, of the now-defunct comedy troupe Monty Python, recently announced his plans to adapt the group’s 1979 film Life of Brian for the stage. As it did at the time of its release, the movie—a send-up of the Gospels—is once again inviting the condemnation of the censorious, but for very different reasons. Carl Trueman writes:
[When it first came to theaters], Christians in the United Kingdom protested the movie’s overt mockery of Christianity. And it was undoubtedly blasphemous. But that was over 40 years ago. It is therefore both a little surprising and very instructive that the movie has been back in the headlines recently, again for blasphemy. Yes, it is still blasphemous. But this time the offending content speaks eloquently of the changes that have taken place in Western culture over the decades since the film’s release.
Some weeks ago, John Cleese . . . came under huge pressure from significant and influential members of the artistic community to omit a certain scene from the production, but refused to cut it. In the scene in question, a man named Stan claims to be a woman called Loretta and expresses the desire—and demands the right—to have a baby.
Opponents of blasphemy then and of blasphemy now share something in common: a concern to protect that which is sacred. But that is where the similarity begins and ends. Old-style blasphemy involved desecrating God because it was God who was sacred. Today’s blasphemy involves suggesting that man is not all-powerful, that he cannot create himself in any way he chooses, that he is subject to limits beyond his choice and beyond his control.
Ironically, John Cleese has now been indicted for blasphemy under both regimes. Regardless of where one stands on the merits of Life of Brian, his constant state of disfavor would perhaps suggest that he is actually an exceptionally competent comedian.