Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What if he was just a very naughty boy?

Among the presents I received this year were a couple of DVDs of Monty Python movies. One of them was Life of Brian so we watched it over at my in-laws’ house in the evening on Christmas day. It had been quite a few years since I’d seen it last so I had forgotten many of the scenes. Also, being older I was able to appreciate some of the things the Pythons did in that movie. For example, the way that the first scene (following the credits) starts with Jesus giving his sermon on the mound – focussed as it is upon doing good for one’s fellow human beings – and ends with a fist-fight among the people at the back who are frustrated at not being able to hear what Jesus is saying. I can well see why the movie was so controversial when it first came out. Having said that, I think the movie is actually quite clearly saying that Jesus was, in many ways, a great man. The problem would have been that, due to its implicit humanist view, it is saying that he was just a great man and not the Messiah. Any movie that dealt with Jesus without being fulsomely reverential would have been (indeed, would still be) highly controversial i.e. there would be plenty of extreme Christians willing to blow up a storm about it and plenty of good natured Christians willing to become quite irrational and confrontational without actually having seen the movie. Witness, for example, The Passion which again shows Jesus to be just a great man (and Peter Gabriel to be a great musician). My father-in-law at first found it difficult to know how to react to the Monty Python humour but soon warmed to it, even if he did have to just read the subtitles (how do you translate Incontinentia Buttocks?)

On Boxing Day we went to my wife’s grandparents’ house. Of course, the tyke was a hit, even if she did spend the first few hours there screaming her head off any time that her great-grandfather came into view. One of her great-grandmothers is an Episcopalian so the topic of religion naturally came to be discussed. Despite the good willed nature of the discussion, it was interesting to see how she clearly feels somewhat put upon in what is a very predominantly Catholic society. I know how she feels. In the end the overall, generally acceptable conclusion we reached was that was is important is to treat other people well. I didn’t ask the obvious question of where this leaves religion. I found it interesting however how the discussion showed once again that for most people, including many members of my (wife’s) family, religion is very precious when someone tries to take it away from them but inconsequential when one is willing to reach a compromise conclusion. I think the conclusion is very clear that it is important not to make theists feel threatened while at the same time showing them how much common ground there is between them and those who either believe in other gods or in no god at all. This is why the ecumenical movement that John Paul II was so fond of is both very important and, at the same time, very dangerous. Important for everyone and dangerous to the theists. Because of this, there is in the Catholic hierarchy a schizophrenic attitude to ecumenism – on the one hand very supportive of it while on the other wishing to sneak in the proviso that ecumenism must lead to the recognition of the (penultimate) authority of the Pope. So, as I said, I didn’t ask the obvious question – I can only hope that some of my relatives will one day ask it, themselves.


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