Tenth rate, is it?

By way of refreshment – a bit of John Cleese and Michael Palin attempting to argue with Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood the Bishop of Southwark about the merits and blasphemous nature of The Life of Brian. Muggeridge is extraordinarily rude and unpleasant, and Stockwood carries on like a Monty Python character himself.

Michael Palin was here on a book tour about 15 years ago and he gave a talk at a bookstore, with Q&A. During the Q&A he talked about this encounter, and said that it made him uncharacteristically shirty (his word). I can see why – Muggeridge and Stockwood breezily accuse them of lying, just for one thing. They’re poisonous. Dear dear Christianity, so bad for the character.


  1. Omar Puhleez says

    The four of them make a great comedy team. They should have their own show on TV.

  2. Shatterface says

    Muggsy admitted missing the beginning of the film – so kinda missed the fact that Jesus is treated rather respectfully by the team.

    There was a funny parody of the interview on Not the Nine O’clock News

  3. Silentbob says

    Did you ever see Holy Flying Circus?

    It’s hard to describe, it’s sort of a comedy docudrama. It’s about this debate and the events leading up to it, it’s dramatised, with actors playing the Pythons (and doing uncanny impersonations), but it’s also a surreal Pythonesque comedy. For example Michael Palin’s wife is played by the actor playing Terry Jones in drag.

    One of the running gags it that Palin is “the nicest man in the world” but even his niceness is tested during the debate. Here’s a trailer. Recommended.

    And now, for something completely different:

  4. Shatterface says

    I posted that same clip but it seems to be stuck in moderation. It uses the ‘tenth rate’ line.

  5. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    One bit of this is that apparently Muggeridge and Stockwood arrived late for the film and missed the opening bit that clearly establishes that Brian and Jesus are different people, so they missed about 90% of the point of the film. If you watch the video, it is pretty clear that they are under the impression that Brian is supposed to be Jesus, rather than a guy who keeps getting mistaken for him.

  6. Ed says

    Exactly. Jesus is assumed to be the true Messiah in the film. Brian was inadvertently part of the Messiah craze of that time period. This is vaguely accurate. There were all kinds of weird characters with apocalyptic cults in Judea in those days. If Jesus existed and we were there, he probably wouldn’t stand out from the others.

    But he is actually the only person treated with respect. In the brief part of the film that features him, the joke is on the listeners who don’t understand his message; some of whom leave the pacifistic Sermon on the Mount early so they won’t be late for a stoning.

  7. Silentbob says

    @ 3 Shatterface

    Well it seems we’ve both been trumped by a shameless embedder! 😉

  8. Silentbob says

    @ 9 Nathaniel Frein

    Yes, be afraid. Be very afraid! Those who have no respect for YouTube linking protocols walk among us!! (I ask you – how long can it be before people are marrying their toasters?!!)

  9. Al Dente says

    Muggeridge and Stockwood are upset that their religion might be ridiculed. How dare Cleese, Palin et al not hold Christianity with the same respect M & S feel it should be held with?

  10. Omar Puhleez says

    Al Dente:
    “Muggeridge and Stockwood are upset that their religion might be ridiculed. How dare Cleese, Palin et al not hold Christianity with the same respect M & S feel it should be held with?”
    And I say: how dare Muggeridge and Stockwood not treat Christianity with the same levity as Cleese and Palin?
    But I wonder: Is there possibility of compromise here?

  11. Bernard Bumner says

    Interestingly, The Life of Brian really seemed to knock the CoE off its pedestal of special protection (along with things like the Oz trial. Attitudes from within the church a certainly different now.

    The CoE is much more willing to laugh at itself, too. Reverend Richard Coles (ex of Bronski Beat/Communards, and self-described “go-to gay” reverend for the media) appears fairly regularly on television without a hint of starchy ecumenism getting in way of him mocking himself or the venerable institution of the CoE. No hint that he may not be toeing the line.

  12. says

    I wonder if that exchange about Socrates was the inspiration for the Socrates/Hemlock skit?

    The finger-wagging is very very serious! There are serious wagging of serious fingers!

  13. says

    Also please, may we lay to rest this silly trope that jesus was a great teacher and philosopher? He was nothing of the sort! He was a mystic and an authoritarian, who made no arguments and engaged in no reasoning – he simply asserted dogma (literally!) and barely engaged with his own ideas; his method (going by the gospels) was closer to Nietzsche than Kant, assert something dramatically and move on. This is not the style of teaching that one would remotely expect from a supreme being! First off, a supreme being would presumably be able to actually answer the great questions in philosophy. He’d also be able to answer the smaller ones, perhaps by conjuring a stone he could not lift, or brilliantly resolving that dilemma with a clever explanation. One would expect a divinely-inspired philosopher to effortlessly demolish Epicurus’ conundrum, and to be able to school Plato’s Socrates with a dissection of the Euthyphro. And, of course, a great teacher has great students. Why would such a great teacher surround himself with such mediocre students? Confronted with a god-teacher, they asked questions that were about as sophisticated as “boxers or briefs O Lord?” Surely there were minds alive at the time of the calibre of Lao-Tze or Socrates or Rawls or Hume – why did he waste his precious drops of wisdom on people with the philosophical sophistication of Sam Harris? Since I’m a supicious sort, I might wonder that he surrounded himself with bush league students because he had no divine wisdom to offer, at all.

    Kant and Rawls made mighty good efforts at explaining why “The Golden Rule” works and should be applied. Jesus did parlor tricks and supernaturally catered picnics. He didn’t teach he, dare I use the word, pontificated. Socrates would have tied him in knots in the first round. Hume would have reduced him to incoherent tears, and Schopenhauer would have made him happy to go to Golgotha. Whether you agree with those philosophers or not, they at least tried to teach – to establish arguments that stood on their own, to defend them. Jesus wasn’t a philosopher or a teacher, he was – at best – a hack.

    I wrote a poor bit of fiction about this, years ago:
    in which I imagined what it might be like if the nazarene actually met some real philosophers, thinkers, and teachers.

  14. Omar Puhleez says

    Marcus @#17: “Also please, may we lay to rest this silly trope that jesus was a great teacher and philosopher? He was nothing of the sort! He was a mystic and an authoritarian, who made no arguments and engaged in no reasoning – he simply asserted dogma (literally!) and barely engaged with his own ideas;”
    Largely true, but I don’t think he can be so easily dismissed. The Jewish way was not the Greek way; certainly not in the 1st C AD, nor is it so really today. Joshua bar Joseph (aka Jesus Christ) came out of the tradition of the OT prophets, whose works he appears to have known quite well. For the Greeks, philosophy was continuous with science, and was a window on the Universe. For the Jews, the works of the prophets were largely a closed and self-referential system. Every so often some new star act would start his career by saying essentially “this is what I think has been going on; this is the source of our troubles; here is the way out of this bind.” Sin, repentance, etc, etc.
    For the Jews, the problem was ‘how can we keep our communal identity while having to live under the dominion of our (Roman) enemies’? Their answer lay not via reason so much as by keeping alive their religious tradition, Torah, etc. And interestingly, this same tradition was adopted by the Greeks themselves when they in turn lost their political autonomy to Roman conquest. Greek Christianity took over, and the works of the classical writers were ignored and lost, only to become available much later in the 1st Millennium AD thanks to their preservation by Islamic scholars. But they could easily have been lost completely.
    Interestingly also, Christianity never seriously took hold amongst the Jews. Clearly they had no need of it. It probably would have died out completely if it had not been for the fervour with which it was adopted by the Greeks in the cities of Asia Minor, and from there spread around the Mediterranean. Judaism was a closed, communal religion disinclined to open up to outsiders. Joshua bar Joseph opened it up, and in the process started a brand new religion of his own. He knew his scriptural tradition backwards, and was clearly a consummate public speaker and politician, which was why the Romans (not the Jews) publicly executed him. (The Jewish Sanhedrin did all it could to save him from that fate.)

    Christ’s Golden Rule (‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’) was not his own invention. It was there in the teachings of Hillel (c. 110 BCE, – 10 AD [!] in the more powerful ‘negative’ form (‘do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you’.) and in a long tradition before Hillel.
    As many have discovered since, if you want to take power, and to depose those who presently have it, don’t just argue for it. Start a new religion.

  15. says

    The Jewish way was not the Greek way; certainly not in the 1st C AD, nor is it so really today

    Yes, and it’s still an authoritarian culture. You’ll find that’s the case whenever the answer to the question “why?” winds up resting on “because god said so” or something like that. Being able to chain your “whys” back is the basis of philosophy; that it was the ancient Greeks who were the chief proponents of that is merely coincidence – it’s what rationality is. Authoritarianism is ultimately irrational because it does not seek to explain or “reason” because it doesn’t have to.

  16. yahweh says

    It always made me wonder, Mervyn Stockwood being bishop of Southwark would have lived in the bishop’s residence in Tooting Bec Gardens, mere yards from the Ambleside Avenue address of ‘Madame’ Cynthia Payne, entertainer of clergy, inter alia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *