Peadar Kirby published his essay "The Catholic Church in post-Celtic Tiger
Ireland" 2008 in a book called "Contemporary Catholicism in Ireland". In this essay Kirby analyses the Irish Catholic Church in relation to a letter written by Father Patrick Seaver to "The Irish Times" in 2007. Kirby argues that the outdated clerical cast system and the troubles of the Irish Catholic Church are still present within modern society. In the following essay, Kirby’s arguments will be used as a theory for discussing the accusation of blasphemy by the Catholic Church towards the movie "Life of Brian" by the comedian group Monty Python from 1979 and to point out the struggle of the Church to allow a critical view on the issue of religion.
Monty Python, a group of comedians consisting of Britons John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, and Eric Idles, and an American Terry Gilliam, address philosophical, political, and cultural concerns within their creative works (Hight 2010:168). Monty Pythons style of comedy identifies as stream of consciousness, carnivalesque and challenges the authorities and conceptions of the world (Neal 2009:77). They achieve this through their style of surreal and absurd elements of illogicality. One of their biggest successes was the movie "Life of Brian". It tells the tragic life story of the ordinary guy Brian Cohen of Nazareth, born in a stable next to Jesus on Christmas day. He is mistaken for the Messiah by the Three Wise Men, even though his mother Mandy states that "he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy" (Wison 2011). Later on in his life Brian gets involved with a revolutionary political group that is trying to overthrow the Roman rule in Jerusalem. Once again he gets mistaken for the Messiah, arrested, sentenced to death and crucified by the Romans (Brummer 2013).
The idea for the movie first came up after the success of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in 1975, when a reporter asked about Monty Pythons next project and Eric Idle joked: "Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory". This raised the interest among the group to write a satire on the life of Christ (De Arnold Palmer 2014). However, the Pythons quickly realized that there was nothing funny in the words of Christ himself, but rather in the Church’s and society’s interpretation of the Messiah.
From the very beginning of the movie, when baby Jesus is shown with a halo in the stable next to Brian's, the Pythons clearly distinguish Jesus and Brian as two distinct individuals. Later on in the movie, Brian attends the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus (played by Kenneth Colley) is shown in a respectful way (De Arnold Palmer 2014). Jesus is mentioned once again by the ex-leper who tells Brian how Jesus cured him, but later complains about how Jesus takes away his livelihood as a beggar because of it. Once more Jesus is shown very briefly, when Simon of Cyrene offers to carry his cross but does not manage to give it back to his rightful occupant. This is the only scene where Jesus himself is not portrayed in a serious way (Tomkins 1999). Aside from that the story picks up several Gospel stories, like the stoning scene, where the Pythons mock religious legalism and sexism, for women are not allowed at the scene (Tomkins 1999). The humor in "Life of Brian" is clearly aimed for religious leaders and their adherents (Benko 2012:9). For example, Pontius Pilate, played by John Cleese, is parodied via a speech impediment. The blind worshipping of idols, with out questioning their statements, is demonstrated by Brian's true-to-life followers, who read miracles and signs into everything he does or says. The statement by one of Brian's followers, who chased Brian into a hermits burrow, highlights this issue: "You are the Messiah! And I should know; I’ve followed a few!" (De Arnold Palmer 2014). The movie ends with the crucifixion of Brian and several others outside the city. Having been abandoned not only by his political peers, "The People´s Front of Judaea", but also by his lover Judith and his mother Mandy, Brian is indeed desperate when he is encouraged by a fellow crucified, to sing along to the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" (Benko 2012:1). This song, which later becomes the official Monty Python hymn, is about how everybody can choose the meaning and value of their existence and to make the best out of everything, for there is nothing to lose: "You know, you come from nothing - you're going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!" (Benko 2012:15).
Monty Pythons intention was to target the interpretation and response to Jesus and his message and to criticize religious leaders and the Catholic Church.