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Godless Creations

The Irreverent Monty Python

by Amanda Chesworth

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 15, Number 4.

For centuries, the freethinker has contributed substantially to the civilization of which he or she is part. All artistic endeavor, whether it be music, film, fine art, or literature have their secular leanings. "Godless Creations" is a new feature of the Secular Humanist Bulletin.

Godless creations can be found all around the globe, and it is high time we celebrate. If you would like to share any you have found please submit an article to the new Arts & Culture section of the Secular Humanist Bulletin.

When describing my childhood and my parents' unique brand of child rearing, I invent a new adjective: montypythonic. At a very early age my parents taught me not only to question every facet of society but also to inject a bit of humor into it. After being introduced to the group of English lads and token American who considered starting as "A Half Dozen Immaculate Anarchists" but settled on "Monty Python," I realized the importance of this childhood lesson. Humor is by far our most powerful weapon for keeping sane and the insanity. It's also a hell of a way to have a rip-roaring, toe-tapping, boot-scooting good time in life.

To John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam, nothing was sacred—including their own beliefs, ideas, and physical defects. They dared to lampoon all aspects of British culture, much of which parallels our own culture here in America. Whether it was war, the legal system, religion, or simply prevalent attitudes, it was fair game. Terry Gilliam explains the purpose of this strategy: "I wanted things to be out there. People can decide for themselves whether they're good, bad, or indifferent, but you've got to get them out first." Ridicule appears to correlate directly with the degree of dogma inherent within the subject matter. The more people objected, the more susceptible the subject of their objections became. The holier the cow, the more it needed to be tipped. "If you take it out of its pompous context and start fooling with it, a lot of humor can result, " Gilliam explained.

The first episode of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" was broadcast on October 5, 1969. The episode included tree-bound sheep laboring under the delusion they were birds, a man with three buttocks, a mice-banging musical interlude, and a disgruntled miner who ran off down the pit to avoid the theatrical leanings of his paterfamilas. Each episode that followed was the product of six brilliant minds. Whether they sprinkled it with a clever wit, added an intellectual bite, or reduced themselves to toilet humor, laughter erupted and engulfed everyone in its path. Monty Python exemplified what can happen when one is free from all constraints: the indoctrination of one's upbringing, the shackles of history, and the questionable rules hidden beneath the fabric of our civilization.

After the third series the gang broke out onto the movie scene with And Now for Something Completely Different (1971). This was followed by Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974), where they took on the Middle Ages and were banned from all publicly owned castles in Britain. After reading the script the financial backers ran for the hills leaving Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Elton John to pick up the tab. A similar incident occurred with their next movie: Monty Python's Life of Brian (1978). George Harrison of the Beatles saved the day on this one.

The most controversial movie was without a doubt Life of Brian. The movie begins with the three wise men pouring out their praise and mirth to the wrong son of God born in Bethlehem on Christmas Day. The boy was Brian and the movie documents his life and times with comic brilliance. On its release, screams of "Blasphemy!" were heard across the nation. Protests were organized at movie theatres and the other public venues. The film was banned in many parts of the American South and incensed Bible Belters picketed the film's U.S. distributor, Warner Brothers. The six members of Monty Python were called heathens, heretics, godless atheists, and worse, but it's important to note that several of them did indeed hold religious beliefs.

The last real movie created by Monty Python was Monty Python's the Meaning of Life (1983). I was 13 at the time and my thoughts had only just begun to wander upwards. Watching this with my father at such an impressionable age and being satisfied with their take on the meaning of life perhaps explains why I never felt the transcendental temptation in later years. For all those parents out there hoping their children avoid the same unnatural urges, have you been to Blockbuster recently? Nudge nudge. Wink wink. Know what I mean? Know what I mean? 

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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