When the Culture Wars Came for Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “A film so funny they banned it in Norway!” (Kliph Nesteroff, December 8, 2023, LitHub)
As soon as it was released, Life of Brian was besieged by religious fundamentalists. Orthodox rabbis were the first to protest, objecting to a prayer shawl worn by John Cleese at the start of the film.
“It was the first scene to raise any protests,” said Terry Jones. “We always thought we were going to get protests from Christians, but in fact the first lot of protests we got [were] from the … Rabbinical Association of New York.”
Politicians connected to the evangelical movement suggested that the members of Monty Python be tried for blasphemy.
Idle said, “The rabbis went away as quickly as they had appeared and were replaced by angry Christians, who picketed the Burbank Studios in LA, claiming that Warner Bros. were the agents of the devil.”
Blasphemy charges were seldom successful in the modern age. Organized evangelical groups figured they’d have better success if they attacked the film on grounds of obscenity. A half-second glimpse of Graham Chapman’s penis led to a court order which suppressed Life of Brian in the state of Georgia due to “lewd exhibition of genitals.”
The movie was banned in Shreveport, Alabama, outlawed in Alexandria, Louisiana, and harassed in South Carolina.
“The film held up to deliberate ridicule my faith in Jesus Christ and made fun of His suffering,” said Presbyterian minister William Solomon. “It was cruel and sarcastic, but it was not art.” Solomon contacted South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond for help. Thurmond insisted the film distributor withdraw the film, telling them, “My folks take their religion very seriously.” The distributor replied, “We take our freedoms very seriously, too.”
It’s not as if they could top the moment on the Cross where God asks why God has forsaken Him for hillarity.