Saturday, 4 June 2011

Reflections of life in cinema #2

Blasphemy and the holy cows of religion:
While browsing through a wikipedia entry on well-known cases of blasphemy, I came across this particularly interesting scenario where Gillian Gibbons, a British lady teaching in Sudan, was tried on charges of naming a teddy bear "Muhammad" in class. Yes, you read that right.

It turned out there was a boy named Muhammad in class; and she had named the teddy after him, not the Messiah. Which should have effectively buried the case. It didn't. The charges brought against her were "insulting religion, inciting hatred, sexual harassment, racism, prostitution and showing contempt for religious beliefs". Pretty much logical thinking, isn't it?

It's of course further debatable what exactly is wrong with naming things after the Prophet. Where exactly is that a slur? People name their children after personal idols or icons, and that is always a mark of showing respect. Mind you, this is still argued from the POV of a rational believer. For an atheist, the whole idea of arguing and bickering over, and creating rules about an artificial human construct - God - seems like absurdity squared. One, the whole thing is obviously a hoax - meant to give you a false sense of security and order when there is none. Two, you have self-appointed guardians who set rigid rules and guidelines to ascertain the existence and propagation of this deceptive idea.

Contemptuous sermons at several mosques drove around 10,000 people in Khartoum, armed with swords and machetes, to form processions and ask for immediate execution of Gibbons. All for naming a silly teddy bear "Muhammad". Makes me wonder what a truly harsh critic of organised religion must be facing in these overbearingly conservative societies.

Monty Python and their attitude towards religion:

One feels, as Kubrick did while adapting the straight thriller Fail Safe to Dr. Strangelove, that certain aspects of human existence are so bleak and despairing that the only possible way of staying calm and opining in a rational manner is to make fun of it. Kubrick's vision of a nuclear apocalypse thrives on a complementary relationship between the degrees of humour and bleakness. The teddy bear incident infuriates me so much that I find citing the frivolous Monty Python sketches the best way to deflect the irrational strains of anger (since blind religion itself feeds on the gaps in rationale).

The Pythons were, of course, no strangers to making fun of religion. Life of Brian satirised the irrational religious fervour, containing among other things a scene where a mob kills a man because he believes the common man Brian not be a messiah. Brian himself doesn't!

What however seems most relevant is the witch-burning sequence in Holy Grail. A group of villagers take a suspected "witch" to a village headman seeking his approval to burn her. In a characteristically Python-esque way, Bedevere (the village headman) establishes "logically" how the woman really is a witch. In a world where a woman can be tried for naming teddy bears (charged with "inciting... sexual harassment, racism and prostitution" among other things), one can easily be proved to be a witch because she weighs equal to a duck on a faulty balance. Reality, as ever, trumps fiction in its capacity to bewilder.

1 comment:

Sayantani said...

Nice one, dear! :)

There's this Bengali film called "Daini" which, much like the "Holy Grail", recounts the turmoil of a woman suspected as a witch by the entire village. I remember this film as a remarkable performance by a much younger Gita De, who was type-casted as a lady villain in most of her later films.