I’ve always appreciated the humor of John Cleese. So, when I saw his autobiography at the library I quickly checked it out. I’ve known about Cleese’s frustration with organized religion and so I knew that this would be present in the book. But what I’ve come to appreciate more is the reason for Cleese’s frustration.
What gets my goat is that ‘Religion’ should be the most exciting topic of all. Is there an afterlife? Can we have a real purpose to our lives? How can we love our enemy, when it seems about as easy as levitating? To what extent is self-interest moral? Is there an experience of the divine that we can achieve? All the vital questions have been dumped in favour of half-baked, po-faced rituals which are basically a form of middle-class rain dance. Still, it did give me the chapel scene in The Meaning of Life. (So, Anyway…, 66)
I actually agree with much of what Cleese says here. I’m convinced that what Cleese hates about organized religion is something that should be despised; namely, an intellectually dishonest superstition parading itself around as absolute truth.
What saddens me about this whole thing is that Cleese has been given a wonderful straw man to pummel. His “Christian” education was vapid. And his teachers seem to have assumed the gospel and likely didn’t even own it much themselves. As Cleese noted earlier in the book, “Nothing was ever explained properly.”
He is painting with much too broad of a brush and in doing so has given himself a quick out to actually dealing with not only the serious components of Christianity but also the benefits of a gathered church.
This got me to thinking about the cost of dull preaching and teaching.
What happens when we assume the gospel rather than explaining it? What happens when we aren’t enthralled by the glories of Christ but merely teach it in the same way that one would teach math or history—as unconnected facts that have little bearing on your life today?
What happens is that you end up with a world filled with men like John Cleese. Men and women who have rejected a horribly jaded and shattered mirror of the precious gospel of Jesus and then walk around assuming that they’ve tasted the real thing and found it wanting.
I do not believe it is mere coincidence that the “Christianity” which Cleese experienced was a cultural Christianity that had long since rejected the miraculous. When you believe that you can somehow reject the Christ of history and hang on to the Christ of faith it is no wonder that what results is vapidity. When you’ve thrown away the substance for the ethereal it isn’t surprising that you no longer can speak boldly, substantively, and passionately.
And so as I read through the biography of Cleese, I’m saddened but I’m also encouraged. I’m encouraged to not become a dull preacher and teacher. I’m encouraged to hang on to the offensive bloody Cross of Christ and to do so with a passion.