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Church can have the last laugh ... take jibes in good humour

(John Coulter, Irish Daily Star)

Perform a comedy drama, or tell stand-up jokes which mock Muslims, Islamic militants, and the prophet Mohammed!

That's my public challenge to comedians and playwrights who campaigned to get Newtownabbey council to overturn its decision banning the Reduced Shakespeare Company's controversial play, The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged).

My main gauntlet is thrown down to one of the North's top – if not the best at the moment – stand-up comics, Jake O'Kane, who branded the people who voted for the initial ban as "zealots".

So jocular Jake, let's see you grow a set of real balls and perform a public routine where all the jokes cut the tripe out of Islamic militants.

After all, if you defend a play which takes more than a few pops at the Christian faith, you should have no problem at using your comprehensive talents to slabber a few choice tales about the people who carried out 9/11 in the US and 7/7 in Britain.

But let's swallow some bitter pills. Many comics are just too scared to tell jokes about Muslim fanatics for fear they become the target of suicide bombers.

The other tough medicine is that Christianity has been easy meat for comedians because the faith always adopted a 'turn the other cheek' attitude towards those who poked fun at the clergy or Churches.

What about the very catchy tune, Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, from Monty Python's mass crucifixion scene from Life of Brian?

Then there's the controversial dream scene from The Last Temptation of Christ.

Why did the Catholic Church not lobby to have the hit TV series Father Ted banned given the hilarious portrayal of the priests? How many Irish priests are actually mirror images of the hard-drinking, hard-cursing Father Jack?

Or was it a case that there was no censorship of Father Ted because the Catholic hierarchy knew of the looming storms of clerical abuse and alleged Church cover-ups?

The Christian faith has been ridiculed for generations by sitcoms – remember the camp vicar in Dad's Army, or the women clerics in The Vicar of Dibley?

The Christian Church needs to adopt a more positive approach to mocking programmes and plays.

Rather than seeing a return to the placard protestors, the Churches should use these opportunities to show that Christianity is fun, relevant and a constructive force for good in society.

If the Churches are smart, they will use the u-turn on The Bible drama to get people interested in the holy book and the life of Jesus.

For example, when Hollywood star Mel Gibson launched his brutally visual The Passion of The Christ about Jesus's trial, torture and execution, it sparked a rebirth in interest in the Christian faith.

On many occasions, militant fundamentalists have done more damage to the Christian faith than helped it.

I was once banned from joining a Baptist Church because I am married to a woman who does not wear a hat to church.

Before becoming a journalist, I was a punk and heavy metal music producer with my own label, Budj Recordings, based in the heart of the Ulster Bible Belt.

The first two albums I released were Christian punk and rock, yet militant fundamentalists slammed the evangelical outreach by these bands.

Just as comedy has helped us understand the Troubles, could comedy rekindle an interest in the Christian faith?

Or will one of the long-term fallouts from the two BBC Paisley programmes be a resurgence of the Paisleyite tactics of the hymn-singing, placard-waving pickets outside theatres and cinemas?

February 5, 2014

This article appeared in the February 3, 2014 edition of the Irish Daily Star.



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