The Independent's Ian Burrell interviewed Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC's head of religion and ethics, this week:
It’s no laughing matter: Britain has become a nation of religious illiterates 'who are baffled by Biblical references in Monty Python film The Life of Brian'
Mr Ahmed says that "failings in religious education over two generations" are "undermining public understanding of contemporary national and international issues":
“If you tried to make The Life of Brian today it would fall flat on its face because the vast majority of the audience would not get most of the jokes. They don’t have the knowledge".
As for today's comedians who make jokes about religion, they tend to joke about the subject "in general terms" rather than about "specific aspects of religion".
Ian Burrell continues:
Ahmed also claimed that a key reason that Islam is not the subject of more humorous discussion is that the life of the Prophet Muhammad is poorly understood by large sections of the British public. “How can anybody tell a joke about Muhammad when they don’t even know how to spell his name, let alone anything about his life? The day we have people standing up and telling detailed jokes about Muhammad and have the audience understanding that humour, then we will have come a long way in society and we will have a lot more religious literacy about a major world figure.”
Now it has to be said that the Independent's own online readership don't seem to particular buy this latter line of reasoning:
So, do you get the following jokes?Mike • a day agoAt least Life of Brian was allowed to be made and screened without any fatwas calling for the death of the actors and film makers. Just try making a satirical film about Islam and see where it gets you !lionsingh @Mike • a day agoBad enough for drawing a cartoon ;-(AdolfBalls2 @Mike • 15 hours agoEarlier this year Channel 4 did a two part historical documentary about Islam (I forget which historian wrote it), but it put a reasoned argument forward questioning some of the so called accepted 'facts; of islam.They had to pull the 2nd part because of threats.This country is scared sh*tless of Islam
Wise Man No.1: "We were led by a star."
Brian's mother: "Led by a bottle, more like."
Ex-Leper: Okay, sir, my final offer: half a shekel for an old ex-leper?
Brian: "Did you say 'ex-leper'?"
Ex-Leper: "That's right, sir, 16 years behind a veil and proud of it, sir."
Brian: "Well, what happened?"
Ex-Leper: "Oh, cured, sir."
Ex-Leper: "Yes sir, bloody miracle, sir. Bless you!"
Brian: "Who cured you?"
Ex-Leper: "Jesus did, sir. I was hopping along, minding my own business, all of a sudden, up he comes, cures me! One minute I'm a leper with a trade, next minute my livelihood's gone. Not so much as a by-your-leave! 'You're cured, mate.' Bloody do-gooder."
Brian's mother: "Who are you?"
Wise Man No.2: "We are three wise men."
Brian's mother: "What?"
Wise Man No.1: "We are three wise men."
Brian's mother: "Well, what are you doing creeping around a cow shed at two o'clock in the morning? That doesn't sound very wise to me."
Brian's mother: "So you're astrologers, then? What is he?"
Wise Man No.2: "Pardon?"
Brian's mother: "What star sign is he?"
Wise Man No.2: "Er, Capricorn."
Brian's mother: "Capricorn, eh? And what are they like?"
Wise Man No.2: "He is the son of God, our Messiah."
Wise Man No.1: "King of the Jews."
Brian's mother: "And that's Capricorn, is it?"
Wise Man No.3: "No, no, that's just him."
Brian's mother: "Oh, I was going to say, otherwise there'd be a lot of them."
Suicide Squad Leader: We are the Judean People's Front crack suicide squad! Suicide squad, attack!
[They all stab themselves]
Suicide Squad Leader: That showed 'em, huh?