Life of Brian

December 5

Monty Python's Last
Flying Circus (1974)

It was on this date, December 5, 1974, that the last episode of the ground-breaking BBC-TV comedy series, "Monty Python's Flying Circus," was shown on British television. The six-member writer/actor group included John Cleese, Graham Chapman (d. 1989), Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam. "Monty Python's Flying Circus" was broadcast as 46 30-minute episodes beginning on 5 Oct 1969.

Some of their most memorable sketches include a man trying to return a Dead Parrot to a pet shop; a Cheese Shop that is completely uncontaminated by cheese; the Lumberjack Song that doesn't sound like any lumberjacks we know; the Spam song and many others. As their fans know, nothing is sacred in the skewed Monty Python universe: not politics, not sex, and certainly not religion. Among their irreligious revelries are "The Spanish Inquisition":
Monty Python's Flying Circus
Monty Python's Flying Circus

     Chapman: I don't know — Mr Wentworth just told me to come in here and say that there was trouble at the mill, that's all — I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.
     Cardinal Ximinez of Spain: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our weapon is surprise... surprise and fear... fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise... and ruthless efficiency.... Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency... and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Amongst our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry... are such elements as fear, surprise.... I'll come in again.
Then there's "Crackpot Religions Ltd" and "Every Sperm Is Sacred," a satire on the Catholic church's attitude toward birth control;
Every sperm is sacred
Every sperm is great
If a sperm is wasted
God gets quite irate.
The skewering of faith continued in the Monty Python movies, especially Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), which satirizes the rise of the Christian religion with a fictional Brian who keeps getting mistaken for the Messiah. Brian was banned in Norway and Ireland for blasphemy — then cleverly re-released in the US on 30 April 2004 for its 25th anniversary, two months after the theatrical release of The Passion of the Christ (2004)!

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Martin Van Buren


Martin Van Buren (1782)

It was also on this date, December 5, 1782, that the 8th President of the United States (4 March 1837 - 4 March 1841), and the first US President born in the United States, Martin Van Buren, was born in New York. Of Dutch ancestry, he attended the Dutch Reformed Church. A protégé of Aaron Burr and the Vice President to Andrew Jackson, during Van Buren's one-term presidency he attended the Episcopal church in the neighborhood of the White House.

There is no record that Van Buren was a communicant at either church, or that he took any interest in religious subjects. His public professions were pro forma. His biographer, Denis Tilden Lynch, does not paint him as conspicuously pious. In his Autobiography (1920), Van Buren makes no religious profession, but he does criticize the ministers for interfering in political affairs.

In 1840, when news of the arrest and torture of Jews in Damascus for the "blood libel" reached President Van Buren, he cited America's institutions, which "place upon the same footing, the worshipers of God, of every faith and form." American values compelled him, he said, to protest "in behalf of an oppressed and persecuted race, among whose kindred are found some of the most worthy and patriotic of [American] citizens."

Martin Van Buren died of asthma in Kinderhook, NY, on 24 July 1862.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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