Leave Jesus out of it!

Anne Widdecombe denounces 'nasty' jokes about Christianity

Comedy should ‘keep its hands off’ Christian beliefs, Anne Widdecombe has said.

She says that mocking of her religion has become ‘nasty’ as comedians increasingly ‘vilify and ridicule’ beliefs that Christians hold sacred.

And the former Tory MP claimed that comedy was one-sided – attacking only Christianity when other faiths were let off more lightly.

In the BBC One show Are You Having A Laugh? Comedy And Christianity, Widdecombe said Christ was ‘far too big to be mocked’ and said it was ‘disturbing’ that he was now considered fair game by comedians.

‘There have always been jokes about Christianity, but in recent years those jokes seem to have become more personal, rather nasty - aimed at the belief itself rather than just the institutions and its practice,’ she said. ‘Jokes about Christianity are everywhere you look, but for me and many Christians the mocking of Jesus Christ is deeply hurtful.

‘Comedy should keep its hands off what it sacred.’

Widdecombe watched a lot of comedy about Christianity for the first time in research for the Holy Week programme, which aired last night. She thought Monty Python’s Life Of Brian was ‘childish’ and ‘predictable Carry–On stuff’ but at the crucifixion scene, she said: ‘My soul revolted. How could anybody not find that offensive, Christian or not?’

But the scene that caused her most upset was a 2000 Goodness Gracious Me sketch in which an Asian family treated the Eucharist like a snack, with one worshipper adding pickles as if it were a poppadom.

‘What was being shown was a mockery of the communion,’ said Widdecombe. ‘This is the body and blood of Christ - those words were actually used. It was appalling. it was not one step too far it was a mile too far.’

She interviewed producer Anil Gupta, who said the joke was not intended to mock the tenets of Christianity, but demonstrated the Indian characters’ misunderstanding of the rituals of the Church as they tried to ‘act English’ and blend in with the community.

But the former politician said she was ‘wounded’ by the scene, explaining: ‘I think most comedians would not mock someone about a recent bereavement and this is similar. Christ died for us and when we are taking the Communion we are commemorating that death, that sacrifice, and if that is mocked it is like mocking an existing ongoing bereavement.’

Widdecombe added that she felt Christianity was under special attack: ‘From what I’ve seen the mockery of religion today is rife. But from what I’ve seen, this mockery is quite selective in its subject. Christianity seems to be the only target.

In a companion article in the Daily Telegraph, she said this was in the context of ‘increasing claims that Christians in this country are being persecuted’.

She added: ‘Comedy producers respect Islam sufficiently to avoid laughing at the Prophet so why are even the most sacred aspects of this country’s major faith seemingly the stuff of so much comedy?’ and suggested ‘comics would be afraid to do to Islam’ what they do to Christianity.’

Steve Punt countered: ‘One of the common complaints you get as a comic is “You wouldn’t say that about Muslims” or “You wouldn’t make those jokes about Mohammed” and the answer to that is very simple: “Of course not, because I’m not entitled to.” The fact is I went to a Church primary school... I’m culturally of a Christian background. I can make jokes about it because I understand it and it was something I grew up with.

Widdecombe also watched the BBC One sitcom Citizen Khan, which she admitted ‘made light of daily prayers and the study of the Koran,’ but added: ‘There have been some complaints, but to me the jokes seem very gentle. The Prophet is never subject to ridicule or question.’

The show also said that comedians ‘assume all audiences are on the atheist wavelength’ – with more than one contributor finding the fervour with which believers were denounced as stupid ‘disturbing’.

Punt added: ‘The comedy is a reply to the aggressive nature of american creationism and I think that if the comedy is offensive it’s at least a fair fight,’ but added: ‘It’s a bit of a cheat really as there aren’t many creationists or fundamentalists in Britain.

Widdecombe said she did enjoy some religious jokes, such as Rev or the Sixties sitcom All Gas And Gaiters but concluded: ‘I hope we’re now able to see the difference between sharp, critical humour aimed at Christians and the gratuitous mocking of Christ which, for many believers, causes deep hurt.’

Click here to watch the show – which also featured comedians Terry Jones, Marcus Brigstocke and Paul Kerensa – on iPlayer.

Published: 28 Mar 2013

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