Some things in life are bad…

You folks out there may not realize this, but there’s a type of guy/gal I revere – the polymath, the people who keep on learning, those that are open to new thoughts and ideas and opinions.

One of those people is John Cleese. I grew up on him and Monty Python, but since I’ve grown up a bit past the exploding penguin on the telly days, I’ve found I like him more and more. I’ve been to see him speak twice and I’d cheerfully pass over my money again just to hear him talk about the world today and all the absurdities in it.

I’ve just been reading John Cleese, Professor at Large, The Cornell years. I find the comment by publisher’s weekly at the top vaguely insulting – “Hilarious, always clever, and a little off-kilter.” Yes, Cleese is funny. Yes he is clever – but he isn’t only that. He is wildly intelligent and well-read, thinks deeply, can laugh about himself, and, given his three expensive marriages, is perhaps a bit of a shite. I like that in a person.

One he was asked to give to the first year Cornell students titled, “What is religion? Musings on Life of Brian”, and if you only read one essay from this book, I’d suggest this (though the rest are deliciously mind expanding, also). In it he discusses that wonderful movie and the inspirations for it, and also brings forward a lot of compelling arguments for organized religion, while casting doubt on its interpretations of pretty well everything. Fascinating and mind-bending. I feel like I should send a copy to everyone I know because of one section:

Student: My question is: if you don’t agree with it, then why bother being in that religion? Why don’t you, basically, create your own, which is kind of like what I’m doing…?

Cleese: …The problem with starting your own religion is that your ego will always trick you. Eventually, your ego will have you rewarding your ego while pretending to be religious, and that’s why, I think, some of the finest people I’ve ever met come from the contemplative tradition where they have some kind of teacher because, when you talk to your teacher, he or she can say, “Ah, ha. Wait a moment. This is your ego. This is what it’s up to.” Your teacher can show you what your ego’s doing because your unconscious is much, much cleverer than you think.

And later:

Cleese: (about getting happier) The second stage is belief in something bigger than yourself. If you have some kind of belief system in which you’re a part of something that’s larger than you, then you’re on the surface of something that’s bigger than your own egotistical desires. For some of you, organized religion may fit the bill. But Robin (Skynner) felt that, unless there is something greater than you that you subscribe to, you are always going to stay at a lower, narrower, more selfish level and be less happy as a result.

Incidentally – the first phase of people getting happier? Being able to laugh at their own behaviour….

Seems to me Cleese’s wisdom is deep and worth absorbing in these challenging and hate-filled times. No one seems to have either a belief in something worth subscribing TO (as vs campaigning AGAINST), or an ability to laugh at their behaviour. I think, if we could, maybe we’d again a little perspective and cut back on hatred.


More about this excellent book:

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