PRIME MINISTER John Howard once let slip that he thought Four Weddings and a Funeral was a great movie. Perhaps it appealed to him because the weddings were all straight whereas the funeral was gay.
Many people identified with the character played by Hugh Grant. I make no apology for not having committed the character's name to memory because the character had problems with commitment himself. At one point he is described as a serial monogamist.
Phil Brown is a serial monotheist.
Spirituality has become such an important sector of the economy that even angst includes GST. So it's a pleasure to soak for a while in the company of a lighter spirit.
Phil Brown is obviously no relation to Dan. There are no dark corners in his religious world; the conmen are all transparent, the conspiracies can all be charged to your credit card. This Brown discovers that one thing shared by all spiritualities is that they are all humanely funny.
Mind you, his itinerary does not include either the Scientologists or the Exclusive Brethren. The first person to find anything funny about the Exclusive Brethren might do the world a favour and post it on the net.
Somebody once said that the dictionary
was a book of spells. I think they meant spellings, although, when you think about it,
words can be a form of magic. The same wise source also said that, in the search for
meaning, you need more than a dictionary.
History attests that, to find ultimate meaning, you really need a fair bit of bad luck. This is because there's no point looking for answers when you don't have questions and life's questions generally come from those occasions when you bump into the limitations of what has been unconditionally described as the human condition.
Nobody takes the leap of faith if they have any choice in the matter. But love, loss, sadness, grief, ageing, kids and sundry other experiences nudge its close to that precipice from which no bridge extends. Every quest needs a question.
The one problem with Phil Brown's jolly quest is that we never get close enough to him to guess what his underlying questions or needs might be.
This is one stand-up comic whose work would be enriched if he just sat down for a moment. We don't see the tears of the clown and, as a result, his stories are deprived of the deeper roots which turn laughter into comedy. The possible exception is the final chapter, in which Brown turns to a futurologist. He doesn't realise that a futurologist is someone you pay to sort out the past.
Enjoy this pleasant escapade for what it is. Brown's episodic search for the bigger dimensions of existence start with poetry. He is chastened by the discovery that two of Australia's most sublime poets, Bruce Dawe and Les Murray, are ordinary blokes who live in the burbs. He expected to find them on some kind of Mt Parnassus.
From poetry Brown moves to Catholicism, where he toys with the idea of joining the priesthood before he has joined the church. From Catholicism he shifts focus to the intransigence of an evangelical colleague. And so it goes.
A health farm which charges a mint and serves only water. Colonic irrigation. A guru who wants him to wash his genitals before entrusting him with his personal mantra.
Phil is interrupted in this ritual purification by a man who thinks Phil might be pleasuring himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Phil's adventures of the spirit tend to bring discomfort and embarrassment more than pleasure.
But they are recounted with a generosity in which most of the jokes are told against the author. Brown doesn't really denigrate or mock anybody other than himself. His ability to dust himself off after yet another bad religious experience and keep trying is remarkable.
Years ago, I found myself in a first-year tutorial with a young man who'd just finished Year 12 and still lived at home.
He had more acne than experience. Naturally, the tutorial turned to religion. This happened quite often in the days when education was designed to enrich rather than impoverish.
"I can tell you," said the young man,
looking up from a copy of MAD magazine.
"I have no time for any religion. I have tried them all and none of them work."
The chap must have spent his adolescence changing religion more often than he changed his socks.
Phil Brown is more patient than that and more hopeful. He understands as well as anyone our need for existential entertainment.
Humans are at their best when they play with ideas rather than allow themselves to be intimidated, imprisoned or bullied by them.
There is a well-known religious group
called Opus Dei, a Latin phrase meaning "God's Work". I am sure that God is
hanging out for somebody to start a mob
called God's Play. Phil Brown will be one of the chosen.
Any Guru Will Do
by Phil Brown,
University of Queensland Press
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