One of Scotland’s best loved comedians is Billy Connolly. Born in Glasgow in 1942, Billy was raised Catholic and worked in the shipyards before becoming recognized for his wit and his winsomeness. His music and stand-up performances afforded him national celebrity status, and he grew into serious acting roles which won international fame and acclaim.
As a Scot, I learned about Billy Connolly a long time ago. It seemed right to respect the man affectionately known as “The Big Yin,” and while he is known for his crude and colourful language, there was a lot about Billy Connolly that won me over and made me smile. However, like many outspoken atheists, his simmering rage and rejection of God always left me bemused.
If your mother’s decision to abandon you and your father’s physical and sexual abuse are good reasons to rail against God, Billy has a good case. However, rejecting the existence of God does nothing to answer the problem of evil, it only undermines the question. A world without God means people have the right to do what they want. We are genetically driven to promote our selfish ends, so it actually weakens our case against the abuser (as Chesterton said, it keeps the flogger flogging). We may decide to take a more tempered view but from a godless perspective we have no right to impose this on anyone else.
Apart from the irrationality of shaking your fist at a God who does not exist (Billy starred in the movie, “The Man Who Sued God”), the reality is many people turn to God through testing times. CS Lewis described pain as God’s megaphone - it gets our attention – and the more we understand this world is broken and doesn’t seem to fit, the more we ought to look for something (or someone) above and beyond all this.
In recent years, Billy Connolly has been dealing with serious health issues, so it got my attention when he was asked to host a television documentary looking at death and how we deal with it. Would he consider the seriousness of life and the sadness of death – raising questions about where we came from, why we’re here and where we’re going? Well, one scene used to promote the program got the media’s attention, even described as “heart-warming.” Billy was cracking jokes about having an interactive tombstone that would shock and swear at passers by.
I understand the desire to use levity to offset the sadness that surrounds death – I’ve spoken at funerals before, but humour should be used to support and not supplant the need to grieve. Death deserves a degree of sobriety, and I take comfort from the fact Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus – even knowing he was about to raise him from the dead. Christians are not among those who are dying for a laugh. The Bible encourages us to weep alongside those who mourn, yet we also bring a message of hope - beyond the grave. Jesus Christ conquered death and that is why every person who trusts in his life, death and resurrection will overcome death and look forward to a new life with him that will last forever!
Author and speaker.