ED2014 Columns ED2014 Comedy

Baba Brinkman: Religious Rap-Ture

By | Published on Friday 15 August 2014

ThreeWeeks Editors’ Award winner Baba Brinkman is back at the Fringe this year with not one, not two, but three shows, including ‘The Rap Guide To Religion’.

Baba Brinkman

Inspired by his Fringe hit ‘The Rap Guide To Evolution’, Brinkman expected the ‘Religion’ show to lead to bookings at atheist conferences and anger from the religious. But the response from the latter has surprised him.

I’ve always been fascinated with the existence of creationism, which looks at first glance like the epitome of ignorance, dogmatism, and the complete absence of curiosity about the world. In my new show, ‘The Rap Guide To Religion’, I delve into the question of where religious beliefs and practices originate, from an evolutionary perspective. My conclusion is that religion is perfectly naturalistic, which runs contrary to the beliefs of most religious people, who see the origins of religion (and the rest of the world) as supernatural. What’s surprising me at this Fringe, however, is the number of people who have invited me to perform for their church congregations after seeing the show.

Yesterday the BBC’s ‘Sunday Morning Live’ came in to film my performance. They had a scheme to send a right wing, conservative Christian to the show and then film us having an argument afterwards. The man they sent certainly has the credentials. Reverend George Hargreaves is a Pentecostal Minister and former leader of the UK Christian Party, as well as a young earth creationist and strong opponent of abortion and homosexuality. He led the protests against ‘Jerry Springer The Opera’ in London a few years back, and is on record saying that religion is not an appropriate subject for comedy. Before he converted to Christianity, the man was also a DJ and producer of pop music for the London gay scene, so he’s got an interesting background to say the least.

After an hour of cracking jokes at religion’s expense, declaring myself an unapologetic atheist, and explaining why evolutionary science gives a perfectly satisfying naturalistic account of where religion comes from, I sat down with Reverend George and was gob smacked when he started the interview with: “I don’t know if we’re going to have anything to debate about… I LOVED your show!” We talked for half an hour with the cameras rolling and at one point George said “I don’t know what we disagree about”, so I asked him: “Do you think one of your ancestors was a fish?” He declared my statement a fishy story and denied it. After which we found much to disagree about.

I honestly thought I had written a hard-hitting, provocative and controversial show, but it turns out the religious are loving it as much as the non-believers, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I asked Reverend George why he wasn’t offended, even though he’s officially against comedy that targets religion (and believe me I do take the piss). He told me it’s because I take the religious worldview seriously, instead of lazily dismissing it as delusional. The key phrase here is “lazily dismissing” rather than “delusional”, because I don’t pull punches about religion being a series of delusions, but I also don’t think those delusions are pointless. I think they have evolved (culturally and genetically) to solve adaptive problems in the past. For religious people accustomed to atheists being derisive and dismissive that’s a (semi) validating perspective.

I thought I had written a show that will get me invited to perform at atheist conferences and skeptics-in-the-pub events, not at church services, but I’m surprised to discover it might end up being both. Maybe religious people are more open-minded than I thought.

At any rate, on Sunday the BBC’s ‘Sunday Morning Live’ will air the segment, and we’ll see what a million viewers think of the debate. And in the meantime, on with the Fringe!

‘Baba Brinkman: The Rap Guide To Religion’ was performed at the Gilded Balloon, ‘Baba Brinkman: The Canterbury Tales Remixed’ at Underbelly Bristo Square and ‘Off The Top’ at Canon’s Gait at Edinburgh Festival 2014.

Brinkman spoke about his shows at the Fringe this year on the Week Zero edition of the ThreeWeeks Podcast here.