Thursday, January 06, 2005

kicking up a fuss

Lots of Christians are circulating emails about the BBC's decision to screen Jerry Springer - the opera in Britain on saturday evening. Lots of f-words, c-words and outrageous blasphemy apparently. One group is even planning to get the BBC sued under our archaic blasphemy laws.

This comes as the Government here is contemplating legislation to outlaw incitement to religious hatred - which is a bit too close to 1984's thought crimes for my liking.

The problems with these protests - whatever the merits of the Springer play, which I probably wouldn't have watched, but might now, just because of all the fuss - is that they reinforce what a lot of people think about Christians, namely that we're thinned-skinned and judgemental.

Blasphemy laws were enacted as a means of social control when Europe was 'Christian'. They enabled the church to hand 'heretics' over the secular arm for punishment because they thought the wrong things about God and had the temerity to voice those thoughts. They have no place in a pluralist culture. Laws of libel and slander should protect individuals from malicious accusation but religions ought not to be protected.

When seikhs stormed a theatre in Birmingham and forced the closure of a play that depicted murder and rape in a temple, I felt a chill. What if Christians start complaining about Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral or about every Agatha Christie, Morse or Midsomer Murders that had storylines involving cloisters and clerics going off the rails? We'd be constantly manning the baricades.

Drama needs to be taken on its merits. Is a play, film, TV spectacular raising issues that help us see the world a little a differently? Is it goading us to think more carefully about what our faith says and how it looks to a baffled world? Is it opening up a conversation about truth? If so, let's grab the popcorn, sit down, watch it and have a robust debate about it afterwards (in a civilised way over canapes and red wine, of course). If it isn't doing any of these things, why honour it with protests?

If the Christian faith is true - and I certainly can't make any sense of the world without it - then it doesn't need a man in a wig to defend it from a musical. If it's true, it will stand the challenge of a West End show.

What this furore distressingly shows up once again is that Christians are thin-skinned. We don't like this kind of thing. We find it cheap, nasty, distatsteful and we don't want it disturbing our calm.

The trouble is that in a world of tsunamis, Aids and ethnic conflicts there are far greater challenges to our calm repose than a piece of theatre - but there's no one to sue.


Ben Mizen said...

Today I receieved one of the very emails you mention in this entry. I too am now curious about the whole thing... anyway added to the email was this:

"Please, if you need to, do your own research first and if, in your opinion, this crosses the boundary between liberty and licence then please let our national broadcasting service know about it. Please don't play into the current Arts/entertainment trap of being made out to be against 'free speech' or not to understand "irony" - there is more to irony than the lazy inversion of values but that is how directors/producers get to wriggle out of any kind of criticism."

I am not sure what to think... I am more bothered by the sabre rattling (would that be flag waving in evangelical churches?) that goes on. It drives me insance - perhaps I am turning into a liberal backslider. Anyway i hate chain emails... so flippin' impersonal.

Ben Mizen said...

here's a comment from my blog:

Kazza said...
Some people really do have nothing better to think about. Christians have actually been out burning their TV licences today - mad! I feel like burning mine at some of the awful 'comedy' the BBC produces and don't get me started on Eastenders - I have never seen so many bad actors in one place - ever.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for omitting to sign - I posted the above.