Of course it was right to throw out the case of blasphemy against Jerry Springer The Opera. Ever since Aristophanes we have been satirising religion, and this is no time for Gordon Brown to shake his Puritan fist at the courts.
It was unfortunate for the BBC director-general, Mark Thompson, that the portrayal of Jesus Christ fouling his nappy should be celebrated in the week Britain quaked at the repercussions of a teddy bear named Mohamed. But it is cheeky of newspaper columnists to rebuke the BBC for cowardice towards Islam. It was the BBC that showed the inflammatory Danish cartoons, in the public interest, withdrawing them only when they noticed Fleet Street had run for the hills.
Yet there was something discordant about the cry of liberal/secular satisfaction that Christians had been sent packing. Thompson himself is a practising Christian, but perhaps he feels, along with Tony Blair, that if he voiced this publicly he would be regarded as "a nutter". After all, Jerry Springer had nothing more freakish on show than did Rhydian's appearance on the X Factor. Rhydian's survival through the early rounds was a source of hysterical disbelief among the judges. Sharon Osbourne left the room at one point, claiming to feel nauseated. Rhydian's weirdness turned out to be Christian celibacy. The other week, he sung I Vow to Thee My Country and a cringing Louis Walsh waved that this was outside his professional experience. This was Songs of Praise.
Last Tuesday, I was on a panel with the Bishop of London discussing faith and the media. In his beautiful, Sarastro voice, the Right Rev Richard Chartres observed: "We should not underestimate the subversive character of faith for a consumerist culture or be surprised at the efforts made to deride and denigrate the principle local tradition of faith."
He went on to claim: "There is a determined attempt on the part of a small number of fundamentalist secularists, who resent the suggestion that they themselves hold a minority faith position, to drive any references to the Christian faith into the margins of our public life."
This is self-evidently true. Those strong cultural voices of the left attacking Islam, such as Martin Amis, are no Christian champions. They fear the climate of faith. Writers such as Philip Pullman are not amiable atheists. Pullman has a Miltonic sense of the power of religion. Pullman says that the producers of The Golden Compass were wrong to anaesthetise his attack on religion. "If they allowed the religious meaning of the book to be fully explicit, it would be a huge hit. They would be the heroes of liberal thought." Pullman wants a war with faith because he is aware of itspotential strength. Another atheist writer for children is Russell T Davies, who revived Dr Who. He told me recently that he regards religion with awe. He said: "You would be an idiot not to."
I asked Richard Chartres if he was offended by Richard Dawkins's book The God Delusion, and he replied that, on the contrary, he welcomed it. It is a recognition of the might of faith. Chartres used a bold metaphor to describe our times. He said: "The tide on Dover Beach which Matthew Arnold viewed as a symbol of the 'sea of faith' has gone out unnaturally far." This was a sign of "an approaching tsunami".
The new spiritual tide will come from the youth of Africa, South America and the immigrants pouring into our London churches. The Christian faith we preached and lost returns to reproach us. Those poor old BBC liberals may have won a blasphemy case but they still have to fight the great war of religion.Reuse content