Why I'm happy to see Christians finally on the march

Would the BBC, you wonder, care to commission a comedy satirising the Koran?

Share
Related Topics

As a Christian, a church-goer and - I hope - a concerned citizen, I sat down and watched BBC2's Saturday night post-watershed screening of Jerry Springer - The Opera with a certain amount of interest. As someone who regularly laments the absence of anything remotely satirical from terrestrial TV, I ended up thinking it rather funny: well choreographed, full of good lines and gaining most of its impact from the weird juxtaposition of mundane dialogue and mock-high art setting. No particular worries about the supposed blasphemy or even the blitz of bad language, for I knew that if any of the children had surreptitiously chanced upon it, they would have switched off in about 20 seconds.

Not everybody, alas, was so sanguine. According to the latest estimates, approximately 45,000 other concerned citizens complained in advance to the BBC. Hundreds of outraged Christians, meanwhile, demonstrated in the street outside Broadcasting House, while the corporation was thought to be taking legal action against a website operated by Christian Voice that had printed the home telephone numbers of certain of its senior executives. A report that Roly Keating, the controller of BBC2, had been forced into hiding by the resultant volley of abusive phone calls was denied.

The truly depressing thing about this stand-off - one which looks set to become an increasingly common feature of the 21st-century cultural landscape - is the absolute predictability of the attitudes on display and the complete absence of any dialogue. On the one hand, thousands of rabid evangelicals, scarcely 10 of whom will have seen the show in question, dutifully following where their leaders direct; on the other A C Grayling and the spokesperson from the British Humanist Association, whatever that is, primly regretting this "ignoble" threat to the freedom of speech. No attempt by the offended to engage with the thing that is offending them, and no attempt by liberal newspaper pundits to respond with anything other than amused superciliousness. As for the BBC's proud trumpeting of its mandate to screen challenging artistic work, this would look a great deal more plausible if the rest of its schedules weren't packed out with gardening programmes and Trinny and Susannah.

However deplorable the thought of the likes of Roly Keating being terrified to pick up their phones, the sight of militant Christianity taking the trouble to mobilise in the face of something it dislikes is actually a rather welcome development , if only because it may finally draw attention to the 45 degree-angled playing field on which debates about freedom of speech and religious tolerance take place. Of all the religions currently drawn up on the media firing range, Christianity is the softest target of all, dragged down by a public vulnerability that is generally enhanced by the actions of the people put up to defend it. Invite a bishop on to the Today programme to debate with Richard Dawkins, it may be said, and all that will follow is five minutes' worth of craven defensiveness.

One sees this immediately in the contending responses to Jerry Springer - The Opera and Behzti, the play that so enraged the Sikh protesters on its staging last month in Birmingham: on the one side, enlightened condescension; on the other, death threats, outraged local politicians and community leaders, and self-censorship. The Sikhs, one sometimes feel, are much better at these things than us timorous Bible-bashers. Would the BBC, you wonder, care to commission Behzti for its Saturday night schedule, or a comedy satirising the Koran? No, because the ethnic minorities thereby offended take these things seriously, and Mr Keating really would have to take himself away on holiday.

A similar, though less widely reported, spat of this kind took place three or four years ago in Glasgow, when the local branch of HMV was found to be selling a T-shirt advertising the oeuvre of a death-metal band called Cradle of Filth and emblazoned with the slogan "Jesus is a Cunt". HMV declined to withdraw the garment on the grounds that they were opposed to censorship. An exemplary response, no doubt, but would HMV have been equally eager to stock a shirt printed with the words "Mohammed is a Motherfucker" or "Vishnu Sucks"? Somehow, one rather thinks not.

All this gestures at a maxim lost amid the spectacle of politicians sucking up to their electoral sponsors. Either one has freedom of speech or one does not. We inhabit a cultural landscape where one religion, largely because of its association with that increasingly mythical "establishment", is fair game, while others remain sacrosanct for fear of offending the predominantly brown-skinned people who practise them. As a good liberal, I support the right of the BBC to broadcast a programme mocking the God I happen to worship. At the same time - again as a good liberal - I hope that the next time any Cradle of Filth Jesus T-shirts go on sale, the local Christians will be outside baying abuse and searching for the phone numbers of the retail executives responsible. You can't have it both ways.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea