Zealot

The BBC screened Jerry Springer – The Opera last night. It was musically brilliant and very funny. Although I thought the ending was weak, I can see how problems of theodicy aren’t going to be answered in a comedy opera. So, leaving that aside, a good time was had by all.

However, the broadcast attracted protests from Christians for scenes in the second half of the opera, in which Jesus and Satan swear at each other, Jesus is played by the same actor who played a nappy fetishist earlier (and wears a very similar costume) and Jesus is described as “a little bit gay”. Stephen Green, the leader of the hitherto unknown evangelical pressure group Christian Voice, has been extensively quoted in the press: you can read his arguments on the group’s website (along with his charming views on gay people), but in brief he objects to the BBC’s decision to broadcast something mocking his religion, and also points out that they would not dare do something similar to, say, Islam.

The BBC is a public service broadcaster funded by the TV licence fee, a tax on television owners (Americans always find this astonishing 🙂 The responses from the public on the BBC News site include many objections from Christians to being forced to pay for the screening of something so offensive to them. Of course, they’re not forced to pay at all: owning a television was not required by the Bible last time I looked, so their situation is similar to the National Innumerates Tax payers who object to how Lottery money is spent. That aside, like many other taxes, some of the money is bound to be spent on things we don’t agree with. We submit to taxation because the benefits seem to outweigh the downsides. Despite putting out an awful lot of tat about home decoration and cookery, the BBC still makes some of the best TV and radio in the world. I might object to paying for Songs of Praise (actually, I don’t, as I like old hymns), but I like Radio 2, Radio 4 (except The Archers, obviously, which is blasphemous and should be banned) and Strictly Come Dancing.

Christians don’t and should not have the right to prevent the screening of programmes to which they object: this isn’t America. An attempt to use Britain’s old blasphemy laws to prosecute the BBC (as some of the Christian groups have been threatening) will be the end of the blasphemy laws, not of the BBC’s ability to screen things Christians don’t like.

Green’s second point is more telling though. The BBC wouldn’t screen something which was offensive to Muslims (or Sikhs, obviously), for fear of violent repercussions. What Green has missed is that this is to the credit of British Christianity: compared to these other religions, it has fewer followers who are prepared to use violence to further their religious ends. As I’ve said elsewhere, I find Islam and American conservative Christianity worrying because of the violence they incite in some of their followers, and hypocritical in their whining about persecution and expectation of tolerance towards them when they do not practice tolerance. Let’s be clear: I am an atheist and believe all theisms to be wrong, but some are more wrong than others.

If Green wants some advice from an atheist, it is this: by all means protest, but not in the expectation that the BBC is morally obliged do as you say. Rather, protest to get across your message about what you think Jesus is like, and where the opera has it wrong. Play up the fact that your protests are non-violent. Get across your larger concern for this country. That’s how to be part of the tradition of free speech in this country, which is both your right and the BBC’s.

3 thoughts on “Zealot

  1. I thought that was excellent Paul. I haven’t seen the opera yet although I intend to (bittorrent starts loading…).

    I think I pretty much agree with everything you have said. Although I would add that I think one of the main reasons that Mohammed is not parodied in the way that say Jesus is is because Christianity is just far more pervasive in our country – if Islam was ‘national religion’ (i.e. the one everyone used to really believe, and now kind of vaguely know stuff about) then I suspect that Mohammed would be parodied in the same way (well apart from the fact that the BBC would probably get blown up…).

  2. Subject: Bush Christianity
    What about the ‘greed religion’? Why does it seem to worry you more that some extreme christians bomb a couple planned parenthoods when people are getting shot all the time for the sake of money? Let’s mock the fat buddha guy for awhile… give us some skits of him workin’ overtime on the treadmill, eating a salad instead of sittin’ around doing nothing else but smiling when he’s got people dying all around him. Let’s show Buddha getting his hands a little dirty, collect some food for someone who really needs it, or has a toy drive for the kids at christmas…. handing out some blankets to the homeless. Why are christians in a tissy about someone portraying Jesus as a little gay? Because our schools are catering to the atheists by taking God’s name out of the schools… we can’t put a cross or make any reference to Jesus or God on our homes out of fear that someone will make a big fuss and try to press charges… on our OWN homes. I have an idea. Let’s ship all the atheists to YOUR country, everyone answering to no one, letting the kids run the household, pay the bills, start having sex at 13, everybody getting fatter and fatter because no one wants to hear about self control, no one wants to look at themselves, trying to heal the wounds by popping out kids & giving them away to DHS so they can ‘be free’…it’s too hard, I can’t do it. Give me a break. Bush happens to call himself a christian. So that makes me a Bush Christian? Do you allow people to come up to your mother or father and punch them in the face over and over without doing nothing about it??? Because that is what you are doing when you mock my God. How is that okay? Freedom has an interesting definition, and I’ll leave you with it. Freedom;the absence of or release from ties or obligations. Listen, if you don’t want to believe then don’t, but don’t punch my father in the face and expect me to just sit there and let you do it.

    1. Subject: Re: Bush Christianity
      What about the ‘greed religion’? Why does it seem to worry you more that some extreme christians bomb a couple planned parenthoods when people are getting shot all the time for the sake of money?

      I didn’t say that I wasn’t worried about people getting shot for money. And I never mentioned Christians bombing Planned Parenthood, but rather the way that Bush (or at least his conservative Christian supporters, as I’m not sure what he himself actually does believe) seem to view the War Against Terror as a holy war. In that sense, they are very similar to the people they regard as their enemies.

      Let’s mock the fat buddha guy for awhile… give us some skits of him workin’ overtime on the treadmill, eating a salad instead of sittin’ around doing nothing else but smiling when he’s got people dying all around him. Let’s show Buddha getting his hands a little dirty, collect some food for someone who really needs it, or has a toy drive for the kids at christmas…. handing out some blankets to the homeless.

      I’ve no idea what you’re talking about here. Do you have something against Buddhism?

      Why are christians in a tissy about someone portraying Jesus as a little gay? Because our schools are catering to the atheists by taking God’s name out of the schools…

      Actually, these are British Christians making a fuss. In this country, Christianity is still supposed to be promoted in state schools with a Christian act of collective worship (although parents are free to opt their children out of this, and there’s a shortage of Christian teachers who actually want to lead an assembly). We have an established church, there is no division between church and State the way there is supposed to be in the USA.

      It was my understanding that the law in the USA specifically prohibited the establishment of religion, and as such, God should be taken out of state schools. So I’m not sure why you’re objecting to that. If you don’t like it, you should attempt to get your Constitution changed, I think.

      we can’t put a cross or make any reference to Jesus or God on our homes out of fear that someone will make a big fuss and try to press charges… on our OWN homes.

      I don’t believe there is a law against the practice of religion in your own home in the USA, so again I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

      I have an idea. Let’s ship all the atheists to YOUR country, everyone answering to no one, letting the kids run the household, pay the bills, start having sex at 13, everybody getting fatter and fatter because no one wants to hear about self control, no one wants to look at themselves, trying to heal the wounds by popping out kids & giving them away to DHS so they can ‘be free’…it’s too hard, I can’t do it. Give me a break.

      Again, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I didn’t advocate everyone answering to no-one, lettking kids run the household, or any of the other things you mention. Please read what I actually said.

      Bush happens to call himself a christian. So that makes me a Bush Christian?

      I don’t know. Would you say you were a Christian? Would you say you were a Christian who supported Bush because of his “moral” stance?

      Do you allow people to come up to your mother or father and punch them in the face over and over without doing nothing about it??? Because that is what you are doing when you mock my God. How is that okay?

      Nonsense. God, as Christians believe in him, has no body but exists as spirit, and so cannot be punched in the face. God, as I understand it, cannot be harmed by mockery, but rather laughs at it. I can supply Bible verses if you like.

      Freedom has an interesting definition, and I’ll leave you with it. Freedom;the absence of or release from ties or obligations. Listen, if you don’t want to believe then don’t, but don’t punch my father in the face and expect me to just sit there and let you do it.

      I don’t expect you to be silent if you think something is offensive, but neither do I expect the BBC not to screen something merely because some people might find it offensive (which is what my article was about).

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