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Jerry Springer - the Opera

What did you make of Jerry Springer - The Opera?  Do you agree with Arts Minister Estelle Morris: “It is not and never should be a matter for government as to what is broadcast or printed”?  Did you watch?  Did you write beforehand?  Afterwards?

“For evil to flourish, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke).  But is this 'evil'?  And what to say to the guy at the next desk who thinks Christian Voice evil, publishing BBC Governors’ addresses and protesting against something they hadn't seen?

I wrote to oppose the broadcast once Roly Keating confirmed that the programme will “push back the boundaries of taste and decency.”  No argument about external, biased opinions; the Controller of BBC Two said it.  If taste and decency are a mark of civilisation, I don't consider it the publicly-funded BBC's role to diminish them.  Promote learning, expand horizons yes, but remember Paul to the Philippians: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8).

Subsequent objections to The Opera majored on foul language and blasphemy.  Surprisingly, I find myself ambivalent about the former.  There were plenty of obscenities, yes, but gratuitous or essential?  Could the material be portrayed accurately without them?  And, when do words once with sexual connotations now simply communicate abuse?

What about blasphemy?  The law lacks precision and is under scrutiny (follow this link for the detail).  Did JSTO “deny” or “scurrilously vilify” the “doctrines or beliefs of the Church of England”?  I doubt it.  The embedded doctrine was dodgy in places - and remarkably accurate in others.  Could be said of some of our liturgical material.  The connection between characters in the second part (Jesus, the Devil, Mary …) and the first was disturbing but the point escaped me, while some of the reported comment read between the lines more than I could be sure of.  And moderation is our enemy: for blasphemy to be committed, conduct must be “likely to shock and outrage the feelings of the general body of Church of England believers in the community.”

Finally, what of blasphemy in a Christian sense?  Was this taking the name of the Lord our God in vain (Exodus 20:7)?  The commandment originally referred to swearing a lying oath in Yahweh's name (Lev 19:12), or by implication calling into question his existence.  But if JSTO does anything, it accepts the presence of a world beyond this one, while seeking to reconcile light and darkness into a post-modern grey.  Hardly something on which Law or law can be brought to bear.

So where does that leave me?  I don't think I'll send another letter, the legal ground's too insecure.  But I take note of a letter to the Church Times (14.1.05) from Richard Truss: “The first half [of the stage show] was very funny, a spoof of the TV series in which couples come and confess to their betrayals and fantasies.  The second half, in which there are parodies of God, Jesus and Mary, embarrassed, shocked and then angered a great many of us there.  But, of course, that is just what the writer intended.  We the audience were put on the spot.  If you are shocked by this portrayal of your sacred figures, why are you not shocked by the demeaning treatment of your fellow human beings, made in God's image, in the first half?  Yet this is going on all the time on television and in the press.”

Whenever I write again, perhaps it should be not so much to defend God as to defend his ‘living images’, lest “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9).

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls


Apology: sorry this is longer than usual; couldn't be done in less.  Under 500 words is the usual norm.

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