There has been quite a hoo-hah over the past couple of days about an advert showing the Lord’s Prayer.
Having just carried out a quick web search I feel like I’m jumping on the bandwagon in expressing my views on the subject as there seem to be plenty of them flying around already, but what is a bandwagon for if not jumping on.
The trouble is, although I have strong views on the matter, I’m having trouble pinning down exactly what they are, so this blog is really just me thinking aloud.
First, let’s look at the facts.
The Church of England has produced a 60-second advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer, which they hoped to have screened in cinemas before the new Star Wars film in the run up to Christmas. However, Digital Cinema Media (DCM), the agency that handles advertising for the big cinemas, has refused to show it as it could offend those of “differing faiths and no faith”.
DCM say that they have a policy of not accepting political or religious content in its cinemas, although church sources claim that this caveat was only added after they had sought approval to show it.
So, to put my cards on the table, I am not religious. I am one of those of “no faith”. In fact, I would go further and say that I actively dislike the concept of religion.
I therefore wholeheartedly support the DCM’s policy of not accepting political or religious content in its cinemas. If it was not a policy before, it should be: who wants to have religion or party political views shoved down their throats when they go out to see a film – apart from the politics and religion that almost inevitably turns up in the films that is.
What annoys me, however, is DRC’s initial statement that it could offend those of “differing faiths and no faith.”
They are basically deciding on my behalf that I may be offended by this and therefore they shouldn’t show it.
This is such a preposterous statement that even Richard Dawkins, not a man known for his love of religion, has weighed in on the side of the church in the name of free speech.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said “There is no right not to be offended in the UK; what is offensive is very subjective and lies in the eye of the beholder.”
And so it should be. Dawkins summed it up nicely: “I still strongly object to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might ‘offend’ people. If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended.”
It is getting increasingly difficult to believe that this is the case, however, at a time when universities, which should be a hot bed of intellectual debate and discussion, ban any speaker who holds views which they feel may offend some poor weak-minded soul. This has led recently to the banning of Germaine Greer for expressing her views on transgender issues and David Starkey who is accused of racist and sexist views.
Of course there is a grey area between freedom of speech and hate speech, which should rightly be banned. There is a difference between me expressing my views that religion is stupid and dangerous and me inciting people to go off and murder people of faith. Someone has to decide where this line should be drawn, which in itself carries dangers, but not as much as deciding what may or may not cause offence to some unspecified person or group of people.
The fact is people have the right to be offended. If people with views that are considered to be unacceptable, heretical or non-politically correct are silenced then so is freedom of speech.
This stifles intellectual thought and encourages the perpetuation of dogma and unquestioning adherence to thoughts and ideas which should be held up to scrutiny and challenge.
If people weren’t allowed to express unpopular ideas I would still be prosecuted as a heretic for my non religious beliefs. We would still refuse to believe that the earth is round or that man is descended from apes (I know some still do: they have the right to be wrong as well as offended).
So, in summary, the DRC made the right decision but for the wrong reason.
I welcome the right not to be irritated whilst trying to watch a film, but I demand the right to be offended.