art vs totalitarian religion

I’ve just been listening to a fascinating interview with comedian Stewart Lee, on BBC Radio London – Stuart is the writer of Jerry Springer The Opera, a stage show that had a hugely successful run in the west end and then became the biggest watched opera or music in the BBC’s history when it was shown on TV. It also racked up 67,000 complaints from lots of people who hadn’t seen it and probably wouldn’t have understood it if they had.

The controversy arose from the supposed depiction of Jesus in the show – Jesus being a guest on the Springer Show, dressed as a baby. So the show was accused by a few people of blasphemy, and as the church loves a good scandal, an email campaign was started which lead to tens of thousands of complaints to the beeb and threats to the writers and members of the cast (oh yes, how marvelously Christ-like).

Anyway, Stuart on the radio made a very apposite observation, the the effect that ‘Good art is about questioning everything and then leaving those questions open to the interpretation of the audience. Bad or repressive religion is about absolutes and certainties’.

Which is true – I’ve been around a few repressive religious scenarios where questions and doubting were seen as dissent of the worst kind, and blind faith was encouraged. If you’ve got a question, just ask the leaders and believe their response, however bizarre it may be.

Conversely, I’ve also been around a lot of good people of faith, people who see the life of faith as a journey not a destination, one on which we have to constantly reassess our take on things, to question everything, to leave ourselves open to questioning and scrutiny, and keep searching, open to the possibility that we might be wrong. And I’ve met people like that from a whole range of faith traditions, be they christian, jewish, muslim, hindu, buddhist or agnostic/athiest. Whatever it is that you place your faith in has to be tested and questioned.

Which is where art like Jerry Springer The Opera comes in – satire is a very powerful tool in asking questions, a great way to expose elements of belief systems that require exposing, and should be a debate starter not a debate crusher. One of my favourites of late is the Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster – a spoof religion set up to counter the decision of the Kansas School Board’s decision to teach 7 day creationism as the alternative to Darwinian evolution. It’s hilarious, both as a pastiche of religions in general, and in its treatment of its main target.

The problem, of course, is that you end up in a situation where the two camps are polarised and the more mystical middle ground is ignored – either you believe that the world is 4000 years old, and God is the supreme bull-shitter who made the world look like it was a lot older just so he could send a load of people to hell, or you reject any notion of there being a creator who was involved in the development of the universe. The evidence for evolution in the trad darwinian sense does have a few gaps in it, but is nowhere near as impossible to grasp as the notion that the world was made 4000 years ago! But neither are where my head is at. I don’t see Genesis 1 and 2 as supporting a literalist interpretation of the jewish creation myth, but neither do I think that all of this could happen by accident.

Ultimately, if your faith in either god or there being no god is reliant on the veracity of the jewish creation myth, you really need to get out more…

Anyway, back to Springer the Opera… So they are off on tour – I’m told the show isn’t actually all that good, but I still really want to see it to support people who are asking questions, to have my own faith challenged and see where the answers sit. I missed the west end run, sadly, but will see what I can do to get to the stage show. And if I’m offended, so be it – it does us good once in a while to have our sensibilities scandalised. I can’t quite imagine what could be in it that would offend me though…

© 2008 Steve Lawson and developed by Pretentia. | login