Tolerance, Christians and Jerry Springer The Opera

Jerry Springer The Opera is set to come to Dublin this week. (I hadn’t noticed til someone told me).

Back in 2005 the BBC received a record number of complaints when it was screened on BBC2 (around 55,000). And it had regular protests when on tour in the UK. There were failed court cases by some Christian groups to get it shut down – on incitement of religious hatred and blasphemy.

Yes it’s a comedic exploration of the darkside of our obsession with celebrity culture at whatever cost yada yada … but personally, I do find distasteful the depictions of Jesus  in the show (I’ve watched clips).

And that’s the point. It is designed to cause offence – and the free publicity it generates ain’t bad for business.

Some Christians may want to respond as some did in the UK – with protests and campaigns to stop the show. But such protests don’t do well. At a pragmatic level they don’t succeed. They also reinforce wider cultural perceptions of Christians defending their own ‘rights’ while simultaneously wanting to control and tell others what do to. And that’s especially unfortunate given Ireland’s recent past when the church was in power. So missionally I don’t think that they are a good idea.

Some will shrug shoulders and say nothing – that’s the world we live in. There are endless films and shows and books that dismiss, mock or denigrate Christianity … Let’s get on with Christian life and service where we are without getting distracted. God doesn’t need our legal defence. What really matters is being authentic community on the ground, loving God, loving others.There are also far more important issues of justice to get worked up about – such as the disgraceful way Ireland treats asylum seekers for example.

But maybe Springer coming to Dublin it is an opportunity to say something about a hard-edged tolerance within a plural society.

For tolerance, properly understood is not just accepting what you agree with or can reluctantly live with. That’s such a soft form of tolerance it hardly qualifies as tolerance at all.

A robust tolerance is engaging with views you disagree with, views you find offensive and distasteful, even blasphemous. Getting into discussion and debate with the people who hold those views. Naming and identifying where and why those views are harmful or destructive. But at the same time tolerating the right of people to hold those views.

[Obviously there are legal, ethical and moral boundaries to tolerance. There are views that should not be tolerated in a civil society and this needs to be worked through in each case – views that promote violence, abuse, exploitation of others and so on.]

But the bigger point is that a robust tolerance works both ways. For the ‘flip-side’ of Jerry Springer in Dublin is that Christians also have every right to hold and communicate their views – beliefs that their opponents may find offensive and distasteful, even dangerous.

And there are voices today who do think exactly that and would seek to exclude legally Christianity from any legitimate place in public life because of the perceived ‘threat’ it poses to a plural society.

But a hard-edged or robust form of tolerance will mean that Christians who believe that their mission is to proclaim and teach the good news of Jesus Christ who is the risen Lord of all and before whom every knee will one day bow, will not only be tolerated but that their freedom to engage in mission should be defended by their opponents.

That’s quite a different thing from an increasingly shrill form of public discourse where ‘tolerance’ is redefined as meaning not having the right to disagree or say something is actually wrong. To do so is ‘offensive’ and ‘hurtful’ and ‘intolerant’. This is not tolerance at all, but a thinly disguised manipulative power-game that insists that to have a legitimate place in the public square ‘you must agree with me’.

So, even though I dislike it, I’m not going to be protesting against Jerry Springer The Opera. I’d defend the right of the Grand Canal Theatre to put on the show. And I’d argue for a robust tolerance that cuts both ways.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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6 thoughts on “Tolerance, Christians and Jerry Springer The Opera

  1. Well, you are more informed than I am! Forget Jerry Springer and go and see “Big Maggie” by John B. Keane!

  2. Nicely crafted argument Patrick. I believe quite a few walked out of the show. The cast deserved a better script.
    More sinister is Mr Nugent Chairman of Atheist Ireland in Rite and Reason because his notions re the Bible have the appearance of being researched.
    Perhaps I am a bit bilious because the I.T. didn’t publish my response!!

  3. Patrick I don’t know how you can say that you would defend the right of the Grand Canal Theatre to put on the blasphemous Springer Show
    May I make a few points:
    1. The Jerry Springer Opera was blasphemous:
    • The crucifixion is mocked.
    • Jesus is introduced as “the hypocrite son of the fascist tyrant on high.” He wears a nappy, is effeminate and admits: “I am a bit gay.”
    • Eve gropes Jesus in a manner too indecent to describe while the Annunciation is described as a rape.
    • God complains about being blamed for everyone’s problems. He invites Jerry Springer to join Him to “sit in Heaven beside me, hold my hand and guide me.” At the end, Jerry emerges as the true saviour of mankind.

    2. The Christian Churches agree: “Blasphemy is directly opposed to the second commandment. It consists in uttering against God words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; … in misusing God’s name. St James condemns those ‘who blaspheme that honourable name [of Jesus]’ ….Blasphemy is contrary to the respect due God and his holy name.”

    3. Our Constitution is clear that Blasphemy is an offence and punishable in accordance with the law:
    Article 40.6.1 guarantees the right of citizens to express freely their convictions. It restricts this right by saying that: “The publication or utterance of blasphemous… matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” Article 44.1 says that “The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence”

    In the light of the Constitution stating that blasphemous matter is an offence punishable by law how can you, as a Christian, possibly defend the right of the Grand Canal Theatre to break the law?
    Free speech is not an unqualified human right, it is limited. It brings responsibilities, and the causing of gratuitous offence is hardly the hallmark of a civilised society. No civilised person would deliberately insult a stranger in the street. So why would someone want to insult God, Jesus Christ, and Christian believers? If the Springer Opera was blaspheming Mohammed and Allah the Grand Canal Theatre. WOULD NOT dare to put it on.

    A final question Why should our taxes which contributed to building the beautiful Grand Canal Theatre be used to promote an Opera offensive to Christians and which constitutes an offence according to the Constitution?

    Paddy Monaghan

  4. Greetings Paddy and welcome. I think I answered your opening question in what I said.

    I don’t disagree that the Opera is blasphemous and deliberately insulting. But the response of appealing to the Constitution and law to enforce Christian ethics and morality is, in my view, not only doomed to fail in an increasingly secular and post-Christendom culture, but undesirable missionally. Are we really saying that it is the duty of the State to legislate for the Church? Saying something is blasphemous is a distinct thing from saying ‘therefore’ it ought to be outlawed. That’s a big assumption. Such a view may have held some sway in Catholic Ireland of the past and even then it had very doubtful benefits (censorship etc)

    You may well be right about Springer and Islam – but that’s hardly a positive point. In the past the Church in Ireland did have that sort of intimidating power and it was a disaster. Is God to be defended through power and the law? Is this Jesus’ way?

    The point about taxes is unconvincing – we live in a plural democracy which allows many things contrary to Chrisitan morality. Do we therefore stop paying taxes and somehow withdraw until the State uses our taxes in line with our own convictions?

    I don’t hear in your comments, any grappling with the reality of the fact we live in an increasingly plural Ireland. There is a theological assumption that the ‘world’ can be and should be shaped according to Christian values. I don’t think the early Christians shared that assumption living under the Roman Empire!

    I am NOT saying Christians should just ‘cave in’ and say nothing. I actually say the opposite – we need to engage and not be afraid of doing so. But we need to recognize that the law is a minimum, not an ideal, of ordering life in a plural society. The rights we seek (and assume) for ourselves, we also need to be willing to give others who do not share our beliefs. The irony in appealing to law to shut down Springer is that very easily the boot could be on the other foot – where the law is used to shut down Christian evangelism or worship (for example). That’s what happens when tolerance for opposing views disappears.

    • Patrick
      By speaking out publicly we were making a statement – not demanding that the Springer show be shut down or that the whole of Ireland submit to Christian principles, but making a statement. If we don’t say anything, our silence can be misunderstood as being in agreement. In fact the lead actor commented on Newstalk the Sunday before the start of the “opera” that there were no objections to the Operat unlike in the UK.

      We were not demanding in any way that our Christian ethics should be enforced. We were simply pointing out that that the Constitution exists in order to keep certain boundaries of value and respect in place .. and the Springer Opera, because of its many blasphemies, was, in our opinion, violating our Constitution.

      Re your remarks about taxes, I see nothing wrong with giving one’s point of view as to how our taxes are being spent. It is our right as citizens. I didnt imply that we shouldnt pay our taxes.

      Re your last Paragraph where you said: “I am NOT saying Christians should just ‘cave in’ and say nothing. I actually say the opposite – we need to engage and not be afraid of doing so..”
      When and how did you engage in the matter of Jerry Springer and his blasphemuous show? What did you do about it? Surely your blog is for Christians who might happen to read it.

      One final point .i cant believe that you could disagree that “the Opera is blasphemous and deliberately insulting” If the crucifiction being mocked etc isnt blasphemous then what is. I believe that God and Jesus’ name and character was defiled and I for one was angry about this.

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