Magazine article The Spectator

The Church Quiescent

Magazine article The Spectator

The Church Quiescent

Article excerpt

NOT many Spectator readers, I imagine, will have heard of a musical ensemble called Cradle of Filth. Their exploits are generally recorded only in specialist publications such as Kerrang!, and their records never trouble the charts. Nevertheless, in their modest way, they offer a neat little parable for a great deal of hypocritical modern thinking about religion.

Cradle of Filth are exponents of a brand of music known as `death metal' or `black metal' - loud, fast and, unlike other kinds of loud, fast music, openly Satanist. Here, perhaps, some socio-musical context is in order. In Scandinavia, `black metal' is a highly sinister phenomenon that has produced church-burnings and, on more than one occasion, murder (a Norwegian musician named Varg Vikernes is serving a life sentence for slaughtering an ex-bandmate). The UK variant, on the other hand, tends to the mildly comic-book, and expresses itself in inflammatory T-shirts and rogueish promotional videos on which bare-breasted lovelies wallow in vats of fake blood.

Among other items of merchandise, Cradle of Filth have produced an eye-catching T-shirt stamped with the slogan `Jesus is a Cunt' and featuring a picture of a nun masturbating with a crucifix. It is with a bundle of these garments, reposing on the shelf of the Glasgow branch of Tower Records, that our story begins.

Alerted by the Lord Provost of the city, who had received several complaints, police entered the Argyll Street premises earlier this year and ordered the apparel to be removed. At a subsequent press conference, the Lord Provost disclosed that he had written to the company expressing his 'disgust' and `to underline that material like this must never be put on sale again'. Queerly, within a week the T-shirts were back in the shop. `We pride ourselves on offering the largest range of products available,' Tower Records's managing director explained, `and leaving it to the customers to choose whether they wish to purchase them.'

Now, free speech - and presumably the liberty to sell `Jesus is a Cunt' T-shirts falls into this category - is a wonderful thing. All the same, Tower Records's defence of its marketing policy raises some interesting questions. Let us say, for example, that I were to sit down and manufacture a couple of dozen T-shirts emblazoned with the message `Mohammed is a Motherfucker' or - swinging the spiritual compass a bit further - `Vishnu is a Wanker'. Would Tower Records feel like stocking them? The answer, one imagines, is no, and the reason would be as much practical as ideological, if only because a band of outraged imams and their followers would be capable of causing a much bigger stink in the streets of Glasgow than the Lord Provost.

Curiously, this stand-off between shocked city fathers and a right-on retailing giant was set in context by the religious service staged to commemorate World Holocaust Day in late January. No television viewer who watched the proceedings for a moment could have failed to note that the rather dusty Anglicanism that generally surfaces in official ceremonies was out, and that it had been replaced by a fanatical inclusiveness. As Catholic priests rubbed shoulders with archimandrites, while Hindu votaries brought up the rear, the subliminal - and government-fostered - message was abundantly clear.

Although we inhabit a notionally Christian country - which is to say that a Christian ethical and administrative framework still stretches above the rising secularist tide - a comprehensive religious tolerance is enjoined. By the same token, any outrage done to religious sensitivities is routinely deplored. But to assume that all religious beliefs are of equal validity in early 21stcentury Britain would be a mistake. If one wanted a convenient summary of the attitude towards religious belief shown by the majority of the broadsheet newspapers and upper-brow television producers, it would be this: all religions are equal, but some are less equal than others. …

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