Dean rejects critics of Southwark's "Swearing Jesus" mystery play

Religious play provokes fury


A RELIGIOUS play staged in an Anglican cathedral has provoked fury after it featured a swearing Jesus and Satan wearing a phallus. The Southwark Mysteries, was produced by Southwark Cathedral and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in south London as part of the capital's "String of Pearls" Millennium celebrations. It mixed bawdy medieval scenes with modern imagery and referred to bishops engaging in homosexual sex with altar boys and priests visiting prostitutes. The character of Jesus, who rode onto the stage on a bicycle, was shown apparently condoning a range of sexual activities, while Satan told scatological jokes and ordered Jesus to "kiss my a***." At one point Jesus was admonished by St Peter for his swearing and responded: "In the house of the harlot, man must master the language." At another, Satan, played by a female actor, strapped on "a huge red phallus" before using it to beat his sidekick, Beelzebub. The play was written by John Constable, who said that he had deliberately wanted to challenge Christians. "Profanity is a theme of the play," he said. "The point of it was to explore the sacred through the profane." Mr Constable said he had worked closely with Mark Rylands, the Globe's artistic director, and the Dean of Southwark, the Very Rev Colin Slee, who conceived the idea of a joint production to mark William Shakespeare's birthday falling on Easter Day. He said that the clergy had made a number of suggestions about the content, but he had not acted on all of them. "They did ask me to make sure that Satan did not wear the phallus in the presence of Jesus, which I did he said. The first section of the play, which contained much of the bawdy material, was staged at the Globe and The final part, the Harrowing of Hell",in the cathedral. "Colin Slee was very robust in keeping me on straight and narrow" Constable said. "The play is a new version of the traditional medieval Mystery plays, which were religious in nature but accepted human imperfections and took place in a carnival atmosphere. It seemed to be well received by most people who saw it." But one member of the audience, Simon Fairnington, has condemned the play as "disgustingly offensive", saying that it "revelled in the glorification of vice". In a letter to the Dean he complained: "Had the play been a purely secular production, one might not have been surprised at its treatment of Christian belief. "What was dismaying was that it was sponsored and performed in part within a Christian cathedral. The cynical part of me wonders whether this is simply a sign of the times, and the way the Church of England cares about its Gospel and its God." Anthony Kilmister, chairman of the Prayer Book Society, said; "This is not the sort of play that should be performed in God's house. It is quite disgraceful." But the Dean, who was the centre of controversy a few years ago when he allowed the cathedral to be used for a Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement celebration, defended the play. The performance was in keeping with traditional Mystery plays and "portrayed graphically the life and history of the area" which was "where the seamier side of life was to be found", he said. "The message was that even the worst sins are not beyond redemption," he added.

There will always be people like Simon who find things "disgustingly offensive".I dare say that the words "wry" or "satirical" to not enter such people's vocabulary. One is always offended by the truth because it hurts. The truth is people are liable to mock and make fun of silly stories and myths and the people who believe them and hold fast onto them because they are not adult enough to grasp reality. Notwithstanding any incapacity on behalf of the offended,the historical heritage of these plays is being reproduced and in good grace the producer has sought the counsel of those whom it might offend,he can do no more. There are some people who will be offended no matter to what lengths you go to protect their very easily irritated sensibilities. Words are not offensive,but yet the term "expletive" exists to describe a word that has become taboo and is censored. I have taken to rearranging the letters of my foreshortened screen name in order to highlight this (For those who were wondering why I signed Empt and not Temp),as strangely the company who manufactures clothes- FCUK draws no flack for exploiting the advertising potential of utilisation of a rearrangement of a term used to describe the sexual act.I wonder why? Are the letters FCUK offensive? Even if they were presented in their capacity as an expletive (I refrain from doing so,so as not to offend the easily offended),would they be offensive then? No.It is the conurtation and social history that suggests offence.The sexual act is not offensive (except to the religious),it is the idea that this word presents a rough and ready and perhaps unwilling sexual act,and it's use as a term of abuse and to display one's venom that is offensive,not the actual word.It is the "context" that carries the offence.Thus the hypocritical and absurd policies of TV companies in beeping out a word is absurd,we all know what word it is,and sometimes it is uttered in a humorous context.It is not always corrupting,and does not carry a corrupting influence merely by the arrangement of the letters. Upon this kind of premise,McCarthyism witch hunted people in farcical ways,on the strength of the conurtation of what they said.To be anti establishment was seen as being a traitor.These are the thoughts of simpletons.It is possible,as with the Simpsons,for bad attributes to be highlighted for the purpose of ridicule,so that via humour we can see what errors we may be making.If the religious actually had a sense of humour instead of having it surgically removed at birth (which incidentally,if we are to use their own enforced renormalisation process used on transsexuals,then there ought to be an onus upon us to enforce them to have a sense of humour),they might not get so incensed at apparently "blasphemous" material. Understand,not everyone has those values where people and icons are held in so high esteem that nothing can be done against them under any circumstances. Everything has its faults,including religious belief,and it has perhaps more than most,if anything it is ripe to be satired and lampooned and mocked. If the satirist then goes out of his way to take your worries into account,he is doing more than he actually should,especially if the production has a history of a particular context that he is trying to maintain. This does not mean immorality results,it means everyone's values have equal capacity to be open to being mocked for their absurdities.No special case can be made for convicted belief to be exempt.If their was a play mocking an atheist stance,like as not I would watch it and be amused,I wouldn't try to ban it or be offended by it.Indeed most of our society indulges religion and superstition to an appalling extent,apparently with no rebuke because of PC silliness that all values are equal. Apparently "everyone is entitled to believe what they wish",presumably even that the Earth is flat or the Moon is made out of cheese. I can understand how a picture of Myra Hindley made out of babies hand prints could be liable to incense,but it only does so if you take a negative stance in the first instance. No doubt such an artist is naive if they do not think that the subsequent furore will not catapult them to notoriety,but equally such an image could be a lament for lost innocence and an image evoked out of feeling for the victims as opposed to the perpetrator.The knee-jerk hyper- emotional reaction is ill-advised. Rama Chandran the neuroscientist,recently characterised the hemispheres of the brain as being left for language and logical model building,and right for playing devil's advocate and dealing with emotion.The simple minded offence taken over expletives and blasphemy seems to me to be indicative of a brain controlled to much by the right hemisphere,given to flights of fantasy,and dreaming,and over indulgence in what is believed and not what is worked out to be true.It is somewhat ironic that the religious appear to be dominated by a "devil's" advocate, perhaps this observation would offend their sensibilities.But perhaps,like transsexuals,the religious have a fault in some sense, a heightened devil's advocate who is let loose to get animated and furious over little things that fit the model,and find innocuous things, offensive. According to Michael Persinger,there is some evidence to think that religion of superstitious belief in myths is a brain fault,and if so,then the Alliance of clerics should be careful who they wish to "normalise",lest they be the next on the agenda. I find it highly amusing that such a one as Simon is offended by the artistic reproduction of a personage,Satan who does not exist.The worst exception one could take is akin to that of finding Mr Punch objectionable for being violent in an age seeking to curb violent acts. Possibly,Punch and Judy is more of a corrupting influence,than any expletive uttered on TV. Perhaps if adults were not offended by such language, youth would not be corrupted by it. Bizarrely,soap operas show the same predispensation towards problem solving with violence as does Mr Punch,and Hollywood blockbusters glamorise it further,and yet our TV companies see no problem at all with showing such behaviour,they just prudely and priggishly bleep out "offensive" language. If they wish to be so mumsy and look after my well being then censor the actual material.No that would interfere with profits and we can't have that can we? So leave it the hell alone.I'm adult enough to decide,what I like and what I don't.If we want puritanical censorship we'll vote for it. Conversely,I'm not in favour of becoming depraved by default,but get a grip Simon,just because something has a phallus in it,does not make it depraved,it depends on context and meaning and social history. The history of these plays is as stated,and let's not be a hypocrite.Clerics have been found with altar boys and have visited prostitutes.I know one cleric who even married a prostitute,so don't be so sanctimonious. Such people do fall from grace as Kevin Spacey does in portraying Jim Bakker,and thus society is allowed to take issue with those who do not practice what they preach. If we censored everything it would be brushed under the carpet,and spoken of in hushed tones and metaphor in an apologetic and embarrassed way.There is a word called "honesty" which perhaps the religious speak of a lot,but perhaps are not too familiar with. If they familiarised themselves with this perhaps they would not be subject to the pretence of being holier than thou and then after being found out having to come clean,and saying that they were "tempted" and "corrupted".It's no excuse.If they are human,so are we all,we all "err",we are not angels,but neither are we devils. Some of us just play devil's advocate too much. -LB
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Sunday Telegraph 14 May 2000 File Info: Created --/--/-- Updated 21/8/2003 Page Address: