Although I have been travelling around England recently, I’ve been following the ongoing dispute about the Church of England’s attempt to promote prayer by commissioning a 54-second film – a cinema advertisement, so to speak, for The Lord’s Prayer. The was designed to be shown before the new Star Wars film. At the last minute the cinema chain stopped the film from being shown – even though it had been approved by the relevant advertising body. It gave as a reason that it ‘might be offensive to some people.’
I despair at the state my country has got itself into. Just coming up to Christmas, who on earth would find a short piece about Christian prayer ‘offensive?’ It might be better to show the ad and then let those who are so offended reveal themselves.
Yesterday I was in Leicester, and right opposite the back door of our temple is the Town Hall. The imposing brick building has the very largest, flashing, green neon **Merry Christmas** sign I have ever seen. Leicester has, as many will know, the largest population of Hindus in the country, outside London. As far as I know, not one Hindu has ever begrudged this overt celebration of Christmas. Hinduism is a broad and diverse collection of religious strands, and is inclusive, appreciating all attempts to serve and know God.
Those who recognise that the same God is being worshipped, despite the differences in names used by the worshippers, will acknowledge and appreciate the paths of everyone, giving them freedom to express their deepest feelings of faith. And those who recognise the importance of religion, generally, in preserving morality and order in society, will welcome the range of human emotions that comes along with worship, particular the celebration of festivals. It is very sad that we seem to have taken the wrong turn in our understanding of freedom of religion and expression.
To make these cinematic religious matters slightly more complex, the short film Sanjay’s Superteam, by Toy Story makers Pixar, is now being shown in some cinemas just before their new film The Good Dinosaur. The short film features, in cartoon forms, Lord Vishnu, Hanuman and Durga. While I’m delighted that the names and forms of the deities are being broadcast, I am troubled that we seem to be relentlessly diminishing the religion that has been the foundation of much good in this country. The problem is that intolerance toward Christianity in the name of preserving the peace will be followed by more intolerant behaviour in the future.
It is understandable that people look for new forms of religious expression as they tire of old forms. The path of Bhakti seems to be attracting the attention of seekers everywhere. Krishna is mentioned by the bad character in the trailer for another superhero movie: X-Men Apocalypse. The anti-hero introduces himself by saying: “I have been called many things over many lifetimes, Rama, Krishna, Yahweh…”
There may be many more occasions where Bhakti makes an appearance in popular culture. Certainly, there is a great variety of rich culture to be mined in the search for new forms of spiritual expression. I do feel, however, that religion itself must be protected, so that even the concepts preserved by those faiths do not disappear from our conversations. That would be a sad world. Merry Christmas.