Apparently the BACC (the body that passes TV adverts as fit for airing) is in a quandary over the song, "I Saw Three Ships". Its new policy is that in ads, festive soundtracks are not to feature any tunes which refer to the birth of Christ, (ie Carols) but only secular ditties like "Jingle Bells". "Three Ships" causes a dilemma in that it does reference Christ (and his mother) but no-one remembers that, so no offence caused!1
The underlying assumption is of course that Christian content (and note this - only in the tune, not even in sung lyrics) is so offensive that the public must be protected from it! But to whom (apart from the unelected apparatchiks of the BACC) is the Christmas story offensive? Presumably the answer is that it is offensive to atheists and adherents of other faiths.
But wait just a moment - this is what other faith communities are saying today:
- "Hindus celebrate Christmas too. It's a great holiday for everyone living in Britain," said Anil Bhanot, general secretary of the UK Hindu Council. Sikh spokesman Indarjit Singh said: "Every year I am asked 'Do I object to the celebration of Christmas?' It's an absurd question. As ever, my family and I will send out our Christmas cards to our Christian friends and others." Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Shayk Ibrahim Mogra said: "To suggest celebrating Christmas and having decorations offends Muslims is absurd. Why can't we have more nativity scenes in Britain?"2.
So is it the voices of increasingly militant atheists who are demanding the banishing of Christmas Carols from public life? Apparently not so, as this year even dear old Richard Dawkins (Oxford Professor for the Public Misunderstanding of Faith) will be singing along, joining in the traditions - the content of which he so despises.
What is more baffling in the debate though is this. When Christians are offended by anything from porn to blasphemy, the media's standard response is, "if it offends you -turn it off, no-one is forcing you to watch it!". Why then does the same standard not apply when it is Christianity which is deemed to be the offence!? Perhaps on this occasion the free-market has something to say. Surely if the public at large are so offended by the tune of 'Silent Night' that it will make people switch off their TV's in outrage, tarring the brand in question with negative connotations so damaging that advertisers themselves will switch to 'Jingle Bells'! If not, then who are the BACC to protect us from our own traditions and tastes?!
There is, of course, a good side to this controversy. The advertising industry is one of consistently questionable ethics; not just in the obvious matter of dubious claims and small print, nor even in the way in which so many seek to bolster their brand by appealing to at least one of the so-called "7 Deadly Sins";3 but more in the deceit of selling 'product' on the basis of 'image' when there is no link between the two. Perhaps Christians should be grateful that the story of the coming of Christ into the world, of the love and mercy of God in sending us His Son, is not being drawn into this miry world of image construction, spin, deceit and flogging tat. There is, after all an inherent contradiction between the "gotta-have-it" worldview of the advert, and the one who told us that it is "better to give than to receive".4
So, are we better off with the BACC's anti-Christian agenda, and the further driving of our Christian heritage from public space; or should we be grateful for the fact that Christ is not being used as a tool for selling tinsel? There is no obvious answer to that dilemma, but here is a radical suggestion. Perhaps the BACC should spend its time and money seeking to reform the culture of advertising, rather than doggedly pursuing its private ideological agenda. Perhaps if they did that, they might be able to pass adverts as fit-to-air, which have the transparent integrity fitting to be backed by a song about Christ.
1. Ad Nauseum, Private Eye, No 1120, 11 Jan 2008, p11
3. As a Radio4 documentry last year demonstrated.
4. Acts 20:35