I haven’t really watched the BBC programme Killing Eve. I think we tried an episode or two ages ago and just didn’t get on with it. So, it’s not a programme I have any vested interested in keeping on air if I’m honest.
But I have noticed that some Christian folks are exercised about an upcoming episode. It apparently builds to a scene which, according to some, is blasphemous. There is even a petition about it (though, at the time of writing, it doesn’t have many signatures). There are a whole host of reasons I think this sort of thing isn’t very worthwhile.
I recognise that because the BBC is publicly funded, people are objecting to their license fee being used in this way. Some have argued in the past that because you cannot watch TV apart from paying the license fee, it is not quite as straightforward as simply not having a license fee at all. However, I would gently suggest, in the world of smart TVs and streaming services, this argument has largely lost any merit it might have once had. You can gladly ditch the licence fee and get a subscription to ITV Player, Netflix, Amazon Video, Disney Plus, or any other number of content providers. An argument that was at one time based on a valid principle is easily worked around these days.
Which leads to the main issue. What is the answer to things we find objectionable? For many, the knee-jerk reaction is simply to ban it. Get the petition going, make a loud noise, and hope that we can get the entire thing cancelled. This is especially true, some would argue, when it comes to mockery of the things of Christ and his gospel. Again, in the days where you couldn’t watch any TV without paying the BBC license fee, some would argue this is legitimate for those who object to BBC content in principle and yet had to pay for it so they could watch ITV or Channel 4.
In my view, there is a better way. A way that is better still ever since there have been means to watch TV without a television license. The answer, I believe, is not to ban these things; it is not to watch them.
If you are concerned that you are paying a license fee for content that you find offensive and object to on principle, don’t pay the license fee. Take the money you would have paid the BBC and get yourself both a Netflix & Disney Plus subscription for the same price per month. Problem solved. You are no longer funding that to which you object. Until, of course, you find stuff on Netflix and Disney Plus with which to object. At which point, you ask yourself again, am I happy to fund this for the stuff I want or do I so object to this programme that I will jettison all others. At which point, you are effectively just saying you no longer want a TV. Which is, of course, fine.
But what about this particular issue? Some would argue there is a principle at stake regardless. The truth is, our God is big enough to look after himself. He does not need us to go off half-cocked to wage war against the heathen blasphemers. The Lord will repay what needs repaying; he can sort these things out himself. He is not damaged or harmed by people mocking him. The Bible says he sits in the Heavens and laughs. He simply doesn’t need us to fight these battles for him.
Nor are we called, as Christian people, to try and govern what others do. That isn’t to say I am okay with blasphemy. I find it offensive. But then I find lots of things offensive that I do not feel the need to stop other people from doing. The Bible calls me to pursue holiness, and to help my church pursue holiness, and not to expect the world to live by Christ’s standards. Unless hearts are regenerate, it is hardly surprising that people are happy to watch blasphemy. Their whole lives are, by definition, blasphemously set up without regard for Christ. If I really want to stop blasphemy, I would be better petitioning people to trust in Jesus rather than writing petitions to the BBC to not say some things that they will continue to think, and worse, anyway.
I am not convinced this sort of thing works at any rate. As Father Ted sent up so well years ago, campaign, petitions and protests tend to give more air time to these things. Often, programmes and films that would have been largely ignored suddenly garner a lot of interest because they have become controversial. Everyone wants to know what the controversy was all about. Sometimes it is better to just quietly decide not to watch something, or not to do something, than to wage a campaign to get it stopped.
I often think this sort of thing makes hypocrites of us anyway. We might object to this programme – and look for it to be banned – because we perceive it to be grossly blasphemous. It rarely stops us watching a whole host of other blasphemous things, that are far from Christian in their storyline or values, but because they are not overtly mocking Christ (so far as we judge it) we are perfectly fine with them. I think we often overlook softer, more subtle blasphemy – and happily watch programmes replete with it – whilst only getting upset over overt forms of blasphemy specifically designed to be controversial. This doesn’t strike me as very consistent.
Some might argue that they are sending a message. Surely, as Calvin put it, even a dog barks when his master is attacked. But I’m not sure we are always sending the message we think we are. Who, for example, would genuinely believe Christians are happy when God is blasphemed? Who seriously thinks Christians are pleased when Jesus is mocked? That message doesn’t particularly need sending because it is obvious enough already. Let’s be honest, that is often why these things are written into programmes, because they know it will upset some, cause controversy and help ratings.
By contrast, the message that is heard when we do these things is that God cannot look after himself but needs people to fight his battles for him. The message sent is that Christians are quite thin-skinned. The message delivered is Christians are more concerned with what unbelieving actors and directors portray on TV than they are about endless injustices. I recognise on that last point that many will be concerned by both, but that this isn’t the message which is heard. The loud noise about the programme is offset by the considerably less loud noise about other more pressing matters. It can appear like a gnats and camels situation.
We don’t always need to knee-jerk to banning and cancelling everything. We don’t have to protest about everything that we find objectionable. It is before our own master that we stand or fall. In the end, if you don’t like it, don’t watch it.