I am, as I not infrequently do, feeling rather sorry for the Church of England. This most inoffensive of religious organisations is being lambasted by certain parts of the media and by atheist bloggers for an attempt to place an advert in cinemas alongside the showing of Star Wars this Christmas.
Now I confess that my knee-jerk reaction was much the same as those who want the ad not to be shown. It didn't seem quite right as not everyone in the audience would appreciate it. To quote a spokesperson for the company responsible for the advertising, Digital Cinema Media: 'Some advertising - unintentionally or otherwise - could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faith and indeed no faith at all.'
However. When I actually think about this action rationally, I am less happy with the decision. First of all, I am never comfortable with any curtailment of free speech, unless said speech is inciting a crime. Too many people find it far too easy to restrain free speech because it offends them. I'm sorry, but there is, and there never should be, a human right not to be offended.
The other point that seems to have been missed is that this was not a documentary, it was an advertisement. Many kinds of advertisements offend me. I am offended by shops bombarding us with Christmas advertising in November. I am offended by advertising for sugary drinks and food. I am offended by advertising for films and games that feature gratuitous violence. But no one considers my offence a reason to ban the advertising.
Of course I am not arguing that anyone should care about the (genuine) offence I feel about this advertising, but rather wanting to call into question whether avoiding offence is a suitable justification for pulling a Christian ad at Christmas. The Church of England is reportedly baffled at the decision. I'm not, because I am aware of the increasingly strident calls never to say or do anything that could possibly cause offence to a small but very vocal constituency. But I am saddened.
In case you want to find out what the fuss is about, here's the offending advertisement in all its offensive glory (and let's face it, in the still you see before the video plays, Justin Welby does not look happy):