An Olympic-sized sense of privilege

I reckon I might get hassle if I use any sort of Olympic image, so here’s a kitten instead.

Did you enjoy the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics? I did. I have a tendency to be cynical and mocking about this sort of thing, and there were parts which weren’t really my thing, but overall, I thought it had a really nice blend of history, spectacle and humour, and I thought it was great, in a slightly odd and very British sort of way.

Some people hated it, though, and not just those who are afraid of anything that could be construed as being slightly left-wing, like celebrating the NHS or having some black people involved (yes, really). I know people who have been objecting that it didn’t celebrate our Christian heritage enough. Seriously. Apparently, it’s an important part of our history, so it should have been properly represented.

I have two reactions to this. First, what sort of person thinks that this ceremony could ever be an appropriate place for an overtly religious message, as if it was a church service? And second, did they miss the numerous hymns which were included? Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer, Jerusalem and Abide With Me all had central places in the ceremony – you’d think that was a pretty good reflection.

But it isn’t, and it never will be for people like this, because these hymns can have secular significance. For all the talk about our culture’s Christian heritage, they don’t actually recognise these as properly Christian, as they’ve been culturally adopted in various ways. Isn’t that the whole point of it being part of our cultural heritage?

It only works one way, though. If Beijing had included even the mildest nod to Buddhism or Taoism in its ceremony (I can’t remember whether they did), I doubt very much that these people would have called it just a reflection of their heritage. At best, they would probably have seen it as an unpleasant and unnecessary attempt to promote their beliefs. It’s an irregular verb:

I celebrate my cultural heritage
You promote your religious beliefs
He is a swivel-eyed evangelising nutcase

It’s a manifestation of Christian privilege, giving one’s own beliefs and associated cultural norms a greatly inflated status simply because they don’t seem religious in any way, they’re just normal. Religion is what all those other people do, with their funny beliefs, silly robes and strange ceremonies, not like us at all.

A bit more self-awareness and a little less privileged kneejerking would be very welcome.

Photo by Canadacow, used under Attribution License

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

5 responses to “An Olympic-sized sense of privilege”

  1. Pam Smith says :

    To my surprise I thought it was great, and everything in it was very well thought out.

    The inclusion of hymns that had a wider significance to non-churchgoers reflected our ‘Christian heritage’ culturally in a way that was accessible to non Christians and Christians alike.

    I was quite surprised and, to be honest, a bit irritated to see complaints that this was not enough. .

  2. Joan Barleycorn says :

    People who criticised on the basis you’ve put forward would be very difficult to please and rather out of step with anything resembling popular culture. What did they expect? Maybe they need a gentle reminder that the games originated prior to Christianity? And how, exactly, could they have shown a more Christian heritage? A tableau of the Reformation? (A few re-enacted burnings, perhaps?) I write this as a Christian with a strong grasp and appreciation of life within a tolerant, secularised culture, who prefers a blast of the Specials to high brow chorales – though I appreciate these in the appropriate context – or massed evangelical gospel choirs.

    Cultural elitists may have been disappointed; me, I thought it was pretty neat.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I know, but what can you do? I have a tendency to moan and whinge myself, so I have to watch my step, but it does seem a rather strange objection.

      I think the idea is that it depicted our history, and lots of good things came from the church (an assertion that may require additional evidence), so the church should have had a prominent role. Just as (presumably) there should have been a parade of drugs and hookers to go with the celebration of our pop and rock music heritage, as an illustration of what made all this possible. 😉

  3. John Barleycorn (no relation) says :

    What upset me was the lack of Morris dancers. Seb Coe promised us 5000. Where were they? (I was there with my bells on but they wouldn’t let me in!)

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