Not coming to a cinema near you this Christmas

Shock, horror: cinemas cannot show adverts that reflect a basic belief. Or so it seems.

Digital Cinema Media, who handle adverts for mainline cinema groups such as Odeon, have caused a small furore by rejecting an advert from the Church of England which features the Lord’s Prayer.

They have done so because they have a policy barring adverts on behalf of any “religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief”.

But surely everyone has a system of belief. The most common system of belief reflected at the cinema in terms of adverts is materialism, together with the accumulation of wealth and desirable objects, human or otherwise.

This may not be a belief involving prayers and traditional doctrines – though plenty of prayers seem to be muttered, and there is a central doctrine: that this world is all there is, and therefore we have to enjoy it to the full, come what may.

Obviously adverts do not state this in so many words, and that is possibly why DCM are happy with them. But the advert in question also does not state a system of belief in so many words. It simply reflects it.

The chestnut about “possibly offending some people” is really not good enough. Any film ever produced and every advert ever shown are capable of offending some people, because some people are very, very sensitive. But you cannot pander to such people.

A healthy society is one in which people can express their own beliefs without worrying about being gunned down by fanatics, whether those fanatics use words or bullets. I may believe that Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists and others have some things wrong, but I don’t want to stop them expressing their views. I certainly believe that materialists are hopelessly misguided, but I am not going to ban them from advertising hoardings.

I am a Christian, though not a good one, and no doubt many people believe I have some things wrong. They are undoubtedly right. I would like to persuade them that the essence of what I believe is true, but I have no desire to prevent them putting their views forward.

In any case, the advert in question is not a sermon. It uses the Lord’s Prayer – which, whatever you believe about Jesus, is historic, widely loved, beautiful and poetic. But it is used to illustrate its part in the daily lives of ordinary people, rather than as a tool of political persuasion.

The irony is that the vast majority of non-Christians will not be offended at all by this advert. The Muslim Council of Britain, for instance, is reported as saying it is “flabbergasted that anyone would find this prayer offensive”.

If I were to be picky about it, I would have to say that Christianity is not a religion or a system of belief. It is a faith based on the love of God for you and me. You take it or leave it. There is no sinister plot to convert everyone – just a gift on offer, which everyone is absolutely free to ignore.

That’s Christmas. Don’t expect to hear it at a cinema near you.