Tuesday, August 27, 2013


In 1987, Volkswagen ran an advertisement in the UK, which turned out to be hugely controversial.  Here it is:
Volkswagen Golf advert ~1987
That’s because the song (Changes by Alan Price, which was used in the 1973 film O Lucky Man!) used the tune from a Hymn (What a friend we have in Jesus).

This was seen by many in Britain as unforgivably blasphemous and there were endless far-too-serious news reports and letters to editors and comments on current affairs shows.  “How dare they?”, people said, “how DARE they use an old song that happened to use an even older tune from a yet older poem to sell cars?”  Even my very Christian parents seemed uncomfortable about the fuss. On the one hand, it was just a tune.  On the other, everyone else was calling it blasphemous, so maybe they should too?  I think in the end they took one side each as a sort of no-guilt compromise and refused to speak of it ever again.

It’s not as though religious music hadn’t been used in adverts before.  I can’t help but speculate that the advert’s featuring a powerful woman taking matters into her own hands and making her own decisions might have had something to do with the ire.

But I think it shows (anecdotally) how the Church of England’s grip on the UK has loosened over those few years. It seems inconceivable that there’d be such an outcry now.  The grip is still there, but I sometimes feel optimistic that it’s hanging on by the fingertips.  The CoE still has far too much impact on this country. Too many people jump when they pop up and shout boo.  The media swivel their eyes and ears to clergy when something bad happens. There are too many clergy in the House of Lords.  Also, we have a House of Lords.

But the vast majority of people, even, I think, the vast majority of Christians, just don’t care about stuff like this any more, which has to be a good thing.

My father in law reminded me yesterday of another example. Until 1994(!) it was illegal – with some exceptions – for shops to open on Sundays.  The reasons were almost entirely religious, of course. It was often justified by the claim that Sunday trading would pressure employees into work and away from their families but nobody was particularly fooled.  And when that changed in 1994, the country didn’t collapse.  Shops just hired feckless teenagers to work on Sundays and the worst that happened was that everyone had to put up with sullen, disinterested service. Considering this is Britain anyway, it was hard to tell the difference.

And now, of course, the most devout of Christians happily shop on Sundays. They already did, in fact, in those areas that were oddly exempt prior to 1994, which happened to be those things that would be particularly inconvenient if they weren’t allowed.

Anyway, changes indeed.  Changes for the better.  I see worrying trends in the UK.  We have creationism in schools.  We have schools refusing to ‘promote’ (i.e recognise as not bad) homosexual relationships.  We have interfering bishops and media terrified of upsetting the religious.  We have Sharia courts and religious schools.  I’m not convinced these are blips and there are countless more inequalities to tackle.

But we also seem to be moving closer to secularism both continuously and apace.  When I look back over 25 years or so, I can’t help but feel the warmth of optimism in my blackened, shrivelled heart.

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