This is Faith in Play #20: The Problem with Protests, for July 2019.
It was brought to my attention that twenty thousand well-meaning wrong-headed religious conservatives have signed a petition asking Netflix not to run a show produced by Amazon exclusively for Amazon Prime subscribers. The show is a scripting by Neil Gaiman of a book he co-wrote with the late Terry Pratchett, and centers on an angel and a demon cooperating to prevent the Antichrist from coming to power and bringing the apocalypse.
The most cogent of the objections, I suppose, is that it makes Satanism seem light and acceptable. That’s not really surprising, given that Pratchett was a brilliant humorist and satirist, and Gaiman is a respected fantasy author; one would expect anything they wrote together to be funny on some level. Other complaints are just foolish, such as that God is voiced by a woman (God in Genesis clearly embodies all that is masculine and feminine in one being, and so could express Himself as Herself if that suited His/Her purpose), and that the Antichrist is portrayed as a normal child (we know so little about The Antichrist, or even if that’s a proper designation for any individual—the word appears only four times, all in John’s first two letters, and always in ways that suggest a generalized bunch of people who share the title and were active when John wrote).
I’m told that Netflix has agreed not to air the show, which is both funny and sad—sad because I don’t have an Amazon Prime account but I do have a Netflix account, so unless I give in to the pressure from my Patrons and spend the money on Amazon I’m not going to be able to see it, funny because of course Netflix was never going to be offered the opportunity to air it so it’s an empty concession.
And this highlights the first big problem with these Christian protests. I am one of probably millions who would not have heard about this show but for the news of the petition. Many will have considered subscribing to Amazon Prime for the opportunity to see it—a Neil Gaiman scripting of a book he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett is going to attract a lot of potential viewers, and Amazon could not have asked for better publicity. When I was a boy, there was a cartoon show about a flying squirrel and his friend, a moose. (It was originally entitled Rocky and His Friends, after the lead character Rocket J. Squirrel, but the sidekick became so popular he soon got equal billing in Rocky and Bullwinkle and then top billing as it became The Bullwinkle Show.) At one point they did a story arc about the “search for the Kirward Derby”. What we kids didn’t know was that at the time there was a successful television personality named Durward Kirby. Reportedly Kirby threatened to sue, but Rocky producer Jay Adams replied by letter saying, “Please do, we need the publicity.” That may be the first time anyone recognized that in the entertainment world there is no such thing as bad publicity, and loudly objecting to anything in that field can only make it more popular. It is said that one of the reasons TSR did not more aggressively attempt to address Christian objections to Dungeons & Dragons back in the 80s was because the young people the game was targeting were more likely to want to know about a game that their parents and the churches condemned. The probability that Amazon would have pulled the show in response to a petition was negligible, and so the only likely outcome of the petition is exactly what it achieved, advertising the show to many who would not otherwise have been aware of it.
That the petitioners don’t recognize this also makes them look foolish. Of course, these particular petitioners look the more foolish because they petitioned the wrong network. That is not only foolish in itself, it makes it blatantly evident that possibly not a single person who signed that petition knew what it was to which they were objecting—they had never seen the show, perhaps not even a trailer for it. Had they seen it, at least some of them would have realized that it was not on Netflix but on Amazon, and so that ignorance is underscored in this case. Yet apparently not even the people who started the petition saw the show, because they didn’t know it was on Amazon, either. I don’t know who started the petition, but even if that person saw the show, for twenty thousand sheep to sign a petition against something about which they know only that one person didn’t like it—well, it reminds me of the Penn and Teller riff where they attend an environmental rally and get people to sign a petition to ban the potentially dangerous chemical di-hydrous oxygen (which is in fact water). I’m not against anyone protesting for or against anything in which they believe, but I really do think that before you sign your name to a petition you ought to know what it is really protesting. These people didn’t—and that is so frequently the case with petitions launched by the religious right that such petitions make religious people look more foolish.
Which further means that we become more marginalized. Objecting to a fantasy television series on a limited access channel does not make us relevant; it makes us laughingstocks. There go those Christians, once again condemning what they don’t understand. They did it with rock music; they did it with role playing games; they did it with modern art. Now once again they’re shooting off their mouths about what’s wrong with something about which they know absolutely nothing, and want us to believe that what they say has any meaning. There’s no point listening to anything they say, because it’s obvious they don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s what we’re teaching the world every time we sign another of these foolish counter-productive petitions. If you’re wondering why no one listens when you preach the gospel, well, it’s because so much else that you said was nonsense that nonsense is what the world expects to hear from you.
I’m sure my request that we give up these petitions will fall on deaf ears. I only hope that perhaps you might know better than to sign one in the future. Certainly there are things in the world to which we ought to object, against which we ought to take a stand. Do so, but only if you are personally informed concerning the object you are protesting and can, yourself, speak intelligently against it without regurgitating lines that you’ve been fed by someone who perhaps knows as little as you.
The title of the show is Good Omens.