In the days of Communism, people in Eastern Europe had to endure slogans announcing support for Marxist and the Soviet system. I remember them in East Berlin in the 1980s. The whole wretched Communist system was creaking, tired, and failing to provide for the everyday needs of ordinary people – but the stupid posters went up in the Unter den Linden announcing celebrations for some boring anniversary connected with Karl Marx, and fatuous statements about the East German rulers marching forward to greater progress with the leaders of the USSR.
We pitied the people of the Eastern bloc. They not only had to endure stupid laws and the prospect of punishment if they spoke out against the Communist system – but also had to have this horrible propaganda ranting at them in their towns and cities.
Christianity was marginalised. Churches could, in most eastern bloc countries, function, but only in a private sort of way and with a great many restrictions – the whole official message was that Christianity had little or nothing to offer and that it had much that was sinister and dangerous and so needed to be kept out of public life. The official message was that public expressions of Christianity were offensive to the vast majority of people, and were out of keeping with the whole message of society.
I thought of this the other day at London’s Waterloo station. It’s a vast and busy station serving the south-western suburbs of London and the countryside of Surrey and Hampshire and berkshire. As teeming crowds of people hurried to their trains, above them was a vast video announcing support for same-sex marriage :”He said yes!”, funded by a bank. The video stretched across the whole frontage of the entrance to all the platforms.
A big promotion like that costs a lot of money. I doubt if any church or Christian group could afford to pay for any such promotion announcing support for Christian marriage. And even if the funds were available – would such an advertisment be allowed? When the Archbishop of Canterbury and others produced a rather good video promoting the Lord’s Prayer, the big cinema chain that had agreed to run it pulled out and announced a refusal. This brought the cinema chain some criticism in the press, especially the more conservative newspapers…but that was all. The video was effectively banned.
Suppose I wished to express my concern about the heavy promotion of same-sex marriage that I am obliged to endure at my railway station? To whom could I express my concern? What would be the result? It is very likely that I would simply be denounced and reprimanded for having an opinion that is today deemed dangerous and wrong.
Today’s Britain is not like the Eastern Europe of the 1950s-80s. On the contrary, in lots of ways our lives are immeasurely more pleasant and comfortable and enjoyable than those of any wretched citizens of the East Germany or Poland of those days. We have delicious food and freshly-brewed coffee in vast quantities wherever we go, and our biggest national health problem is obesity. We travel extensively on holiday to places acrosss the globe in considerable luxury. Our homes are filled with toys and gadgets and we take things like central heating and modern kitchen equipment for granted.
But we are unable, just as they were unable, to criticise the slogans that are imposed upon us even when we know they are saying something that is untrue, or conveying a message that is essentially false and flawed. We pretend that we go along with something even when we don’t, because we are aware of social and punitive reprisals if we don’t. Anyway, we feel confused. We are unsure what to say. We know we don’t really think that two men can marry each other – or three men, or whatever is next announced as correct – but we don’t want to discuss it. We are awkward.
In many ways, today’s London has an uncomfortable feel about it.