There was a time not so very long ago when the most common complaint about Christmas was that it had become too commercial and that its Christian significance was being forgotten. Since then the decline in religious belief in Britain has grown so much that the secularity of Christmas is taken for granted. It is effectively a pagan festival now. According to the Church of England, only about one million people, or around two per cent of the population, still attend church on Sundays (though about twice that number do so on Christmas Day). The Church is in a bad way, and it is only natural that it should seek, as it has always done, to recruit new members by proselytism: hence its decision, in the run-up to Christmas, to use modern media for the purpose and screen a 60-second commercial in cinemas featuring the Lord’s Prayer.
I haven’t seen the commercial, but it sounds jumpy and irritating in the way that most cinema advertisements are. It reportedly shows the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, reciting the first line of the Lord’s Prayer, with the other lines being said in succession by different groups of people including schoolchildren, refugees, policemen and weightlifters (why weightlifters?).
It may well be irritating, but certainly no more so than all the other advertisements for such things as motor cars, watches, drinks, deodorants, or Jeremy Clarkson advertising his new paymaster, Amazon. But it has been banned by Britain’s biggest cinema chains on the grounds that it would offend cinema audiences. Digital Cinema Media (DCM), the company that handles most of Britain’s cinema advertising and is owned by Odeon and Cineworld, announced very late in the day, well after it had been approved by the appropriate authorities, that the C of E’s commercial should not be shown because it had a policy of not screening religious commercials on the grounds that advertisements reflecting personal beliefs risked ‘upsetting or offending audiences’.