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Complete Word of God furore - Ulster's puritan tradition is alive and well


The play was due to be staged in the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey

The play was due to be staged in the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey

The play was due to be staged in the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey

This newspaper is well aware of the very deep faith that many people in this province hold and would never seek to demean their spiritual leanings. Yet the decision to cancel the staging of a comedy, The Bible, The Complete Word of God (abridged), in Newtownabbey has made us a laughing stock, not just nationally, but also internationally.

This is the first time that the show, by the acclaimed Reduced Shakespeare Company, has ever been cancelled during its 20 years of existence or during its current 42-venue UK tour. The decision, amazingly taken by the artistic committee of Newtownabbey Borough Council, is an iniquitous denial of freedom of expression and, worse, breathtakingly puerile.

Yes, the show pokes fun at the Bible – in the same sort of vein as the Monty Python film Life Of Brian all those years ago – but it is a very dull Christian indeed who does not possess a sense of humour. This is not an attempt to undermine anyone's beliefs. Indeed, anyone's faith which could not stand up to a few jokes is very weak.

But the artistic committee in Newtownabbey is even weaker. It argues that it decided to pull the plug because the DUP would have banned the show anyway when it came to the full council meeting and the party would also have tried to take control of the committee.

It would be a very bloodless coup, if this is an example of the determination of the committee to fight for artistic freedom.

Once again Northern Ireland's image is of an illiberal region where fundamentalist killjoys hold sway. Those killjoys might well argue that we wouldn't make jokes about the Koran, so why should we about the Bible.

That is an argument barely worth dismantling but here goes. We live in a supposedly modern secular society where the idea of fatwas against those with whom we disagree is anathema. But, obviously, there are some who feel that freedom of expression is a dangerous thing which must be stamped out.

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This is a dark day for Northern Ireland.

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