There has been some controversy in South Africa regarding 5FM’s DJ Gareth Cliff who announced on air the other day that “God is petty”, in response to the story of Gillian Gibbons who was arrested in Sudan for naming a teddy bear Mohammed. Some Christians are up in arms, and I was recently invited – by an old friend who apparently isn’t aware of my de-conversion – to join a Facebook group that aims to get Gareth off the air.
I can see Gareth’s reasoning behind his comment: why should the almighty creator of the universe (let it be Allah or Yahweh) get so upset over what mortal humans say? Surely God, if he exists, is more mature that that? Anyway, although I believe that anyone has the right to proclaim their religious views (after all, we live in a democratic society), I think Gareth displayed a show of distasteful arrogance when he responded via email to a listener who complained about his original comment. Gareth allegedly wrote back to the complainant: "Stop sprouting nonsense. There is no god. There is no tooth fairy and there is no Father Christmas." Now, I have no problem with someone openly declaring their religious views, but I do have a problem when things start getting personal. Question a belief all you want, but show some sensitivity when dealing with individuals. That’s my approach, at least.
While reading the comments posted on the anti-Gareth Facebook group, I had the following thoughts regarding issues of public ‘blasphemy’.
All this fuss to get Gareth off the air – including all the email petitions, the Facebook group, letters to newspapers, complaints on radio – is somewhat self defeating. I don’t listen to 5FM, and before all the controversy I didn’t really know much about Gareth at all. But now I’m tempted to listen to his show just to hear what all the fuss is about. I wonder how many additional listeners are now tuning in to hear him speak. In their attempt to get Gareth off the air, Christians have simply given him a lot of free publicity.
Bigger fish to fry?
It’s amazing how many different denominations join forces and mobilise with such efficiency when something like this happens. Church groups join together to draw up petitions, preachers call on their congregations to boycott the media, churches march in protest, etc, etc. I often wonder how effective the Christian church would be if they put as much energy and zeal into fighting more pressing problems. I know some churches do good work in in improving society, but imagine if the same kind of mass mobilisation from different denominations was used to fight issues such as crime, unemployment or poverty. Imagine the difference it would make!
That’s my two cents worth on this issue. I think Gareth needs to improve his PR skills, but I also think he should not be punished for what he said on air. Christians also need to realise that all their efforts to get him off air are in vain – they are simply making him more famous.