There’s much to hate about this year’s Olympics – the endless flag-waving coverage, the muffled gentrification and stifling of dissent, the ‘Lisa Simpson mid-fellatio’ emblem. What I hadn’t realized till Thursday though, when a relative forwarded an email they were sent, was that the devil and his forces are behind the torch procession.
‘You mentioned going to see the Olympic torch’, and friend had written. ‘Maybe this lengthy prayer guide might be helpful.’ (Having known the writer in question over a decade, I can promise you the latter sentence wasn’t ironic.) The tract in question from a Christian named Mark Maddock, was attached and demands perusal in full if you’ve time to spare – click the image for a PDF – but the following extract tells you everything.
I’d be interested to know just what those ‘many problems’ are, which Maddock and his admirers expect to arise from a symbol of Ancient Greek deities coming to Britain. What happened, he asks, when the torch last traveled to our shores in 1948? ‘It went out!’ Perhaps he shouldn’t panic, then – demonic plans can’t be all that worrying if thwarted by wind.
I blog this not because it’s topical, well written or impactful in itself – it isn’t – but because it’s real. I refer to Christianity’s impact on the world with my parents, and I’m told it’s ‘only a small, extreme’ element; I hear Alain de Botton speaking, and he dismisses the relevance of whether beliefs are true; I go online, and see Richard Dawkins bashed for only interviewing ‘the craziest believers he can find’. (Not true, of course. I’ve known him interview Rowan Williams, Richard Harries and Alister McGrath, to name a few, none of whom operate on the ‘craziest’ wing of Christendom, though it’s a relative term.)
Here’s the thing: these people are real. By the international rates of Catholic condom-avoidance, Jewish and Islamic genital-cutting and evolution denial even in developed countries, the Christian tendencies which liberals call marginal are actually the mainstream. And yes, it’s doubtless a tiny percentage of British Christians who think like Mark Maddock thinks, but there are tens of millions of British Christians; if only one in a hundred thinks Olympic torches are satanic, that’s still 300,000 by conservative estimates – enough, if well organized, to campaign or prosthelytise effectively. And organised, by Andrea Williams among others, they are becoming.
If you’ve been in an atheist society, campaigned for queer or female rights or staged a blasphemous play, you’ll have met these people. If you’ve been to a church, even a fairly mainstream one, for any length of time, you’ll have encountered some. If you were raised by believers, if you’ve worn a secular t-shirt in the street or been in flame wars on the internet, you’ll meet these people. And no doubt some of the people planning the Games will have met them too. We can’t ignore these believers any longer, or pretend that being rare per religious capita means they don’t matter.
These people are real. If the Olympics teach people anything, let’s hope it’s that.