Christians - well, most of them anyway - can certainly laugh at themselves, says Garth George.
A flash of anger ... then sadness ... then perplexity over why anybody would choose to produce a scurrilous - nay, blasphemous - so-called comedy about the central characters in the biblical Christian story.
Those were my reactions on Monday morning on reading Paul Simei-Barton's review in this newspaper of a performance at a tin-pot Auckland theatre of a production called Christ Almighty!
With the review I have no argument. Simei-Barton begins by reminding us of the Christian polemicist G.K. Chesterton's belief that the test of a good religion is whether it can laugh at itself, then suggests that that principle is sorely tested by this production.
And so it is. We Christians - well, most of us anyway - can certainly laugh at ourselves, because we don't take ourselves too seriously.
We do, however, take our faith seriously, and while we rarely have issues with irreverence, many of us find downright pornographic profanity deeply offensive and, for some, profoundly hurtful.
I'm rather surprised that there hasn't been an outcry from offended Christians, but after The Life of Brian, the Virgin in a Condom "artwork" and the South Park episode ridiculing the Pope, perhaps those inclined to protest have learned the futility of such action.
Simei-Barton's review makes another good point: that if such blasphemies were aimed at the Prophet of Islam the consequences would be dire.
How about, instead of portraying Joseph as perhaps having an improper relationship with his donkey, "some virgin who claims she's been knocked up by God" and a cross-dressing angel, the writers could have chosen to make a farce out of Muhammad and his harem and his prurient interest in his camel.
Just image the outcry that would create, and not just from followers of Islam, whose fury would be cataclysmic, but from parsons and politicians and the public at large, including, I'll bet, a lot of those obscure wannabes who took part in Christ Almighty!
The thing I find most disturbing about this latest denigration of Christianity is that tens of thousands of New Zealanders will be deeply hurt by it - again, since it's only the latest of several.
The Virgin Mary and her fiance Joseph - for Christians, examples of profound faith in God, selfless courage and cheerful obedience - are universally admired by Protestants, and venerated by Catholics.
No one seems to be concerned that the salacious slurs cast upon these revered historical figures might bring real distress to thousands of believers, reduce many to tears and drive others to their knees in lamentation and to beseech God to forgive the perpetrators.
But, I suppose, it's not surprising. Jesus himself warned his original disciples that they and their faith would often be ridiculed, and we modern disciples can expect the same. However, on the bright side, we Christians can be grateful that, unlike those early followers, we are not persecuted in this country - yet.
Another article that took my eye on Monday recorded that a free Christmas play for Wellington children in Child, Youth and Family care contained swear words and sexual references.
With their foster parents, the 140 children, the youngest of whom was 6, watched the entire opening night of An Adagio Christmas at a Wellington theatre. The play, the report said, contained use of the "f" word and one character spoke of losing her virginity and mimed a slapstick orgasm.
And all Ray Smith, head of Child, Youth and Family, had to say was that despite the suggestive themes, the children loved the show. No wonder we have so many problems with our children and those charged with their care.
But enough of this madness. Let us instead look again at those awesome words of the Virgin Mary in a prayer so wondrous, so charged with worship, faith, courage and obedience, that it has long been known as The Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.
Those inspiring words will survive to bring comfort and hope long after the script of Christ Almighty! - conceived out of the ignorance of dark, tiny minds - has sunk without trace into the garbage heap of history.By Garth George Email Garth