Comment: Benjamin Cohen’s Lent Talk wasn’t blasphemous, we should celebrate its broadcast by the BBC

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After my first article was published earlier this week on advocating that Benjamin Cohen’s Lent Talk for BBC Radio 4 was in no way blasphemous, I was eager to listen to the broadcast.

The Christian Institute had also weighed into the argument, describing Benjamin’s forthcoming broadcast as a “new low.”

So after all this unintended publicity, I struggled to find evidence within the broadcast of the blasphemy to which Christian Concern alluded, or indeed any evidence of the stench of moral corruption that a new low would suggest.

Indeed, the inflammatory remarks of these organisations represent no more than mischievous innuendo.

I loved the broadcast. I’ll tell you why.

At the outset, Benjamin Cohen made it clear that he was not a Christian, but a Jew, and therefore could not endorse the Trinity, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, he explained that as a Jew, he could not endorse Jesus as the Son of God. So, the listener knows at the outset they are not getting an unadulterated party political broadcast for the Christian party. Rather, they are getting the view of an unbiased outsider, looking into the window of their world and faith.

Benjamin also speaks movingly about his education at a Christian prep school, and how their nativities, with the wise men bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh were the most Jewish nativities you could ever imagine depicted.

What brought me great joy during this part of the broadcast was that there was no hint of division or separation in Benjamin’s voice.

On the contrary, there seemed to me equality and integration in Benjamin’s school, of Christians and Jews alike. So while it may not be a story of depicting the Son of God for all, it definitively has resonance and familiarity for people of faith, as well as those of none at all.

I see nothing blasphemous so far, nor anything that signifies a new low.

Benjamin also speaks movingly of his struggle in being Jewish in a predominantly Christian environment, more in a ritualistic way than a fierce, negative, ideological opposition. He struggled mainly with parts of the Christian Church like saying the Lord’s Prayer, which are not part of the doctrine of his faith.

This also partly alludes to struggles with being a gay Jew he alludes to. As I suggested in my first article, coming out is not easy, especially when coming out directly opposes the most Holy doctrine of your faith, in Benjamin’s case, the Torah. Benjamin suggests in his talk that Leviticus challenged him and his Jewish faith when it exhorted that “Man shall not lie with another man” as this would be considered an abomination.

For Benjamin, this contrasted with earlier jubilation he felt after the 25 hour fast of Yom Kippur. It was a testing time for him, he felt and he was extremely worried at the prospect of possible family abandonment.

I think all of us in the LGBT community have a fear of difference, and the possibility of damage to familial or other relationships that we hold dear in our hearts.

There is a cost to actions we take, and abandonment is one of them. The classic reaction, of course is to try and fit in with the norms and values of your given culture, as nobody wants to be seen as the outsider, or to effectively have the door slammed shut in your face.

Psychologically, we all need to belong to society in some ways.

Benjamin was especially worried, as although there are some Jewish scholars and Rabbis who believe that Leviticus refers to male rape, or scholars who believe that it is out of date and out of touch with modernity, there are a great many that also believe the Torah is the literal word of God and should be read as such.

I can empathise with Benjamin here, since prior to transition, my former stepfather told me I was a disappointment to him as a man. Now, he was emotionally abusive across the board anyway, but knowing I had failed a test in his eyes was like an emotional knife wound. I wanted to please him, please my mother and thus maintain the status quo.

Since though, I am happy to report I have prospered.

Benjamin admits he was lucky, and his family supported him. This for me is a double edged sword, and not for the reason you might expect, that of jealousy.

I think it is sad, and a sad indictment on our 2013 modern society when one has to feel lucky to express their sexuality, but also, this could be argued to be a very Western viewpoint when you stop to consider that in many countries across the globe, homosexuality is still illegal, and punishable by torrid means.

I think everyone should be free to express their sexuality as they choose, and far from being a new low, it is conversely a complete high as one would hope that the end result would be a person feeling happy, content and whole.

The imagery of Jesus and the Crucifixion clearly figures highly on Benjamin’s mind, since the famous Biblical messianic text is quoted “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

It is a Messianic text as foretold in the Psalms.

All LGBT people, and to some extent all minority groups fear abandonment in relation to mere circumstance over which they have no control.

Therefore, our sense of utter catharsis when that abandonment does not occur is palpable, truly.

Lastly, Benjamin ends with the image of the crucifix with Jesus looking down upon him when he convenes meetings of his local gay Jewish group in his garden, as he lives next door to a Catholic church.

I think love is something all faiths can agree on as something vital and crucial to their creeds. I think all people can do similar.

But those who alleged blasphemy or suggested that depths of a new low had been plundered to me were left wanting in the extreme.

Like Jesus, and like his family, Benjamin’s message was one of love, and hope, especially for the young LGBT population. I applaud Radio 4 and the BBC for having the courage of its convictions, and broadcasting it in the face of protest.

I also applaud Benjamin for speaking out since I feel sure that he will have received condemnation from within his own Orthodox Jewish Community for speaking out so powerfully, and on a national platform.

In closing, I have a message for the naysayers. You said the broadcast was blasphemous, and a new low.

I say, your blasphemy is simple fear. Fear of change and the unknown, not to mention bigotry. I believe that a Conservative translation of the Bible is bigoted, and robs it, or indeed any other religious text of its beauty.

One has to accept that when they choose dogma over enlightenment, they become isolated.

I find the idea of a new low baffling. But you see, for organisations like Christian Concern and The Christian Institute every step towards inclusivity is a low. For it represents a diminution of their brand of Christianity, and makes them hypervigilant.

Their view of Christianity is monolithic. Mine is pluralistic. There is room for more than one view of Christian doctrine, or indeed any other faith’s doctrine.

The fact that through the medium of radio, this idea is being offered up for consideration via Benjamin Cohen and BBC Radio 4 should be celebrated.

As for new lows and blasphemy, they are not the fault of LGBT people. but the fault of perception, and the free choice all were given. Think about it.

You can listen to Benjamin Cohen’s Lent Talk here