Religions have always made good use of theatre. Music exerts its seductive power
in most halls of worship and, usually, congregations are invited to join in. A shared
pleasurable experience bonds people together in just the same way that members of
an audience talk about a film they have attended, or spectators relive a match they’ve
seen. Even a scary story stimulates and binds us together - united in adversity whether
by Hitler or ‘the Devil’.
Houses of worship are often made of dimensions and surface materials to reverberate
sound enabling the preacher, standing at the focus, to be heard everywhere and the
singing to be impressive, encouraging participation. In fact, the churches that have
kept up to date with musical trends are the most successful. The decline in Anglican
attendance may have had something to do with the retention of the old church organ
- cutting edge in its time but long since superceded in popular esteem by the electric
guitar. The growing Evangelical Christian movement uses a rock band style of accompaniment;
do you think that’s helping recruitment?
The visual experience is usually exciting too with the main players often wearing
impressive outfits of the best colours and most expensive threads. Gold and silver
is often visible and fine works of art can be seen, even on the ceiling. Religious
gatherings may also include story telling, ritualistic calls and responses, food,
drink, dancing, fiery candles, fragrances and even sacrifice! They try to stimulate
all the senses and make a memorable performance. All of this encourages attendees
to put on their ‘Sunday Best’ and the meeting becomes an occasion. In the days before
cinema, television and the internet, attending a religious event was the highlight
of the week.
In many countries it still is. It’s even more
special at the time of religious festivals.
The festivals are an interesting
phenomenon. Early Christians
arriving in Britain sensibly made their
new religion more palatable by merging
it with the existing Pagan celebrations
of Saturnalia (Christmas), the Great
Mother Goddess Eostre (Easter) and
haverfest or harvest time (Michaelmas).
The dates are all a bit suspect partly because we have had three major changes of
calendar in the last two millennia. An early Roman calendar had ten months and a
winter gap! Then July and August were added, named after Emperors Julius and Augustus
and, later, it was decided to start the year in January instead of the third week
of March - no wonder there’s confusion!
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Have you ever wondered what is the difference between a prayer and a spell?
The weird notion that
mere recitation can actually
achieve something is losing
credibility in educated
societies. Speech is just a
tiny vibration in the air.
Rational people are able to
perceive that words are cheap
- we can voice something we don’t mean and renege on it later. Even written contracts
can be broken. Some people are giving up on the religious vows of baptism, marriage
and funerals. This is bad news for the priests who have insinuated themselves into
the landmark occasions of our lives for a fee - they’re losing income!
What matters is actions! Don’t you think an act of loyalty counts more than a promise