Giving thanks for the Olympic opening ceremony

By Bernadette Meaden
July 31, 2012

Halfway through the Olympic Opening Ceremony, Paul Mason, Economics Editor of the BBC’s Newsnight tweeted, ‘Entire ceremony has echoes of catholic priesthood who taught Danny (and me) - rerum novarum etc’. I was glad when I read this, as I was beginning to think I’d been imagining it.

Rerum Novarum, a Papal Encyclical dealing with workers rights and the dignity of labour, is probably the stuff of nightmares to a government which has seriously suggested that a way of helping the economy would be to make it easier to sack people, and believes making people work for nothing will create jobs.

Quite apart from the overt celebration of the NHS, which must have had Mr Lansley squirming in his seat, the ceremony came closer to defining a true ‘big society’, than Mr. Cameron has ever done, or one suspects, ever will.

The spiritual values transmitted throughout were uplifting, and remarkable in a secular age. The ceremony was subtly infused with Christian culture, but in a way that was inclusive and respectful of difference.

This inclusiveness evidently resonated with the population. When Conservative MP Aidan Burley, previously most famous for attending a Nazi-themed stag party, tweeted to complain about the multi-cultural nature of the event, he faced a huge backlash which ended with his account being closed.

The joyful celebration of social and ethnic diversity was in stark contrast to the narrow origins and even narrower minds of our current leaders.

In one section of the ceremony after another, selfish individuality was rejected in favour of the communal and collective. As no one person lit the Olympic cauldron, celebrity culture was rejected in favour of the nobility of the average person.

Danny Boyle’s vision of Britain was joyful, profound, generous, and spiritual. We are stuck with a government whose vision is joyless, shallow, mean-spirited and entirely materialistic.

In the streets outside the stadium, this meaner Britain was only too real, Critical Mass cyclists were arrested for using the Olympic Lanes, and reportedly received rough treatment from the police.

There are undoubtedly many ugly aspects of the London Olympics. They have been excessively militarised and sold out to multinational corporations. But that is why, if we were going to have the Games, and we were going to have an Opening Ceremony, the fact that we got the Ceremony we did is something to be thankful for.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about religious, political and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is a regular contributor to Ekklesia.

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