God on the Box
Victor Lewis-Smith tunes in to a very special broadcast from up high
All sorts of junk ends up orbiting the planet nowadays, especially TV rubbish, gone to the satellite Spirit in the Sky. The Peripatetic Lobster, Judith Chalmers, still bestrides ten-year-old holiday programmes like an orange Colossus, while the ghastly Paul Ross fronts all manner of long-cancelled game shows, thereby demonstrating that he hasn't lost his Midas touch (everything he touches turns to UK Gold). But for digital trash of the very highest grade, look no further than the two stations emanating from God TV: The God Channel (Sky 671) and God Revival (672). Don't be fooled into thinking that these twin stations are nothing more than harmless and irrelevant nonsense for the bewildered. Founded by Rory and Wendy Alec, both channels broadcast hour upon hour of hate-filled, rabble-rousing, homophobic bigotry, much of it featuring (and funded by) right-wing American evangelists. Before the ITC lost its few remaining teeth, it roundly condemned The God Channel for its denigration of other beliefs, and fined it £20,000 for its denunciations of homosexuality as an abomination.
But nowadays, it is allowed to broadcast without official reproach, while its sister channel, God Revival, preaches explicitly about God's prophetic agenda for Israel, and its plans to reposition the European Church to enable it to fulfil its significant end-time role in Europe and the Middle East. A few minutes spent listening to some of these US preachers (whose influence on the Republican Party is as profound as their theology is shallow) gives a sobering insight into the mindset that is currently determining American foreign policy.
I'm no theologian (unless you count those four years I spent as Archbishop of Canterbury), but I suspect that Jehovah would claim that He was being misquoted if He ever tuned into Friday Night Live on the God Channel. "We welcome you in the precious name of our risen Lord Cheeses", said our hosts, Rory and Wendy, when I watched recently (why do overseas evangellybabies place such a ludicrous over-emphasis on the first syllable of the Saviour's name?), but although they look like a sanctimonious parody of the King and Queen of Stupid Vision (aka Richard and Judy), they're actually even more sinister. You see, this oleaginous and thoroughly dubious couple realised several years ago that there was an awful lot of dosh to be made by bringing US-style televangelism to Europe, and negotiated an exclusive deal with the Almighty (Murdoch), who now broadcasts their twin wall-to-wall Sky Gods. All of which makes them a couple of very Smart Alecs indeed.
Rory introduced us to two of the biggest stars in the UK: "You guys became a phenomena [sic] throughout the UK ... you were a phenomena", and lo, there were Cannon and Ball, telling us solemnly that Jesus died for us (much as they used to die every night during the 70s and 80s, back in the era when this double act with two straight men regularly disgraced our screens). It appears that they are now full of God, having both caught Harry Secombe disease and turned to the Lord to revitalise their moribund careers (a miracle beyond even His awesome powers, I fear). There are very few Christian comedians declared Tommybobby sagely, while Bobbytommy nodded conspiratorially, and suddenly I surmised what must have happened. After a long dark night of the soul (or perhaps an unexpected income tax demand), they'd decided for professional reasons to have a mutual Road to Damascus experience.
There was genuine comedy, however, when a Christian rock band appeared. They're always good for a laugh, because we all know about the wondrous connection between third-rate rock musicians and Christianity. If you've failed in the real rock world, why not turn to Jesus to prop up your flagging career? Learn to love the Lord and he'll reward you with bookings galore on the Christian Festival circuit, where you won't need to be talented, just devout.
Elsewhere, on both stations, the material mainly comes from the US, and features such shadowy luminaries as Morris Cerullo, Benny Hinn, and the exquisitely-named Dr Creflo Dollar, often at rallies where the blind are made to see, and the lame to walk. While claiming to be praying for the sick, they're really preying on them, and the only genuine miracle I ever witness at their huge televised public gatherings is the unerring ability of the preachers to extract thousands of dollars (and now, sadly, euros) from very poor people. It' s what they call sowing a seed for Jesus, and what we sceptics call the miracle of the credit card donation. As the fleecing gets underway, they remind their flocks to make sure to put down their expiration date, which seems odd. Because surely your expiration date is something only the Lord can truly know?
Not long ago, I sat through an hour-long rant from a hysterical minister, whose sermon was so full of bigotry and hate that I half-expected the supporting Christian rock group to be called Ku Klux Klannad. I was so perturbed that I phoned the station afterwards, to ask why the God Digital moves in such mysterious ways, but Rory and Alec were unavailable, and the second-in-command refused even to talk about the ITC codes. So what could I do, except embark on my usual dray about religion having caused most of the ills throughout the history of this unlucky planet, and announce that I am currently suing God under the Trade Descriptions Act on the grounds that, as a very meek person, I should by now have inherited the Earth, yet I still haven't been offered as much as Majorca, or even a slice of Basildon. The man hurled innumerable insults at me, then slammed the phone down. So much for gentle Cheeses, meek and mild. Aren't Christians supposed to turn the other cheek, not give a load of it?