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Religion and the secular Millennium


The quasi-religious fervour with which the government has promoted the Millennium Dome and its contents was only to be expected - but has nonetheless been intriguing. The Prime Minister's plea for every young person in the land to attend the event evoked 'Suffer the little children to come unto me'; the attack on anyone daring to criticise the Dome reminded us of the trouble Doubting Thomas ran into, to say nothing of Judas Iscariot. But just as the dome is an example of what the teacher Kevin Rhowbotham calls non-specific urbanism, so have the religious implications been expanded to become non-specific in a meaningless way. Peter Mandelson, for example, is anxious to explain that without Christianity none of this would be happening - but then says it would be quite wrong to give the New Millennium Experience an explicitly Christian flavour.

The critic Charles Jencks has noted that Britain is not so much a non-Christian country as a postChristian one; our institutions, our constitution and our social arrangements are infused with what has been, for most of the last 2000 years, the most important single informer of our world-view. That is why the question as to whether there should be explicit reference to Christianity in the Dome will continue to be a sore point. If it is inappropriate, then why is this celebration taking place at all?

This is not to argue that the Dome should become a cathedral, far from it. But it is to say that politicians who choose to promote an essentially secular event by dressing it up, formally or subconsciously, in the language and imagery of our religious history, will inevitably attract criticism which cannot simply be dismissed as 'cynical and negative'. If you parade a giant figure, neither man nor woman, as a cultural icon, and then include a little baby who has apparently arrived loin-free, there is only one conclusion to be drawn: inside the Dome we have the second example in history of an Immaculate Conception.

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