Danny Boyle’s Programme Notes

Danny Boyle’s programme notes for the opening ceremony of the Olympics have been circulating on the internet and have already been the subject of much speculation. The last paragraph reads:

But we hope, too, that through all the noise and excitement you’ll glimpse a single golden thread of purpose – the idea of Jerusalem – of the better world, the world of real freedom and true equality, a world that can be built through the prosperity of industry, through the caring notion that built the welfare state, through the joyous energy of popular culture, through the dream of universal communication. A belief that we can build Jerusalem. And that it will be for everyone.

I don’t myself see a political agenda in those words (who could articulate a political agenda in one short paragraph?) but rather a diffuse idealism which is largely Christian in origin and expression. When someone who calls himself ‘spiritually atheist’ draws on the image of Jerusalem to convey his vision of the future, his sense of purpose, we should take notice. The problem for Christians lies in the assumption that men and women have the power to build Jerusalem for themselves. We must do our best, of course we must; but ultimately the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven. It is a gift, given by God; and necessarily so, because at its centre is none other than the Lamb of God.

We no longer have the confidence of our Victorian forebears, who believed in progress and thought the world was getting better and better. Instead, we are vaguely fearful of the future and mistrustful of the solutions proposed by politicians and others. A profound scepticism has taken hold of us. That is why it was refreshing to read Danny Boyle’s programme notes. Yet at the same time I think that more than belief in ourselves is required to bring about the desired end — otherwise all our schemes tend to tumble down around us, like the tower of Babel. Maybe even Danny Boyle has an idea that it may be so. No one else would have dared to incorporate two hymns into the opening ceremony as he did; and though the two he used are well-known football and rugby anthems, the quiet singing of ‘Abide with me’, and the dance into light which accompanied it, suggested a wisdom greater than he may have realised.

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