When Shrimps Learn to Whistle: Elton John as Cultural Philosopher


Well-known cultural philosopher Elton John has proclaimed that organized religion should be banned. Good for him.

Iain T. Benson

Like other contemporary philosophers/theologians such as Madonna, Rupert Everett and Bono, it is refreshing that the glitterati are expounding their informed and contemplative views for the masses on such topics as church history, anthropology, global warming, poverty, philosophy, theology and how to live the good life as a rich person without being consumed by guilt while, in fact, expending obscene amounts on what would keep millions alive were it not spent selfishly.

The proximate reason for Sri (or is that “sir”?) Elton’s recent foray into intellectual history is a gay issue of Music Monthly and, of course, CBC carries some of it here.

Sir John states as follows: "Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays." For an age of sound bites this does not even qualify as a nibble yet it seems to be substantial enough for the BBC and CBC to republish……one wonders why.

Reading this kind of tripe, one wishes that Sir Elton, who is most definitely “out”, had stayed most definitely in and well away from microphones and journalists — even those as insightful as Jake Shears, who did this supposed “interview” and whom the CBC site tells us is “… the openly gay frontman for the U.S. dance-rock group Scissor Sisters.” Thanks for that.

But serieux (Sir Elton writes from the “south of France”)….might there be just the teensy weensiest bit of distinction between, say, the organized Taliban and the organized views of other stripes of “organized religion?” There are those who say, for example, “any signs of unjust discrimination against homosexuals should be rejected.” Insufficient for our Elton, however, Ban them, ban them, ban them is his musical mantra (lyrics by Bernie Taupin)…….

To the mouse-trap minds of the contemporary politically correct crowd, where Sir Elton sits like a kind of carrot-haired buddha, looking more like a Spitting Image caricature than the real thing, any stigma will do to beat a dogma, and it is just not worth looking too closely to see if there might be qualifications in order before pronouncing overbroad statements. Yesterday it is Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris (more on them in future issues) seeing religion as the root cause of human violence; today it is Sir Elton castigating from his stately pleasure dome in the South of France, ALL religions as “promoting hatred and spite against gays.”

For he, bless his little famous silk socks, won’t qualify his prejudice with justice or his ignorance with facts.

What about all those who work in the service of gays in relation to Aids around the world who are in fact religious? Does Sir Elton have any idea of the thousands, perhaps hundred of thousands, of religious institutions and people who provide comfort and assistance to the many gay people dying of Aids around the globe? How does he reconcile this with his publicized statements about religions? It seems that he doesn’t. Has he any idea of such places as, for example, St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, to take but one example of many, where a religious institution (in this case Catholic) and the people who work there, serve the very group the pop-singer/philosopher says exist to trash them.

Sir Elton, a word if you please? Would you get out of your glorified porcelain-collecting life and take a little trip down to Mandeni in Kwa-Zulu Natal? There you will find that the only hospice serving Aids victims (gay and heterosexual — care is not given on the basis of one’s sexual proclivities) is run by a — shock, horror — Catholic Priest — a missionary Benedictine monk in fact! Imagine. He must be taking time off his promoting of hatred and spite against gays to nurse them — or maybe he just forgot to be spiteful? Go figure.

That very priest’s wonderful assistant, Clare Kalkwarf (written about earlier in this spot), a devoted Catholic, was murdered in her home last December — a religious woman, in fact, dedicated to serving the poor in a world of spite and hatred — but it was not she who hated and had spite but those who ultimately murdered her. Perhaps if she had lived in the south of France and collected rare vases while holding forth about the world she would not have died. Alas for her that she actually practiced what others of her religion preached.

One could go on but wouldn’t want to make Elton’s eyes spin with facts that might confuse the poor cove but they are there by the score if he would bother to look at them.

For he, bless his little famous silk socks, won’t qualify his prejudice with justice or his ignorance with facts. Like so many he will simply reiterate the same old tired shibboleths against religion in general and religious people in particular that mark our times and are, as a result, another very worrying sign of the age in which we live — and these easily delivered statements will, because of his celebrity, be passed on by those whose slavish devotion to fame and wealth blinds them to the sorry spectacle of rank and inexcusable anti-religious prejudice.

It is, in fact, sobering to consider that, as is the way with the world right now, Sir Elton John might well die in the loving care of the very sorts of people he has accused of being spiteful and full of hate. Sadly, should that day come, it will be, by then, too late for him to make a public statement correcting his earlier nonsense.


Benson, Iain T. "When Shrimps Learn to Whistle: Elton John as Cultural Philosopher". CentreBlog Volume 127 (November 15, 2006).

Reprinted from the Centre for Cultural Renewal's blog, "CentreBlog", with permission of the author, Iain Benson.


Iain T. Benson is Executive Director of the Centre for Cultural Renewal, an Ottawa-based "think-tank". He travels and lectures widely in North America and overseas on philosophical, theological and legal issues related to "strategic cultural renewal." Iain Benson is a member of the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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