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Vocal’s Guidelines: a cross we have to bear?

Would a man from 2,021 years ago have got his stories past the moderators?

By Jon McKnightPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
Not the Messiah: Brian and his mother, Mandy, in Monty Python’s The Life Of Brian (Handmade Films)

Vocal is squeamish about religion, judging by the number of members whose stories have been rejected for allegedly infringing its policy on religious content.

After the horrors of Charlie Hebdo, who can blame Jeremy Frommer and his team for being cautious about publishing any material that might upset those who believe blasphemy deserves a death-sentence?

In Vocal’s case, it’s balancing the all-too-obvious risks of upsetting people like that with the lesser one of frustrating Vocal members who’ve gone to a lot of trouble to write content for it, only to receive the notorious “NOT approved” e-mail.

Under the Policy section “Assertion of personal beliefs”, Vocal says it doesn’t accept “any content that takes a religious stance of any kind”.

That’s clear enough... though members have been complaining on forums including The Vocal Creators’ Lounge and the Vocal Media Creators’ Hub about having stories blackballed on religious grounds when they’ve merely been about music as a form of meditation.

If anything, Vocal is guilty of a sin of omission, if omitting to publish stories could ever amount to that.

The problem is where to draw the line.

Throughout history, the leaders of rival religions have claimed that their deity is the only one, and therefore the followers of all other faiths are not only mistaken but fundamentally wrong.

Basic mathematics says they can’t both be right - two faiths each believing that “their” God is the only one and that the “other” one is a fake, an impostor, an invention. Perish the thought!

And countless millions of people around the world devote their lives to a church that was invented by a King who didn’t like the rules of the old one because it wouldn’t let him divorce.

It was a re-branding exercise, the like of which hadn’t been seen since, well, 0 AD, when another activist told the world they’d got it all wrong for 3,000 years and that he’d come to put it right.

Where, I wonder, would he have got if he’d chosen to spread the word by posting on Vocal?

Not far, I should imagine.

And yet his stories have proven undeniably popular over two thousand years, with painstakingly-handwritten one-at-a-time illuminated manuscripts produced by monks and scribes giving way to Gutenberg’s printed versions, and now the internet.

Vocal’s rejection e-mails tend not to be personalised, nor do they give detailed reasons why the content allegedly infringed the rules, but imagine how an evangelical type from a couple of millennia ago might have got on it he had submitted his works to Vocal...

This is how the e-mail might have read, though identities have been withheld for data-protection reasons:

Your story has NOT been approved

Hi, ••••• ••••••,

Your story How to feed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fishes has NOT been approved, and will require the following edits before we can publish it on Vocal:

• Remove all references to a deity (even if he is your father)

• Miracles, and claims relating to them, are in contravention of our Guidelines

• However fervently you hold your personal beliefs, Vocal+ is not the place to assert them

After updating, you may resubmit your story.

By the way, as you have so many followers, why not ask them to ♥ and share your Stories on Vocal+? All those Reads soon add up!

Sent with ♥ from Vocal

2050 Centre Avenue Suite 640, Fort Lee, NJ 07024

* * *

The same poor chap could expect a string of rejections on similar grounds for his Stories My sermon on the Mount (“Vocal does not publish sermons, however well-connected the person delivering them might be”); Even the wind and waves obey me (“Vocal is unable to fact-check the claims in this Story so declines to publish it”); Bad day at Calvary (“Contains graphic scenes of crucifixion and other violence in contravention of Vocal Guidelines”); How to turn water into wine (“Vocal’s moderators have failed to replicate your results in their own experiments, however hard they tried, so deem your claim to be unreliable”); and My most famous after-dinner speech (“Contains references to cannibalism - eating flesh and drinking blood, etc - that we simply cannot recommend to a Vocal audience”).

However, he might have been surprised at one story that Vocal did deign to publish: Why The Life Of Brian is my favourite film.

Unusually, one of the moderators attached a note to the e-mail, revealing the following:

“I’m not supposed to say this, but your Story had us all creased up here in the Vocal Moderators’ Hub (you know, that tiny room with four mirrored walls so it looks like there’s more than two of us), and the praise for the movie meant all the more, coming from you.

“Your unique perspective made it all the funnier when you confirmed, with what you claimed to be the ultimate authority, that no, Brian certainly was not the Messiah and that he was, as widely thought, merely ‘a very naughty boy’.

“Your reminiscences added real depth to your review, too - most notably your comment on the Romanes Eunt Domum scene in which you reminded us that, far from calling yourself for the Romans to go home, you tactfully urged your followers to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and so on.

“And you did well to pick your way through Vocal’s Guidelines, avoiding religious content and concentrating, instead, on what some might label irreligious content. Well done!”

Vocal, of course, is not the only organisation nervous about religious references.

When I was about to be married at The Ritz in London soon after the Millennium, I was told by the Superintendent Registrar that the ceremony could not contain any religious elements of any sort.

I understood that, and accepted it, so wrote my wedding vows extremely carefully.

I had always loved the traditional marriage vows - “To have and to hold, for richer, for poorer”, etc - so I rewrote them with every single reference to religion removed from them.

As an experienced editor, I was scrupulous, and I would defy anyone on the planet to find anything remotely religious about the words I ended up with.

But the Superintendent Registrar who was due to marry us rejected the draft of the vows.

She said it wasn’t her, but the Office of the Registrar-General would not allow the vows to be spoken at a wedding ceremony because they were “still religious”.

With only days to go, I remonstrated with the Registrar-General, and he conceded that there were no mentions of, or allusions to, religion in the vows as I’d rewritten them.

But, he said, anyone hearing them would be reminded of religious ceremonies they’d attended in the past - ie, weddings - and that the words were therefore deemed to be unacceptable.

We didn’t have a prayer.

Not sure if any of this will give any hope to those who’ve been unable to get their Stories approved by Vocal - but if all else fails, you could always pray for divine intervention.

Just don’t tell Vocal!

Jon McKnight is the author of the comic novel A Prize To Die For, available for Kindle in the USA and elsewhere and in his native UK. You can read his other stories here.

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About the Creator

Jon McKnight

I have left Vocal.

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