I HOPE to return next week to the obituaries for Jack T. Chick, the demented fundamentalist author of hundreds of little cartoon tracts that taught Richard Dawkins all he knows about Christianity.
But his death was announced almost too late for the column, and the only one I could find was in the Los Angeles Times: “Chick managed to offend Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and Freemasons, who found their beliefs discounted, ridiculed or condemned as false — or worse.
”‘Learn how the papacy helped start Islam, only to have this new daughter rebel against her. You’ll understand the Arab’s place in Bible prophecy. Muslims have been saved by reading this book,’ says the blurb for one pamphlet on the Chick Publications order website.”
This is not up to the highest standards of American deadpan journalism. These are displayed in the side column, which had a classic headline of its kind: “Driver in tour bus crash that killed 13 found fans among gamblers but amassed checkered safety record”.
If you read on, the driver’s safety record is not so much chequered as completely pixellated: “Vides [the driver] had been previously sued at least twice for negligence after collisions with vehicles, one of which resulted in three deaths. His company received at least six ‘unsatisfactory’ ratings from the California Highway Patrol. Vides had also been cited in several counties for traffic violations.”
IT IS still slightly easier to tell satire from reality in this country.
”Muslim leader jailed for life after hiring hitman to kill mosque rival”, was the Guardian headline on a story about a property dispute. “A Muslim leader has been jailed for life after hiring a hitman to execute his rival in cold blood following a bitter dispute over control of a controversial mosque.
”Khalid Rashad, 63, a Muslim convert, is the brother of Liz Mitchell, the lead singer in the 1970s band Boney M, famous for disco hits such as ‘Rivers of Babylon’, ‘Rasputin’ and ‘Daddy Cool’.
”She appeared as a character witness in his trial, held in January this year, explaining how they had grown up in a large Christian family in Jamaica.”
The murder was originally blamed on President Assad.
IT IS difficult for purely Anglican news to compete with this. Seldom do we obtain the text messages wherein archdeacons order the elimination of a troublesome organist. Poor John Bingham in the Telegraph did his valiant best with Rowan Williams: “Britain’s shallow, celebrity-obsessed culture could leave as toxic a legacy for future generations as the pollution of the planet, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, has warned.
”Today’s children are growing up in a culture with few if any real ‘heroes’, he said, while ideas of ‘nobility’ and even ‘honour’ are quietly disappearing. The result could be as damaging to the nation’s ‘moral and imaginative ecology’ as the destruction of the environment, he argued.”
I think the fact that all of the key terms had to be placed in scare quotes rather proves Lord Williams’s point. But it’s a grim life for a religious correspondent when you have to ransack a collection of essays on the legacy of Octavia Hill to find a news story.
ALTERNATIVELY, you could more or less reproduce a press release, breaking it up with passages of random cliché, as India Sturgis did for the Telegraph story on the latest campaign of the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek. “Bishop Rachel, 53, is on a crusade. . . For the Church, this is uncharted territory, and another strident move by the most senior Anglican clergywoman. . .
”Dressed in a purple crushed-velvet jacket, purple clerical smock, gently mauve lipstick, silver rings, and black knee-high boots, Bishop Rachel is leading by example. Earlier this year, she made headlines for having her bishop’s jacket nipped in by a tailor so that it had a more feminine line.”
And so on. The crusade itself is actually a perfectly sensible campaign against vanity, or “body image” as it is known on social media.
On its front page on Saturday The Guardian put the news that the Muslim Council of Britain was going to mount its own rival to the Prevent programme against radicalisation, which is widely criticised for targeting Muslims — though, of course, the Muslim Council of Britain would never say that.
It is undeniable that Prevent is deeply and possibly widely unpopular, especially among academics who find themselves forced to spy on their students.
AND so, to end, another example of American deadpan, from a report of a charity dinner at which Cardinal Dolan found himself seated between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, both of whom were meant to be making comic speeches.
The New York Times reports: “Mr Trump’s concession to self-deprecation was to jokingly compare his career with the Son of God, remarking that he, too, started as ‘a carpenter working for his father’.”