SO THIS is contrarian week, in which we defend both the National Secular Society and Lord Carey.
The NSS had one of the few sane (as opposed to rational) takes on the Prime Minister’s intervention in the great Easter egg row. The splash in Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph had been taken up with the news that Mrs May had condemned the National Trust for “airbrushing Easter” out of its annual promotional stunt with Cadbury, which has just renamed the Easter egg hunt the Great British egg hunt.
When you consider the part that chocolate eggs play in the Passion narrative, this is clearly outrageous, and Mrs May did not stint in her outrage: “I think the stance [the Trust] has taken is absolutely ridiculous and I don’t know what they’re thinking about,” she told ITV News. My thoughts when I read this went to that central moment in one of the Gospels — you know, the one everybody knows, where Jesus took a Creme egg, saying “Take, eat.”
It was the NSS that first noticed the irony of her defence of Christianity on a visit to Riyadh, the capital of a country where Christians must keep their faith well hidden if they are to survive; where people are still executed for “sorcery”; and which is conducting a spectacularly bloody and pointless war in Yemen — using large and very profitable quantities of British weaponry. So, of course, the greatest threat that Mrs May could see to Christian values came from the National Trust.
Culture wars are not such good business as real wars, but they do have the advantage that everyone can win, and in this case did. Mrs May gets to pose as a defender of English values and traditions; the National Trust gets publicity; and so does the Church of England.
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, put out a statement plugging his preferred brand of chocolate Easter egg, and said that John Cadbury had just “had his grave spat on”.
What makes this funny — as well as inaccurate, since Quakers of Cadbury’s generation did not celebrate either Easter or Christmas — is the information supplied to me by a former congregant of the Archbishop’s when he was a vicar in south London. At Easter, he would have the children who could not take communion come to the side of the altar rails, where they would be fed fragments of chocolate Easter egg. This was imaginative, and popular, too, but I wonder whether Cadbury would have felt his grave grow damp.
BUT you cannot have too much synthetic outrage, as the Daily Mail exists to remind us. Until the great egg scandal, the highlight of the week had been Lord Carey’s contribution to the Oxford Literary Festival, where he compared Donald Trump to the Good Samaritan.
Quoted in The Times, Lord Carey said: “Many will recoil at the identification of Donald Trump as the Good Samaritan but why not, why not?
“Is it not true that we have wounded and left-behind communities passed by the elite, who are too distracted and busy with their own agendas, too busy to look over to see someone in distress? And intervention that makes a difference is from a totally unexpected source, the Samaritan, the outsider from a despised sect in Israel.”
The defence for this is that he is only regurgitating the half-understood conventional wisdom of six months ago, when people were still desperately trying to convince themselves that President Trump did not mean all the things he said to get elected.
Now we know that he meant every word, even the ones that he understood. Apart from everything else, he spent last month trying to push through a Bill that would have robbed 24 million Americans of health insurance (and which failed only because elements of the Republican Party thought it too generous). But you cannot expect a world spiritual leader such as Lord Carey to keep up with trivia like the news.
THE story does, though, offer the opportunity to quote the peerless Garrison Keillor, who rewrote the Beatitudes in the voice of Donald Trump for The Denver Post last month: “So He was saying to me, Blessed are the deal-makers for theirs is the kingdom. Big time. Blessed are they who scorn: for they shall be comfortable. Blessed is machismo for it wins again and again. Blessed are they who are persecuted by the dishonest press for they shall continue down the paths of righteousness and that’s what is going on here.
“We are bringing righteousness to Washington for the first time and making incredible progress. I’ve done more in the past month than most presidents do in a year. Washington was without form and void and I issued an executive order, ‘Let there be light’ and did I get credit for it? No, the dishonest press said, ‘It hurts our eyes.’”
I am grateful to the C of E’s outgoing communications director, Arun Arora, for sending in a link to that. Let no one say that the press department at Church House never helps journalists with stories that matter.