WE MUST all make sacrifices, as the Druid said to The Guardian when he was asked about the closure of Stonehenge.
The Washington Post took this idea and ran with it, in an op-ed by Tara Isabella Burton: “The story recurs in nearly every mythological system: Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to guarantee good winds to sail to the battle of Troy; human sacrifice was an integral part of Aztec religious rituals; Christians hold that Jesus of Nazareth died for the sins of all mankind. In each case, we see the hallmarks of religious sacrifice: Give up the lives of a few to rebalance society.
“And in a televised appearance Tuesday, Trump proclaimed, ‘I would love to have’ business as usual resume ‘by Easter,’ to which Fox News’s Bill Hemmer replied — blending the ecclesiastical with the civil — ‘That would be a great American resurrection.’”
The piece swerves through the largely forgotten — because it is taken for granted — history of the distinctively American faith that the universe is governed by wish fulfilment, and, if you only want something badly enough, the universe will be obliged to give it you. It ends: “[the] willingness to sacrifice lives to the economy doesn’t come from nowhere. These ideas about financial prosperity — not just our ability to eat or house ourselves, but to consume products that reify our identities — are encoded in our culture, and have been for generations.
“In imagining an economic resurrection, Trump is sending a message that America values material thriving more than public health. Should he get his way and the pews fill up on Easter, the god worshiped that day won’t be that of any church, synagogue or mosque, but of the marketplace.”
I do wish that British papers would publish that kind of serious treatment of religious ideas; if any British paper did, it would be in the spirit of laughing at those dreadful fundamentalists, whereas the Post admits that most of its readers half-subscribe to these beliefs, and no one more than the millennials, who are supposed to have outgrown religion.
There really does seem to have been some danger that President Trump would announce that the emergency was over on Easter Day after he had seen a performance by an Evangelical pastor preaching to an empty megachurch.
IN THIS country, the closing of all Anglican church buildings, even for private prayer (News, 27 March), provoked some backlash. The only justification I have heard was a story of one large Evangelical church, which proposed to get round the ban on services by inviting the congregation to come and join private prayer at 10.30 on Sunday.
This has clearly been an instinctive reaction among some Charismatics: in the New York Times, Katherine Stewart wrote: “Guillermo Maldonado, who calls himself an ‘apostle’ and hosted Mr. Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person. ‘Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,’ he said.”
None the less, it seems to me completely absurd to close all England’s churches and cathedrals to private prayer. These are places where social distancing is easier even in normal times than in any popular park. They offer a kind of refreshment unavailable almost everywhere else. And the blanket ban makes the Church look completely powerless and unable to offer any of the resources that its buildings make it uniquely able to provide the community.
QUITE the oddest and most memorable read of the week came from the website of the London Review of Books, which has been putting up pieces from the archives which have nothing whatever to do with the virus. In this spirit, it gave us Lorna Sage’s reminiscence of her clerical grandfather, from 1993. Readers who idealise the church of the 1940s and ’50s had better stop here.
“Grandfather’s skirts would flap in the wind along the churchyard path, and I would hang on. He often found things to do in the vestry, excuses for getting out of the vicarage (kicking the swollen door, cursing) and so long as he took me he couldn’t get up to much. I was a sort of hobble; he was my minder and I was his. He’d have liked to get further away, but petrol was rationed. The church was at least safe. My grandmother never went near it — except feet first in her coffin, but that was years later, when she was buried in the same grave with him. Rotting together for eternity, one flesh at the last after a lifetime’s mutual loathing. . .
“He was good at funerals, being gaunt and lined, marked with mortality. He had a scar down his hollow cheek too, which grandma had done with the carving knife one of the many times when he came home pissed and incapable.”
I’d love to read the PCC statement of requirements which came up with that couple.