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Press: Monuments fixation keeps comment churning

21 May 2021


I HAD to help with an obituary of someone I loved last week — well, “had to” is false: I wanted her memorialised — and, as I chattered away, I quite forgot that this was a transaction. It was a transaction partly with the journalist, who wanted a story, and, behind him, with thousands of readers who had paid a pound or two for something to entertain them. Everyone involved behaved perfectly well and professionally. Even the comments online were uniformly kind.

But, when the story was printed, I still felt a horrible lurch, a sort of buyer’s remorse, when I realised that all this narrative, once private, or at least confined to a circle where it was information as well as entertainment, had now been horribly exposed. All the quotes, and even all the facts, were true, and none was malicious. But they still were out of context — not intellectually, but emotionally. And I think that every civilian who appears in the media must feel like this. It’s good for us in the trade to be reminded of it.


THE New York Times traced the outbreak of the present Palestinian revolt to an incident last month, on Israel’s Memorial Day, which honours soldiers who died fighting for their country (and, by implication, for the present occupation). It was also the first day of Ramadan. The Israeli President was due to deliver a speech at the Wailing Wall. This might have clashed acoustically with Muslim evening prayer; so a squad of police officers entered the mosque and simply cut the wires to its loudspeakers. It’s difficult to imagine a more inflammatory gesture, but I don’t think any English paper picked it up. This is an excellent example of the blindness that comes over news organisations that don’t pay attention to other people’s sacred values.


THE only religious story that many papers recognise at the moment is entirely about symbols and sacredness. Church politics has nothing to do with it. It’s the statues, stupid (Press, 14 May). “Woke” has now to fulfil exactly the same function as “trendy” did 30 or 40 years ago; so we know that it will pass into a similar oblivion in time. In the mean time, it keeps the comment churning.

There were letters in the broadsheets, of which the most perfectly fruitcake came from Ewan Wauchope, in the Telegraph: “Most people commemorated in churches and churchyards paid for their memorials (Letters, May 13), and indeed paid more according to the prominence and size. They also paid on the understanding that they would be, as far as possible, permanent.

“If the Church of England is going to move or remove such monuments, it will presumably be returning the money it received to the heirs or descendants of those commemorated, based on the equivalent amount in today’s money. Failure to do so means the Church has obtained and retained money under false pretences.”

This is clearly a far worse crime than enriching yourself from the slave trade.

And then there were the professional chunterers, like Simon Heffer in The Sunday Telegraph, who teed off about the guidance on hymns in schools: “Those of us (and I speak as an atheist) who thought one of the purposes of religion was to make people feel guilty about having done things frowned upon by the Bible, and to expect God to be both unhappy about our behaviour but to forgive us our trespasses, will wonder what is wrong with a little discomfort. Apparently, the halfwits who run the Church of England (and are running it into the ground) feel it is dangerous because ‘there should be no assumption of Christian faith in those present.’

“In a Church of England school, it is surely a reasonable assumption that the children are there because their parents subscribe to the basic tenets of the Church of England and the Christian faith.”

Actually, this is a completely unreasonable assumption, as anyone who knows about the state of English education could have told him. The proportion of Church of England schools in the system is multiply greater than the proportion of even nominal Christians among parents of school age, and ten or 20 times as large as the proportion of churchgoers.

Of course, this is all the fault of the Archbishops. Or, as Peter Hitchens put it in The Mail on Sunday, “the Church of England, whose current leader is caught up in a Maoist campaign to get rid of politically suspect monuments. For the moment,” he reassured his readers, “you are reasonably safe from this if you keep quiet. But I am genuinely unsure how long that can last.”

Common sense will soon be illegal. You read it there first.

Hitchens had been riffing off the story of the Revd Dr Bernard Randall (News, 14 May), a former school chaplain (at an independent Christian school) whose cause has been taken up by Christian Concern. But those two last words mean that it is impossible to believe the story without hearing from the other side. Experience suggests that it would be wise to wait for the employment tribunal to rule.

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