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Press: Erotic fiction — another way to keep warm in the vicarage

18 February 2022

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THIS column last week included a teaser about the vicar’s wife who writes erotica. She’s still the most unexpected and human voice in this week’s media. She wrote an anonymous piece in the Telegraph about the strains on clergy spouses who start off with middle-class financial expectations.

“When we got married we were both ambitious young professionals, but the birth of our first child coincided with him telling me he wanted to become a vicar.

“We had always been slight churchgoers — our wedding, Christmas, Easter — but suddenly his faith was big and real and I had to take it seriously. Fast forward 15 years and he’s vicar of a surprisingly busy parish, with our children at the excellent church school while I work part-time at the nearby university. . .

“He loves his job and I love him, though I’m not sure if I have any real faith of my own. I’m very proud of him, bringing a parish to life at a time when few people go to church, and our services are packed with all ages.

“Money is an endless problem. Our housing is provided, but the vicarage is old and draughty and heating bills are horrendous, though our council tax is paid. It’s a horrible hand-to-mouth existence and the worry always fell to me, juggling every last penny to afford food and kids’ shoes, never mind school trips and Christmas.

“Four years ago, I was mortified when I had to borrow money from my mother for school uniforms. My husband and I had a huge fall-out as he said I should have ‘trusted the Lord to provide’ rather than borrowing.”

In need of a job she could do in the interstices of her existing freelance work, she turned to writing erotic fiction. It provides, she says, a regular income: “not megabucks”, but one which brings her a peace of mind that she has never found in religion.

Now, of course, I want to read these stories. It seems to me that she has the experience and intelligence to make interesting the bits between the bonks as well.

 

IN ANY case, the story is about the reactions of human beings in the round, which so much of the news is not — probably never can be. I have been reading Charles Arthur’s book Social Warming, about the damage that social networks have done to social capital and to democracy around the world. It is a chilling read, especially damning about the part played by Facebook and WhatsApp in countries that do not use the Western alphabet, such as Myanmar and India.

But, however devastating the effects were in countries that were wholly unprepared both for the technology and for mass ad-supported media, in the developed world, the online world built on habits already established in the conventional media that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter would devastate.

Social media democratised a tone of sneering condescension among commentators — it did not invent it. The reader always wants to feel smarter than the characters they’re reading about. This is what conspiracy theories bring to the forefront: Bill Gates may be clever enough to poison the whole world with so-called vaccines, but you, gentle reader, are even smarter than he is, because you have seen through his cunning plan. . .

Nor did social media invent the qualities that make for a viral story. Print media did their best to find stories that people would want to pass on — “marmalade droppers” or “Hey Marthas” — before social media made it possible for anyone to transmit them to all their friends from their phones.

Much of the speculation and conspiracy theory on social media is ridiculous. It presumes a knowledge that no one could have, not even the supposed conspirators. But when I have been able to see stories from both the inside and the outside, so to say, I have often been struck by how ludicrously ill-informed the most knowledgeable-sounding commentators are.

 

FOR as far back as I can remember, The Spectator has been warning that the Church of England would become a “sect”. In the 1980s, this was a way of arguing against women priests. Now, it is a way of warning against proposed changes to its management structure.

Andrew Tetenbaum, a professor of law at Swansea University, writes: “What is being suggested to the bishops is . . . a church where bishops report to a management hierarchy, and, after a time, have to seek reappointment. A diocesan with unfashionable views might well feel a need for caution if coming up for renewal; and even more so a bishop appointed as a spokesman on, say, Covid, whose views had ceased to reflect those of their line manager.”

It is fun to watch The Spectator disparaging a system that has enabled the Roman Catholic Church somehow to stagger along for 2000 years. But this line of attack will resonate beyond the clergy immediately affected. Managerialism drives out magic, and people come to church for glimpses of another world, not of yet another bureaucracy.

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