BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
The advantage of church closures this year during lockdowns has been the emergence of Masses and other church services online. “How can virtual services be a positive?” I hear you traditionalists and conservatives chuntering. Well, first up, you can be as rude as you like about a priest’s sermon real-time, without having to put up with the death stares from the blue rinses and those other devotees with their flip-top heads who deem the utterings of parish priests as deific – your tsk-tsking, in contrast, as wicked.
Let’s be blunt. In recent years – in both Catholic and Protestant churches – there has been a shocking spike in socialist nonsense. Perhaps put this down in part to a Marxist reserve Pope and a partisan, low-church Archbishop. More generally, parish priests and vicars have forgotten, or are too dopey and pie-eyed to remember, that ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21). To the new crop of virtue-signalling, dog-collared practitioners of woke, may I most humbly add: ‘Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:1)
These days suffering parishioners routinely hear their religious leaders drone on, often unknowingly, about income inequality and dependency theory while glorifying other Marxist triggers without ever getting to hear the truths of the flip side. What about Capitalism’s dragging paupers from poverty, previously impoverished Africans building their own successful enterprises without charity, the job creation, or the fact we pay piles of taxes and national insurance contributions already which provide a helping hand to the vulnerable via benefits, social services and international aid?
Never in a church have I heard of the growing successes of philanthrocapitalism or the useful moral lessons for children engrained in Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse. It’s all guilt and negativity with Western society and culture portrayed as an irresistibly sinful Babylon – a Wall Street/Love Island cocktail of greed and wickedness served up by grinning Satan himself.
Too often sermons are replete with the same kind of claptrap that you hear in Momentum meetings – the same kind of conspiracy one was bombarded with back in the days of those quasi-religious pro-Corbyn rallies: “Oh the media is so evil”, “You know that nan of mine from Kirby, the one who suffers from terrible thrush? Jeff Bezos earns more money in a millionth of a second than she has in a decade working at Shoezone”, “Let’s show solidarity with poor, one-eyed Ibrahim in Herat who blew up a girl’s school but has done his jail time and now can’t feed his three wives or nineteen children”.
The great irony is that these ‘Christian’ sermon-deliverers and the Corbynites see themselves as the do-gooders and nice. Not that their rigid and ill-thought out ideology has repeatedly reduced parts of the world to a bloodbath. It’s the capitalist strivers who are selfish and sinful, not these Marxist drones who worship their corrupted, red-rose-tinted version of “JC” – when in fact there is more Jesus in the noble balancing of books and emulating the labour and order of the vineyards than there ever was in thieving off the wealthy.
As for Tories – they are all so unchristian and nasty because the man of God says so, despite the fact they’ve likely written the cheques that repaired his church roof, pay for Betty, his housekeeper, and feed his baked bean addiction:
Confess your asininity, father. A hundred Hail Mary’s, two hours’ self-flagellation and a week of Becket’s flea-ridden hair shirt should acquaint even a buffoon like you with humility.
The second positive of virtual church services is that you’re no longer a captive audience. When you are presented with unchristian rot, you can disappear and let your dogs out, go for a comfort break or brew some tea. No-one in the parish knows you’re being unsheeplike. In Catholic churches every now and again – without warning – the sermon is ditched and someone from a charity like CAFOD gets to stand before the congregation. Those bead and tin-rattlers can drone on for ages and have desiccated many a churchgoer’s Sunday roast. You can be guaranteed that the speaker will play the guilt card and refer to the Mercedes and Jaguars parked in the church carpark while discussing children in Mali walking in bare feet for hundreds of miles each day past wild dogs and ferocious hippopotami just to fetch a bucket of water. These “missionaries of Christ” glare at anyone donning brogues or sporting a blazer. Wear a rain-proofed Father Ted woolly jumper from Millet’s like they do and you’ll be fine (same goes for Momentum meetings by the way). Bank on these beggars loitering at the end of Mass within pouncing distance of your pew and trying, like chuggers with their clipboards, to corner you for a direct debit. (Thank God for the eleven o’clock start at mini rugby – always dress your son in rugby gear and tracksuit pre-Mass, or borrow someone else’s mini rugby-playing son or daughter, and then you have the perfect visible excuse for sidestepping these ghastly intruders.)
I recall a few years ago attending a Sunday service in our local C of E church and some awful character dressed in a shiny suit showed up to deliver a ‘guest sermon’. We might as well have been at a Tolpuddle martyrs trade union event, bearing Stalin flags. The speaker rattled on about ‘dirty capitalists’ and ‘the shamefulness of war’ – standing just a few yards from a Great War memorial to the village’s fallen, speaking in the nave of a church built through the generosity of a local mill owner. My blood boiled at this man’s words and animosity. He claimed to be ‘exemplary’ and to have turned his life around – that it was not impossible for us to do the same. I didn’t want my very young children hearing about this fellow’s Damascene conversion in prison after a life spent on drugs and running brothels. That Sunday my family and the au-pair made up just under half of the congregation. I rounded them up and we left while he was still ranting. The vicar was very apologetic afterwards. You see, if it had been a virtual service I could have easily muted this screwball and – being in my home rather than the house of God – typed “BOLLOCKS” real-time in capitals in the comments section.
I am not saying the churches should go full virtual. Social media seems to have been extraordinarily negative for the image of all churches. But then again, perhaps it has been a blessing – a mirror sent by God with which the churches can rediscover the humility of Jesus. The public have got to see the real men and women hiding behind the smoking thurifers and baggy cassocks. Rather than looking up to God’s representatives on earth – up on high in their pulpits – we now see fallible human beings, many of whom are not sufficiently qualified or educated in theology, let alone the trade-offs of the real world, to be able to lecture their flocks. Some of whom have now been exposed as bullies, as bigots or as perverts.
Maybe it is time that all churches received Trip Advisor ratings and comments for their preaching standards – that way we can avoid the frocked Lenins and Luxemburgs and instead opt to attend the services of priests and vicars who do God’s work, rather than misguidedly attempting to encroach on what in this most green and pleasant land will always be Caesar’s. Maybe some part of the future of the great churches can be online – the shepherds, like Jesus, building their flocks through the simplicity of inspiration rather than wokery or the hypocrisy of socialist rebuke.
Dominic Wightman is Editor of Country Squire Magazine.