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Tuesday, June 30, 2009


"Do you think any of your predecessors would have dropped everything and gone up to London because a bunch of hysterics carrying candles needed help with their grief?"  The observation of the Queen Mother, or in any case the character of the Queen Mother in Stephen Frears and Peter Morgan 2006'sThe Queen.  The hysterics then were mourning the death of Princess Diana.  The hysterics are back, perhaps some of the same, mourning Michael Jackson.  Regulars will note that Old Publius is not much of a fan of modern pop music.  The audio equivalent of bubble gum.  Then again I'm a snob.  Yet even a snob can see talent.  Fred Astaire said of Michael Jackson: “I didn’t want to leave this world without knowing who my descendant was. Thank you Michael!”  Frank Sinatra  said: “The only male singer who I’ve seen besides myself and who’s better than me – that is Michael Jackson.”  

Who is Publius to quibble with the Greats?  The talent is beside the point.  So is the bizarre personal life, and the traumas that drove the most famous black man in the world, the weak excuses aside, to transform himself into a pale looking freak.  The death of strangers, even of strangers who impact our lives deeply, is a removed experience.  Most of us can remember being saddened at the death of a person, within our own lifetime, we have never met  Yet weeping uncontrollably at the news of the death of a stranger is something else.  We live in an emotionally incontinent age.  To question the public wailing is to be cold and callous, the only sin left.  Which turns the mind to the public institutions that once managed public grief:

If decline continues, Christian Research has estimated that in five years' time church closures will accelerate from their present rate of 30 a year to 200 a year as dwindling congregations find the cost of keeping them open too great.

Perhaps the most worrying set of statistics for the Church of England is the decline in baptisms. Out of every 1,000 live births in England in 2006/7 only 128 were baptised as Anglicans.

The figure rises by a small amount if adult baptism and thanksgiving services are included but it is hard to see the Church of England being able to justify its position as the established church on the basis of these numbers.

By way of contrast, out of every 1,000 live births in England in 1900, 609 were baptised in the Church of England. Figures for church marriages show an equally catastrophic decline.

In between the crusading and witch-burning, organized religion did find time for other things.  Coming from the "warts and all" school of amateur historians, albeit its infidel branch, the torture and terrorizing was balanced by the emotional solace and moral guidance religion provided.  It gone, people turn elsewhere.  C.S. Lewis observed:

Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

Honouring people of genuine talent and accomplishment isn't gobbling poison.  Lewis' deeper point about the need for spiritual food remains.  Celebrity culture, where the vicarious thrill becomes all consuming, is the gobbling of poison in large doses.  The doppelganger Queen Mum thought it was just a bunch of hysterics carrying candles.  As we are finding out this week, the hysterics are beginning to form a critical mass.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 30, 2009 | Permalink


"Do you think any of your predecessors would have dropped everything.................
Posted by PUBLIUS on June 30, 2009

I've noticed that M. Brock, sometime WS scribbler and erstwhile internet radio host and "pundit" has been noticeably absent for the last little while. I was wondering if he was now working as a camp counselor here?


Posted by: The Stig | 2009-06-30 7:48:18 AM

Hrm… church attendance seems to be going, it's only the "old school" churches that seem to be shrinking, actually, even some Catholic churches are growing, I know of one not far from here that has doubled in the last few years.

My church is a plant from another church that got too big for it's facility, and in turn we split because our facility became too full, and now all three churches are ready to split again.

But as for people weeping in the streets over the death of a pop star…that's understandable, they can no longer say "Well at least Micheal Jackson is more messed up than me."

Posted by: Pete | 2009-06-30 9:52:25 AM

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