By Peter Mullen
Television is stuck in the Enlightenment era
Feet-up time on a Saturday night. 1 look for something entertaining on the telly among the usual mess of celebrities ice dancing and the lottery. And along comes Peter Ackroyd with his series The Romantics, about Wordsworth. Coleridge, Keats and the French atheists. I don't mind watching atheists on a Saturday night: it helps me get to sleep. What I do mind is the preposterous spin put on the atheistic point of view by television.
Writers and producers talk about the 18th century as a time when poets and philosophers were scrambling around panic-stricken, seeking a viable way of being artistic and making sense of the world "in an age without God". But hang on a minute it wasn't an age without God and it is atheistic bias which tells the story like that. Why not call the Romantic period "an age of faithlessness, artists and philosophers choosing to ignore God because they didn't like the intellectual and moral demands of the Faith"? That's more like it.
Both John Paul 11 and Benedict XVI have written about the Enlightenment as the origin of our modern ills. And so it was. Descartes dethroned God when he said "I think, therefore I am-, thus putting his own consciousness at the centre of the universe instead of God. There's a lovely story told about the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein at the Moral Science Club in Cambridge in the late 1940s. A lecturer had turned up to speak about Descartes. lle began, "I think, therefore I am", whereupon Wittgenstein whispered to his neighbour: "That's a bloody stupid place to start!"
Let's have an end to the relentless media bias against the Faith. How about a Saturday show for me, then, entitled The Persistence of Christian Truth over Atheism?
Iget asked to conduct a lot of memorial services in the City of London, where I am chaplain to the Stock Exchange. This is how it happens. Sir Clive Moneybags of Bigbank PLC dies after 40 years in the Square Mile. Because of his wealth he was able to live 60 miles away in Nether Dingly, so it is natural for his funeral to be held there. But all his pals in the City want
the chance to pay tribute and. let it be said, to have some jolly nice booze and nosh at some livery hall in his honour. So they ask the Rector to arrange a memorial service.
Occasionally, I get asked for an oldstyle memorial service, but increasingly something -1 am struggling for words more pop and pagan is required. Dress is multifarious and informal. Organ music before the service might include sonie of Sir Clive's favourite ballads (anything from "Singin' in the Rain", or the Beatles' maudlin "Yesterday"). Now and then they will import Bighank's audio system and belt out something off the top of the Richter Scale by Sid Filth that makes you think of a pile-driver screwing a score of metal dustbins.
New-style memorial services are, above all, talkative. Three Or even four of the deceased's family and friends will get up to "offer a tribute-.I know we must all respect the dead, but most tributes would fall foul of the Trades Descriptions Act. We are asked to recall that Sir Clive, or "Chuckles as he liked to be called on account of his infectious giggle", was a married archangel with four children and 15 grandchildren. lle
was brilliant at the bank. where everybody loved him. Like hell he was! Many in church wince as they remember how he used to growl at the juniors and make them cry. And if he was really so brilliant, why was he made redundant? At home he had the bonhomie of Alistair Sim playing the reformed Scrooge. He kept a superb table, never failed to bring his wife flowers every Friday and he was always effervescently happy. Well, when the ancient philosophers said "Call not a man happy until he's dead", I hardly thought they meant that a man had to wait until after he'd died to effect such a remarkable character change from curmudgeon to comedian, from reclusive skinflint to "life and soul of the party".
As for constantly taking the children sailing, they, grown up now and sitting on the front row, recall cringingly that the only time he took them on a boat was to threaten to chuck them over the side if they didn't stop whining.
I try ever so gently to offer a few words of guidance to anyone coming to arrange a memorial service: "Don't over-egg the pudding. darling. And do remember the most effective form of tribute is restraint."
aye you ever been tempted to write to one of the agony mints in the newspapers? It doesn't actually matter which one you choose to write to, they all belong to the same school. Every last one of them has but one desire: not to offend the enquirer, not to be "judgmental" and so make it look as if the Daily Tripe is "an accessible, caring newspaper". And so. out of a wish to tickle the ears of those who write in, they nearly always give useless advice.
Last week, I read a whole page in a "quality" newspaper answering a young woman, a City worker, who had written to say that she was in the habit of going out four or five times a week, getting blind drunk and having casual sex with anyone she met, and waking up in bedrooms she knew not where. The agony aunt was entirely accepting of this behaviour, of course. There is after all no such thing as sin in the media only "lifestyle". And the first and only commandment is "Thou shalt wear a condom".
The problem of how to give good and useful moral guidance was demonstrated majestically by Dr Johnson. Boswell was forever complaining of melancholy or. as they would say in The Daily Tripe "depression".
Johnson truly loved Boswell, and so he wrote this: "You are always complaining of melancholy and I conclude from those complaints that you are fond of it. Make it an invariable and obligatory law never to mention your own mental diseases. If you are never to speak of them, you will think of them but little. And if you think little of them, they will molest you rarely. When you talk of them, it is plain that you want either praise or pity. For praise there is no room and pity will do you no good. Therefore, from this hour think no more about them. Sir, you have but two topics, yourself and me; and I am sick of both."
That'll be the day!
The Rev Dr Peter Mullen is the Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill, in the City of London (www,st-michaels .org .uk, citychurches@pmullen freeserve.co.uk)