By Peter Mullen
Icall them the cultural anthropologists and they are the bane of the City church. There you are halfway through the weekday lunchtime Mass and the door opens noisily. In they come, usually rustling plastic carrier bags. Gawp. Gawp. They stand at the back and watch us at our prayers and you imagine them saying to one another in the superior tones of the totally secularised tourist: "Oh, look: this is what people used to believe!" It's the condescension that's hardest to take. They know, of course, that Christian worshippers are poor ignoramuses, mere throwbacks from our prized
modernity to the days when religion was
a thing to be taken seriously. And after the condescension, it's the naff historical perspective. If there are any of these ecclesiastical culture vultures still hanging around at the end, they will come up and ask you the full hundredweight sack of cliched questions: "How old is it? Is it a Wren? Do you ever ring the bells? How big is your organ?" Answer: "Bigger than yours, I'll bet!"
The other Sunday at Choral Mass I lost it completely with these drones. I'd just gone up from the nave to the altar to proclaim the invitation to Confession, so I was facing the congregation. In they came — prowl, prowl, stare, shuffle and gawp. My people were starting to confess their sins. And the cultural anthropologists just stood there taking it all in. I pronounced the Absolution then — so help me — I called out: "You lot with the carrier bags at the back you're welcome to stay and worship God with us. Otherwise..." I did manage by prevenient grace to suppress the expletive which immediately sprang to mind and limited myself to (I think) "...please leave."
It's a symptom of the decadent culture we now inhabit: a sugary mixture of sentimentality and National Trust museum culture that has replaced authentic civilisation. Why don't they take themselves off and gawp at steam engines?
Ann essential part of the ubiquitous gormlessness is the addiction to Oise. I was listening to Daniel Barenboim giving one of his Reith Lectures and he was wild with disdain. He said: "I come to the concert hall to conduct a Beethoven symphony and they're playing Muzak in the foyer. It's
audible pornography." I thought David Sexton was very snooty about this in one of the Sunday papers. He said that Barenboim was merely coming out with a tired remark, a sort of Victor Meldrewstyle of hackneyed grousing; we all know Muzak is vile and so what's the point of saying so yet again? I'll tell you what the point is, David: to go on saying it until someone does something about it.
There was something similar in the week after Easter. I was worn out after all the Lent and Holy Week observances and quite happy to collapse in front of the telly at nine o'clock in the evening. There was a delightful, evocative, colourful programme called something like "A Digital View of Britain". Here were exquisite photographs of sumptuous countryside and coastline — but all accompanied by what they call "a pulsating rock soundtrack" that festered audibly, a cacophony by Sid Filth and his band. We don't want Muzak. I know nobody who wants it. It infested even a series as glorious as David Attenborough's Planet Earth. They even play it during the test match video replays. Just stop it!
And another thing: you must have noticed how every time radio or television brings us a report from exotic foreign parts, they always feature the natives singing. "We now take you to Bongo Bongo Land..." Cue bongo drums and choruses so bad they make your average charismatic congregation sound musically inventive. Are we to suppose these natives sing all the time. or what? I imagine an interview with Dr David Hope in his Yorkshire parish and you can't hear his theological reflections without a chorus of "On Ilkla Moor
Haht'At". Or every time with that nice young "Dave" Cameron. the theme tune from Notting Bill.
Speaking of Yorkshire, there was an intriguingly wry comment on the rescue of the "peace activist" Norman Kember from his captors and his alleged subsequent lack of gratitude. A wit remarked on the radio: "Didn't offer effusive thanks to the SAS for his rescue, eh? Is that all? The soldiers should think themselves lucky. If Norman Kember had been from Leeds, he'd have complained!" I can say this. being a Leeds lad, man and beast.
/have offered my services as an agony aunt to a couple of national newspapers. What prompted me to such a feat of immodesty is the lousy quality of the advice on offer already. If 1 single out Bel Mooney's agony column it's not because the girl is any worse than the others, but she caught my eye with her advice one day the other week. Well,
Mooney by name... '
A twentysomething woman wrote in to say that she went out binge-drinking two or three nights a week with the idea of getting absolutely sloshed and having casual sex. She was getting fed up with finding herself hungover and consumed with self-disgust in the bed of some stranger. She wanted to know what she could do about it. Bel offered 800 words of cod Freudianism and touchy-feeliness about "getting in touch with the real you" and finding out what "makes you" behave in this way.
My column would simply have said: "You don't want to get drunk all the time and sleep around? Well. don't!"
But it's the way we are today. Never so much talk about freedom, liberty and rights; and yet psychological orthodoxy regards us as predetermined automatons. Thus do contemporary secular gurus make John Calvin look like a libertarian.
1 remember that case last autumn about the young man convicted of murdering his parents. How would you describe such a person — callous criminal, murderer, psychopath? Not at all. The official diagnosis was that he "suffered from" Narcissistic Personality Disorder. What's the difference between NPD and being a self-obsessed little prat?