the way we live now

Christopher Smith worries about the ways of the fourth estate and how the Bishops should deal with it

I do sometimes scratch my head in puzzlement over the modern news agenda. I eat my porridge wondering why the front page of a once-great newspaper is dominatedbya story about Jeremy Clarkson and a fight over a cold collation. Page three is given over to 'Rags to riches: ex-wife claims hippy's fortune 23 years later', page five is dominated by a picture of vacuous `artwork chronicling every defeat of the England football team since 1874, and page seven (all of it) takes us back to the Clarkson story. This edition of New Directions lands on your mat as we celebrate Easter, but you won't be seeing much of that in the press. Perhaps there will be another awards ceremony to cover.

What will undoubtedly be all over your newspaper by now is the home straight of the General Election campaign. Of course, this journal has no place telling you how to vote, and neither does this column. But you may have thought that the bishops of the Church of England were trying to do so with the recent publication of their pastoral letter, Who is my Neighbour?' Having heard that such a letter had been addressed to 'all members of the church; I sat back and waited for the postman. And if not the postman, I assumed, then the diocesan email system, or perhaps something `cascaded through the deanery. But no. I knew it existed because there was some argy-bargy in the press, but whereas it had clearly been delivered to the media, it was certainly not delivered to us humble parochial clergy.

But of course, I needed to go to the Church of England's website, which I only visit in the normal run of things to check the latest version of the Table of Parochial Fees so that I know how much the diocese wants off me for doing a funeral or a wedding. There I discovered the letter behind a rotating button, sharing its space with eight other links including access to the weekly C of E podcast and the Church Commissioners Annual Report for 2013. At the bottom of a long press release was a link to the letter itself, a link to Church House bookshop who would sell me a printed copy for 3.99 plus postage, and a link to a 'guide' to the pastoral letter which seemed to have been produced for the benefit of those who couldn't be bothered to read the whole thing.

And that's a pity, because, of course, no-one in the mainstream media was ever going to read the whole thing if there was a summary. And the summary really didn't do justice to the original. Because for all the kerfuffle, the original isn't that bad. Like me, it is studiously politically neutral, and in its continualbalancing of right and left, free markets and state regulation, Thatcher and Attlee, almost anodyne. Modern politicians are excoriated because they have 'failed to offer attractive visions of the kind of society and culture they wish to see; and the bishops have noticed that election turnout is down and 'a majority of people think that it will make no difference whichever party is in power'. But whilst they fear that we have become more a `society of strangers' than a `community of communities', they make few suggestions that are actually practicable by any party or coalition coming to power.

Perhaps that is their point, but motherhood and apple pie are easier to talk about than to create. They get very excited about `intermediate institutions' like the local church, credit unions and housing associations (`a lot bigger than the family but far smaller than the state'), but then moan that these are`overlooked by policy makers'. Surely, in the current climate, those promoting the work of such institutions are pushing at an open door.

And so we come to the nub of it in paragraph 118: don't be apathetic and cynical, for It is the duty of every Christian adult to vote, even though it may have to be a vote for something less than a vision that inspires us: Can't say fairer than that, but did they really need 56 pages to say it? Perhaps something shorter that didn't need a press release to work the media up into a frenzy would have been better, but perhaps without the frenzy there would have been no media coverage. Ah well.

Whilst I would never want to strip idealism out of politics, perhaps we have to accept that there is no abiding city here on earth. All we can know is that God's intervention in human history has been decisive and salvific. The tomb was empty, the body was not corrupted by death. We don't know the how, but we do know the why. And, as Austin Farrer once said, we do not come to God for a little help, for a little support for our own good intentions. We come to him for our resurrection. We don't come for a little thing; we come for everything. And, as Farrer also once said, `those who have found God still have God to find'. Perhaps this is the core message' (to use the jargon) that the bishops would be better trying to get across to a sceptical and needy world.

Return to Trushare Home Page

Return to Home Page of This Issue