It’s enough to make you believe in God
23 December 2008
It is a difficult week for those of us of little faith. At every turn, there are songs in the air about certain poor shepherds, the angelic host proclaiming, the mother mild, the wondrous childhood all deep and crisp and even, and so on. It would be unfair to compare this assault of carols to the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay by the repeated playing of Queen’s “We Are the Champions”, but the effect is still discomfiting.
Perhaps the most positive way for those of the Dawkins persuasion to deal with this great torrent of faith is not to fight it, but just for a few days, to allow it to wash over us. A glance at the day’s papers may even suggest that we may have been too hasty. Religious questions are all around us.
Did God create the credit crunch? How was it that the greatest financial crisis of modern times was able to sneak up, unobserved, upon the world? The answer – one not even anticipated by Robert Peston – may well have been that it was caused by the Almighty.
As has so often been the case in the past, the source of this fascinating idea was that great entrepreneur Donald Trump. Explaining why he had missed a deadline to pay $334m for the development of a hotel complex in Chicago, the Trumpster’s team have explained that the credit crisis was the equivalent to an act of God.
The markets have reacted uncertainly to the revelation that a major new player is in their midst, but Trump’s involvement should be no surprise. “The Lord himself shall descend with a shout, with the voice of an archangel and with the trump of God,” the Bible says.
The next time the Trump of God visits these shores, perhaps to watch the coastline of Aberdeenshire being dug up for his latest golf courses, it is worth taking a closer at him. Half-close your eyes and that hair of his could almost be a halo.
Could the Hokey Cokey be the work of the devil? People in Scotland who find themselves, in a moment of seasonal inebriation, putting the left leg in, the left leg out, doing the Hokey Cokey and shaking it all about, should now be aware that they are engaged in anti-religious behaviour.
Concerned priests and politicians have reminded us that the Hokey Cokey was an 18th century Puritan satire, directed at the “hocus pocus” of the Catholic mass. Because of the song’s “sinister origins”, football fans in Scotland have been warned that too much public Hokey Cokey might land them in gaol.
Could a certain Mr Claus be implicated in our moral decline? The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken out against principles – particularly economic principles – which ignore human cost. There is surely no clearer example of this tendency in 2008 than the increasingly controversial figure of Santa Claus. First he was reported to have appeared at dodgy winter wonderlands with emaciated greyhounds impersonating reindeer and elves who duffed up parents.
Now he has caused a riot at Manchester Airport after two flights to meet “the real Father Christmas” were cancelled.
The Archbishop has spelt it out. The principle of consumerist gratification can have a terrible human cost. In other words, children who are promised expensive trips to meet a man with a sack of presents are being led away from the straight and narrow.
The glorification of Trump, the punishment of party games, the revenge of dodgy Santas on greedy families: these are the tough lessons which religion is teaching us this Christmas.
A musical pioneer who walked away from fame
If, as a new report from America suggests, listening to one’s favourite music improves heart health and lowers cholesterol, I owe a medical as well as a personal debt to the great guitarist Davey Graham, who has just died. This largely unsung musical hero changed the direction of folk, jazz and blues, fusing influences and genres before fusion become fashionable, and introducing North African melodies, rhythms and instrumentation at a time when world music was an eccentric minority interest.
Uneasy with fame, Graham took refuge in drugs and disappeared from the music scene for 20 or so years. There had been too much publicity, he explained when he was rediscovered. “I felt the guitar playing was getting out of hand.”
There could have been more from Davey Graham, but the best of what he left behind was extraordinary enough. Anyone who wants to enjoy one of the great pioneers of acoustic music over the past 50 years should get hold of an early album by Graham. His Folk, Blues and Beyond is a classic of its time.
Less costume, more drama
With spectacularly bad timing, the ITV3 series The Story of Costume Drama is reaching its conclusion in the very week when ITV cancelled its forthcoming spectacular A Passage to India and its chief executive, Michael Grade, conceded that drama was losing out to reality TV. Scripted stories fail to offer “the emotional drain” offered by factual entertainment, apparently.
What feeble nonsense this is. Storytelling is doing a booming business in cinemas because directors are allowed to be adventurous. The problem with much TV drama is that it is tame, safe and traditional. The best response to the challenge of reality’s emotional drain would be to put on more original, daring plays and series.