Taking the biscuit

Protestants want to eat their Papist bread and have it too.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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  • Give us some substance

When a recent exhibition at London’s Royal Academy caused many to remark just how perverse and bloodthirsty Aztec society was, some retorted that to these indigenous Americans, Christian civilisation may have appeared bloody and weird as well.

‘Have you heard the story about them Christians?’ said Tezozomoc.

‘No: what’s their game?’ responded Chimalpopoca, his brow rising quizzically.

‘They worship this man dying in agony on a cross – with blood all running down his face!’

‘You’re having me on, sure you are!’ Chimalpopoca exclaimed.

‘I swear in the name of Tonacatecuhti. This dead fella – they also believe that their special bread turns into his flesh – actually and properly!’ insisted Tezozomoc.

‘Ah now away with ya – ya big bollix!’ concluded Chimalpopoca, punching his friend on his nose, feeling he was being mocked.

And so on.

Transubstantiation is indeed a queer notion. Roman Catholics don’t actually believe the form of the bread changes during Mass: in appearance, taste and chemical make-up it remains bread, not meat. Instead, they believe Christ is really and effectively present in the bread. If this sounds a bit vague: tough. It’s religion and therefore mysterious and not open to rational scrutiny.

Yet it was not heathens from exotic lands who found the idea of transubstantiation so preposterous; it was Protestants who traditionally railed against this superstitious and heretical notion. No Protestant worthy of his name would take bread – which he views as purely symbolic – at a Mass.

How strange, then, to hear Protestants now complaining that they are forbidden from taking Papist bread. Last week the Pope issued an encyclical explicitly forbidding Catholics and Protestants taking bread together. Alarmed by the number of Prods receiving communion in his churches, the Holy Father says that only those in full communion with Rome can take part in the Catholic Eucharist.

Our Anglican prime minister has been a notable culprit in this department. So fed up was Cardinal Hume at hearing of Tony Blair taking Holy Communion at St Joan of Arc church in London that in 1996, he wrote to the Labour Party leader asking him to desist from this action. In his response, Tony Blair, the leading politician and theologian, concluded with the wounded remark: ‘I wonder what Jesus would have made of it?’ In a similar vein, the Reverend Richard Collier said he was ‘saddened’ and ‘hurt’ to hear His Holiness’ latest encyclical. Also writing to The Times (London) this week, a Mr Chesters agreed: ‘Christ bids all Christians to eat at his table…. “Doctrine” has a horrible habit of getting in the way of true Christian fellowship.’

To a true Christian, the matter of whether the bread contains the presence of Christ or whether it is just symbolic is actually very important. But in these anti-ideological times, such nuances appear not to matter to many, who in the name of ecumenism, ‘inclusiveness’ and fear of causing offence, seek to reduce religious worship to a bland doctrine-free exercise stripped of all mystery, awe and meaning. There’s little point calling yourself a Christian if you eschew dogma. You might as well call yourself by that common term for people too stupid to be atheists or too cowardly to believe in organised religion: ‘spiritual.’

Christians appear now less interested in what’s true and more concerned about their own feelings. I wonder what Jesus would have made of this.

  • A major mistake

Nobody is really interested in the George Galloway allegations, the Sars virus or whoever is poised to take power in Iraq. Everyone’s talking about the Who Wants to Be A Millionaire failed swindle. This is hardly surprising. The affair has all the ingredients of a thriller: ambition, deceit, greed, hubris, the conflict between a husband-and-wife team (called, note, Charles and Diana). No wonder there’s talk of their failed scheme being transformed into a film.

A decisive ingredient was the fact that Charles Ingram was upper class – a Major and evidently something of a twit to boot. Had he been plain old Charlie Ingram the chirpy Cockney, the public’s schadenfreude would have been diminished considerably. You will remember that when Judith Keppel was the first to win a million on the show, there was a great commotion as to whether, being ‘posh’ and therefore probably rich, she deserved to win the prize. It was almost as if the media were saying that this programme was strictly for proles.

If a plain old Mr Charlie Ingram, a loveable and terrifically funny Geordie who says ‘Why-Ay Man!’ a lot, had cheated his way to the top prize, we would not derive as much pleasure from his being rumbled. Judging by the way many working-class criminals have become idolised (the Krays) or transformed into quiz-show celebrities (‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser), you suspect that a plain old Charlie Ingram would have become an object of admiration. Like a Great Train Robber, he would have been a crafty, cheeky old chap merely taking back what society owed him.

This would of course be objectionable nonsense. Like the National Lottery, Millionaire serves as a voluntary tax on the impoverished, the greedy and the stupid. In regularly turning one pound from a million people to a million pounds for one person, it is actually widening the gulf between rich and poor.

Millionaire is nothing but a glorified pub quiz that appeals to the indolent and avaricious. It is for people – straight or crooked – who want to get rich vulgarly, famously, easily and quickly.

  • Getty-life

The lavish praise afforded to the late John Paul Getty reminds us that nothing has changed in Britain and America’s ‘special relationship’ after Gulf War II.

How gladdened and heartened we were to hear of this American’s rabid Anglophilia – his love of cricket and pride at receiving a knighthood from the Queen.

These are the symptoms of a nation suffering a chronic inferiority complex. ‘Look – someone thinks Britain’s actually better than America!’ This is the mentality of peasants.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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