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Sunday 5 January 2014

The Mail, Sin And The Devil

Sunday, for those who read the Mail, is still very much the day of the Lord, whatever the heaving car parks at retail venues across the country might suggest. That means anything that might deflect from maintaining the Christian message must be challenged, even if the paper has had to make it up, as happened with the “BBC Turns Its Back On Year Of Our Lordfantasy rant.
Happily for the Mail On Sunday, today has brought a mainly true story, but with the same outraged faux horror reaction that will raise little more than an occasional “meh” from the readers. “Welby Casts Out ‘Sin’ From Christenings” thunders the banner headline, to the consternation of parents and families who wouldn’t know the text of the ceremony without a cue card.

So what’s the problem? “Centuries-old rite rewritten in 'language of EastEnders' for modern congregation ... Parents and godparents no longer have to ‘repent sins’ and ‘reject devil’ ... New wording is designed to be easier to understand – but critics stunned”. How many critics? Er, two, one of whom is former Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who is known to be conservative in such matters.

Seriously, does anyone recall the “repent sins” and “reject the devil” parts of the christening service? And what’s the “language of EastEnders” rubbish? Does the new service include “leave it aht”, “shat eet”, “not on my manor”, “I don’t believe I’m hearing this”, or “Is ‘e dahn the pab”? So that’ll be more flannel, then, but a good way of blaming the BBC for it (again).

And the false assumptions are jaw-dropping: “under the divisive reforms, backed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and already being practised in 1,000 parishes, parents and godparents are asked to ‘reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises’ – with no mention of the devil or sin”. What’s being “divided” by a wording ordinary people can understand?

Does the Mail On Sunday expect to speak in Seventeenth Century English, and that its readership not only has the ability to figure it out, but would carry on buying the paper if it did that? Well, the supporting editorial has the excuse ready: “this sinless, devil-free christening service is not at all the same sort of thing. The whole point of religion is that it is different from the normal world”.

That would be why so much organised religion is losing ground to more secular pursuits. If potential churchgoers are turned off by the stubborn adherence to the kind of language meant to keep the poor and ignorant in line in the age before information and democracy, it will keep losing ground. Justin Welby is, to his credit, trying to make Anglicanism more relevant to his flock.

Not that the Mail On Sunday wants to admit that too readily. No change there, then.

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