God and Michael Moore Go AWOL
Two very odd programmes last night.
In a way, something not happening was central to both of them.
Priest Idol (Channel 4) should have been about priests competing to be appointed to a moribund Church of England parish in Barnsley. But when only one person applied the programme makers decided to go ahead with the series anyway and stick with the same title.
The sole applicant was a young chap from America - not one of your Charismatic Christians in any sense of that adjective.
He was shown round by the departing incumbent, a portly, High Church, rather camp man who gave much better camera, if there is such an expression. Well, there is now.
At his interview, the young American, who had an appearance of pre-pubescent asexuality rather than any more problematic leanings, was asked his view on homosexual bishops. He was against them. His predesessor said they were tough questions: "I'm glad I wasn't him".
Bet you were, said the viewers in unison, like a liturgical response.
This was apparently the most godless parish in England. Just in case a church attendance that rarely reached double figures didn't make the point, someone had helpfully painted 'Fuck God' on one of the church buildings. It was spelt correctly too, so the Government's literacy programme must be working.
There was plenty of slightly guilty schadenfreude for secularists. After a week of intensive leafleting and door-knocking, church attendance increased by three. I can't remember if that figure included the new priest's parents who had flown over from America where seven out of ten people attend church regularly.
God featured prominently, not just in the graffiti, but as always his ways were mysterious. The young American had been called to Barnsley by God. On the scale of divine messages, this was fairly innocuous, certainly when compared with God telling George Bush to invade Iraq. When the Archdeacon was asked if the insipid American was the right man to convert the Chavs of south Yorkshire, he simply said that God had sent him. I think he added 'Praise be!' The Archdeacon is much given to saying 'Praise be!', a curiously incomplete ejaculation. Praise be what?
Since God wasn't being much help in increasing church attendance ( and faith is supposed to be a gift from God, after all), the church called in the marketing men. I suspect it was actually the production company that called in the marketing men, given that their initial concept had collapsed and they desperately needed a narrative for a three part series.
Julian and Sandy - sorry, Julian and Steve - roared into the derelict church precincts in what looked like a Porsche. God must have been hovering somewhere in the backgound because when they came out it was still there and so were its wheels.
They asked the young priest if he wanted to target low-hanging fruit and young James was understandably relieved to learn that this phrase meant increasing the number of older people coming to church.
But hey, Our Lord never went for the easy option. Walking on water and rising from the dead was serious stuff. So James spurned the low-hanging, soft fruit of the over-50s and the easy-peasy windfalls of the under-12s and said he wanted to climb heavenwards to the topmost branches of the demographic tree and harvest the teenagers - the hoodie-wearing, smack-injecting, graffiti-writing, serial-shagging hordes who had filled his churchyard with empty Fosters cans and discarded underwear.
Julian and Steve walked away scratching their heads. One of them said "Why are they always so keen to get young people into their church?" There's a distasteful and in this case unwarranted answer to that one which I shall avoid.
"It's because they're the future" said the other marketing man before laughing and choking on the cliché.
The attempt to engage with young people provided the most excruciating footage in this film. One gambit was serving free pizza in the church hall after school. Another was going into local schools to talk to children.
Most of these children were not apostates who had drifted away from religion. They had never known religion and the gulf was unbridgeable. They couldn't understand why an American had come to Barnsley, not realising that there are places in America that make Barnsley seem like New York. They couldn't understand why James didn't go out at weekends and get pissed or why he was prepared to work for a low salary. But most of all they couldn't understand why someone who appeared sane and rational believed in God. Indeed, one boy asked one of the marketing people if the new vicar believed in God. The apparent absurdity of that question just emphasised the depth of his incomprehension. Since it's an incomprehension I share I had rather more empathy with the Barnsley youth sucking on his Argos necklace than the hapless vicar did.
This was a poor community with high unemployment. It was surprising to see smoke belching from the chimneys of so many houses, perhaps a hang-over from the now defunct mining industry, but something you rarely see down south now. But although the clergy might not have high salaries they do get free housing and I doubt they burn coal. The new priest had been provided with a smart new house in the most affluent part of the village. His predecessor's home would also not have looked out of place in one of the Sunday supplements. The contrast with the lifestyles of many of their parishioners and with the shabby, decaying church could not have been more striking. One felt there was more than just a spiritual gulf here between the churchmen and their flock.
And when young James tried to show a schoolboy who was umbilically connected to the consumer society that there was no connection between material possessions and happiness, my mind wandered to the Church of England's shareholdings and I remembered that they were major stakeholders in Gateshead's temple of consumerism, the giant Metrocentre shopping complex.
Pots and kettles, motes and beams.......Priest Idol or False Idols?
Vote now on 08008.........sorry, wrong programme.
Not much room left for Janet Street-Porter's hatchet job on Michael Moore on Murdoch's Sky One.
The gist of it was that Michael Moore has a giant ego and can be very rude to people. Or so claimed Janet Street-Porter. Yes, I know. Pots and kettles again.
Oh, and some of his films are guilty of chronological inexactitudes. Not that his films have caused as many deaths as the factual inaccuracies that justified the war in Iraq of course.
I'm quite prepared to believe that Michael Moore can be deeply unpleasant. I just don't see the relevance of that to his opinions. He's never claimed to be Jesus Christ. And if he can be elusive and is surrounded by bodyguards, that seems eminently sensible behaviour in someone who has taken on the American right and the National Rifle Association.
A mostly pointless programme, except for Janet Street-Porter who got to swan around America and do some shopping in New York and presumably got a fat cheque as well. Glad it was Rupert's money and not the BBC's.