Celebrity Clerics

The Anglican Church has been in trouble for some time. Various solutions have been and are being tried. At one extreme, some people are particularly susceptible to the aesthetics of high church worship – the classical music, the ritual, the spectacle – so these are emphasised in some churches. At the other extreme, an embracing of popular culture – pop music, common idioms and informality – are sold to the young as an alternative to their commercial counterparts. All predictable and by now familiar. But a newer development leaves me with a nasty taste in my mouth – the decision by some clerics to become media celebrities, presumably to promote their Faith by appealing to modern tastes, but uncannily resembling a rapacious appetite for meaningless media exposure. Step forward the likes of the Reverends Richard Coles and Kate Bottley. Coles started out as a pop musician but then got religion and trained as an Anglican cleric; he is now a parish priest and there the story should have ended, had he not caught the celebrity bug. Nowadays his unctuous tones seem inescapable on broadcast media – when he has not been making a tit of himself on Strictly Come Dancing. No doubt intended to be this year’s ‘buffoon who can’t dance for toffee but who we all keep voting for because we love him’, Coles was ejected after only two shows – showing that my own repugnance is shared by many others. Bottley started out as a teacher but then trained as a priest. She came to the public eye (apparently) through a You Tube video of her officiating at a wedding where she danced enthusiastically to Kool and the Gang’s Celebration. She followed this with toe-curling performances on Gogglebox where, snuggled up on the sofa with her unfortunate, mute husband, she harangued him and the nation with her simpleminded and smug lefty platitudes, derived no doubt from her in-depth study of the Good Christian Girl’s Big Book of Socialist Platitudes. Now she describes herself as ‘journalist, media presenter and reality television star’; the last is no doubt true, but her qualifications for the rest entirely escape me.

Neither Coles nor Bottley are examples (to put it mildly) of the kind of pulchritude that normally seems to be a requisite for ubiquity on our screens. But that is not the reason I detest them and all their ilk. It is their betrayal of the very essence of the religion they espouse that I find so nauseating. The Christian Faith teaches that all of mankind is mired in original sin and that we are as a result all destined for eternal damnation but for the grace of god in sending his own son to die in expiation. The duty of all Christians is to spread that good news in their lives, words and actions, because without knowledge of and acceptance of that unique sacrifice, people cannot be saved. All a barrel load of tosh of course. But if you truly believe it, why would you pursue meaningless personal celebrity? I fail to see how cavorting really badly on the dance floor – at a wedding like Bottley or on Strictly like Coles – while wearing a dog collar, advances in any way the Christian goal of human salvation. Indeed, this sort of thing upsets many Christians too. People are not stupid: they can smell cant and hypocrisy like sharks can smell blood, and I am certain that the celebrity status of Coles and Bottley is rooted in some perverse sense of humour at Television Centre more than any genuine public affection for these two travesties of Christian witness. I am not suggesting for a moment that humour has no place in a Christian life; in my last Blog I took Christians and their God to task over sense of humour failure. Seriousness of purpose can be enhanced by humour as the great satirists have demonstrated down the ages. But really, are there not more engaging and intelligent people available to grace our popular media than these two jackasses?