18 Feb

Infantilised pedagogy

I can manage only so much spiritual exaltation at a quarter to eight in the morning, so that’s why I needed a second cup of tea before listening to Lucy Winkett deliver her oxymoronically titled Thought for the Day. It began with that infantile pedagogical device, so beloved of the clergy: first, patronise your listeners by finding some item in the news and then stitch on to it a spiritual “message” so that we thickies will understand. Alan Bennett’s spoof sermon on Beyond the Fringe comes to mind with its “Life is like a tin of sardines. You open the tin and consume the sardines therein, but there’s always a little bit left in the corner, isn’t there? is there a little bit in the corner of your life? I know there is in mine.” Although Bennett’s offering was at a rather more elevated intellectual level than Ms Winkett’s contribution.

Back to the infantilised pedagogy then. She began by telling us about the planned expedition to send people to Mars. Those going would require courage and perhaps even a little foolishness, she said. And then she packed the real spiritual punch. Lent is like that trip to Mars. ‘Cos Lent too is a journey – geddit, thickies?

I weep, because this sort of stuff interferes with my attempts to earn a living, part of which I do by writing satirical articles for the newspapers. But, given the likes of Ms Winkett’s sermonettes, satire becomes impossible, for they are living parodies.

Best to stop talking about her then and think for a minute about Lent. This penitential season has become a consumerist gimmick. It features in the same sections of the newspapers that cover dieting and lifestyle. Are we to give up biscuits or booze?

As John McEnroe used to shout, “You cain’t be serious!”

Let us suppose for a minute that Lent is a time for trying to think and learn more about God. I know that sounds bizarre, but I ask you to entertain it, if only for a moment. How might this be attempted? In The Book of Common Prayer, the Psalms – all one hundred and fifty of them – are printed, a few to be said every morning and a few every evening in the month. You could read them each day, before breakfast and before supper. They are a treasure house of rare devotion and the Prayer Book uses Miles Coverdale’s sublime translation. I had a Jewish friend who could read the Psalms in their original Hebrew; but he claimed Coverdale’s version was an improvement – in much the same way that Scott Moncrieff’s translation of Proust is said to be better than Proust himself

So I suggest reading the Psalms. Then you can think about going to Mars – or at least you might eat a biscuit.

But if you must insist on giving something up for Lent, I suggest you give up Thought for the Day