Wittering, Dithering & Whygo
Okay, that headline was a tortuous pun only the film critic Kim Newman will get, but it applies to the absurdities enveloping the 200 ‘Occupy London’ tents now gathered outside St Paul’s Cathedral in protest at, well, the state of capitalism. It’s a very vague brief for a protest, more a bit of a grumble than a call to action, and the response to it has been appropriately vague and dithery.
But it’s a protest with surprisingly big repercussions, with two ecclesiastical resignations so far. St Paul’s has been charging a tenner for admittance for years – something I’m totally against, given the wealth of the church, but when it closed its doors against the protestors it sparked outrage within the church.
Now the Bishop of London has executed a Reverse Ferret and decided that closing the cathedral doors sent the wrong message, while the Archbishop of Canterbury has come out (wait for it) in favour of the protests. So the camp will stay, possibly for months.
All of which reminds me of Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Warden’, which concerns a dithering parson and his decision to accept a minuscule stipend increase. Many are mystified that the protest is allowed to encamp there at all (my brother, a lovely man who is a little to the right of Mussolini, thinks they should all be tasered and dragged away. Then shot.) but the tent-dwellers are on church land and besides, we pride ourselves on living in a democracy where the right to protest is relatively well sanctioned.
My objection is that it’s such a namby-pamby protest to begin with. All it has managed to do is create a row in the church, not in the banks, which was never the desired effect.
Meanwhile, a far bigger story has slipped quietly under the radar; from December 5th gay couples will be allowed to marry in church. But once again, the Church of England has taken the dithery route by allowing an opt-out clause for its churches, which will simply lead to pressure groups and test cases. Some argue that there’s still a vague (that word again) difference in the definition of terminology – same sex couples already have pretty much the same rights as everyone else once they’re joined, but is it technically ‘marriage’? The term ‘civil partnership’ didn’t stick – I’ve not met anyone, straight or gay, who doesn’t use the term ‘married’.
But sometimes, perhaps, dithering is the right route. The public was made aware of the outdated attitudes of the church when it wanted to keep the doors of St Paul’s closed. And now another barrier to a democratic society has fallen. As far as the public is concerned (Daily Mail readers exempted, obviously), the church is liberalising, and the word ‘marriage’ is generally taken to mean the official recognition of commitment, whoever the participants are.