Thursday, February 25, 2021
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In praise of Gogglebox: The Archbishop of Woke

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I HAVE long wondered what Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, is for. Happily, he has answered my question in his New Year message. In this hideous confection of vapidity, cliché and tosh . . . sorry, I mean this inspired pastoral letter, the Archbishop offers us four words of comfort and joy:

‘Television can heal us.’

And it heals us in a most surprising and exciting way. It heals us by Gogglebox. But let His Grace speak for himself:

‘What I love about it is that I see in the people watching a joyful and diverse community. Somehow it restores my faith in humanity. For example, when they are watching Strictly, they join in the dance movements from the settee. When it’s something frightening, they hide behind a cushion.’

Ooh, how this second highest prelate in the land, this successor to Paulinus, William Temple and Michael Ramsey, loves the healing power of trash telly! He goes on. How he goes on:

‘Television is a companion, even a friend. And the BBC is the very best of friends.’

Not if you’re a Tory, Stephen. Not if you voted Brexit. Not if you have occasionally criticised the NHS.

As he warms to his paean to the BBC, Cottrell’s message moves from the improbable to the downright fantastical and preposterous:

‘Along with the NHS, the Church of England, the BBC and other public service broadcasters are a precious part of our cultural ecology. They help us to see ourselves clearly. They can be trusted.’

Trustworthy? The stultifying bureaucracy and the institutionalised incompetence of the NHS can be trusted? The NHS, the laughing stock of the world which provides only 1.7 beds per thousand of the population whereas the private system which it ousted and superseded provided ten beds per thousand? Trustworthy is not exactly the word I am looking for.

The Church of England trustworthy? After the Bishops and the Synod chucked out those treasures of rare devotion, the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, and replaced them with unprayable gibberish? An institution so irretrievably in decline that there are now twice as many bishops as there were in 1911 when five times as many people attended church. This is the outfit that lost £500million in foolish speculation on the stock market. This decayed edifice is closing down parish churches every week while continuing to demand of its massively diminished congregations more and more money through the Diocesan Quota System. Trustworthy?

Now the Archbishop of Nothingness comes to his peroration:

‘I want us to be Gogglebox Britain, laughing and weeping together and seeing our diversity as a great strength.’

I was so stirred by Cottrell’s words I burst into a chorus of Christians A-Woke.

And what a fully-paid-up Woke Warrior this archbishop is! He doesn’t end his sermon with some doxology beginning, ‘And now to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.’ No, Mr Cottrell worships at a different shrine. And, in his climactic ending, he tells us what his worship of these strange gods amounts to:

‘On Gogglebox we see a glorious, diverse picture of the UK, people from all walks of life, all ages, all regions, all colours, all faiths, all ethnicities laughing and joking and arguing and weeping around the television.’

And how should we respond to his archiepiscopal vision? As my Yorkshire grandmother used to say: ‘Too bloody daft to laugh at!’

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Peter Mullen
Peter Mullen is a Church of England clergyman, writer and broadcaster

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