Saturday, 23 October 2010


(Warning - this article includes plot-spoilers for an episode of Rev)

A couple of days ago I watched a recorded episode of Rev in which the Vicar has a crisis of faith. This is brought on initially by a review of one of his sermons on the internet, which gives him a mark of -1 out of 10! (this plot line seems to be derived from The Ship of Fools - Mystery Worshipper). The Vicar's disappointment quickly blooms into wondering: does God really care about him?; if God really exists why does he allow so many bad things to happen to people?; etc.; etc.; etc. Consequently, the Vicar goes completely off the rails for a bit, tries (unsuccessfully) to have an affair, gets drunk at a party, tells his wife to f*** off, and tries to pick a fight with a bunch of local hooligans from which he is fortunately rescued in the nick of time by the police!

The Vicar never finds any concrete answers to his deep and existential questions, but what seems to bring him back into line in the end is a realisation that people are depending on him - that he has a job to do and if he doesn't do it then no-one else is going to. This made me wonder about the role of a vicar and the expectations that people put on them. I'm not from a Church of England background so my experience of church leadership is a little different, although there are still many similarities.

One of the themes that comes over quite strongly in the series, is that people expect the Vicar to be spiritual/godly/righteous because it's a vicar's job to be like that. A vicar is expected to be more holy than "normal" people and "normal" people therefore, don't have to be that holy because they're not vicars. This seems to me to be a long way from the Christianity of the Bible. Yes, leaders are supposed to set an example - as the apostle Paul said, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1) - but it's an example to be followed, not just appreciated from afar!

I think there are a lot of things, particularly about the way the Church of England (and many of the other more formalised Christian denominations) is set up, that accentuate this sort of attitude - for example the dog collar, the special clothes, the fact that only vicars are allowed to perform certain rituals. All of these seem to me to accentuate the idea that vicars are special - more spiritual somehow than the rest of us. I think this works for vicars because it tends to make them feel - if not more important than other people - then at least more significant somehow in their particular role. I think it also tends to work for parishioners because it means they can pretty much get on with life as normal, knowing there is someone else there whose job it is to be spiritual on their behalf!

At the end of the episode, Adam (the Vicar) is jolted back to reality by one of his parishioners who is seriously ill and close to death, and has been hanging on for her vicar to give her the last rites. It is at this point that Adam remembers his calling and for him it is the turning point that brings him back onto the straight and narrow. For me though, I couldn't help wondering about the strange relationship between this woman and her vicar. Adam has a tiny congregation and the implication is that this woman is not part of it and doesn't know Adam, since Adam had no idea she was ill. But she still seems to see the Vicar as some sort of gateway - an interface if you like - between the earthly world of her daily existence and the spiritual life, which has suddenly become a lot more important to her as she feels herself rushing towards it! Adam's job of course - if he is a good vicar - is to point the woman away from himself and back towards Jesus, who is the only one who can truly take responsibility for her soul. But if all the woman's expectation is focused on the Vicar this may not be an easy thing to do - she is likely to accept the words that he uses but for her the meaning may be very different - so that from her point of view Adam may end up with a role that no normal man or vicar should ever have to try to perform!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Russell Brand on Celebrity

I've never been a fan of Russell Brand.  Until Friday I probably would have described him as a crude, insensitive, exhibitionist egomaniac.  Many people would of course add "extremely funny" to that list, but I'm afraid I've struggled to see past those first four things!

While I can't say that my impression has changed completely, I was reminded on Friday that human beings are multi-layered and complex and that there's nearly always a lot more to people than first meets the eye.

On Friday, Russell gave an interview to Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, on the subject of "the cult of celebrity".  The full interview is still available on the BBC website here.  To me, Brand has been one of the people who has seemed to embody the shallowness of that cult, and yet I've rarely if ever heard a celebrity talk so much sense about it (or in so animated a fashion!).

Here are a few snippets from the interview:

Brand: We're presented with the attractive spectacle of fame to distract us from the mundanity of our every day lives.

Paxman: It's utterly empty.
Brand: Of course.

Paxman: In itself it is not something worth striving for.
Brand: It has absolutely no value of itself.  It's a spectacle, an illusion, a distraction.  I think all of us are aware of that on some level.

Paxman: I sometimes think it might be something to do with religion - and the decline of religion.
Paxman: It's about significance.  Famous people appear to have significance and previously it was religion that gave people that sense they had a significance.

Brand: ... No-one cares about religion anymore ... because we've been fed this grey sludge of celebrity glittered up and packaged and lacquered and sent directly into our brains by the media that both you and I work for in different degrees.

Paxman: What happens to you when [fame] arrives?
Brand: What happens is you have the initial thrill of achievement - [you think] "Oh my word!" - the same as if you'd acquired a pair of shoes that you'd long craved and then you realise that the shoes are too tight, they ain't comfortable, "I want another pair of shoes!", "Walking around in these things ain't the same as I thought it would be!", and you realise that you need nutrition from a higher source, something more valuable.  Celebrity in and of itself is utterly utterly vacuous.  It's like being presented with the most glorious meal and then when you eat it there's no taste, there's no succour, there's no nutrition.  It's tiresome.
Brand: Now that I'm here I wonder if it's possible to use it to acquire something more valuable, more beautiful and to illuminate those ideas.
Brand: Someone told me once that all desire is the desire to be at one with God in substitute form.  So perhaps we can draw attention not to the shadow on the wall but to the source of light itself.

Paxman: Do you believe in God?
Brand: Yes.
Paxman: Do you worship?  Do you go to church?  What do you do?
Brand: I pray and I meditate and I try to align my desires with things that are less selfish and it's an ongoing struggle because of the egotism and the needs in me and stuff.  I'm just trying to be a better person.

Paxman: What do you think we should aim for then?
Brand: I think that we should try to examine the things that we're using to make us happy - this pursuit of celebrity, of wealth, of status, this consuming of products, this ignorance towards ecological and economical matters and try and aspire to something more beautiful - something more truthful and honest.
Brand: Perhaps if we were all in tune with more beautiful things, perhaps we wouldn't prioritise such peculiar ideas and notions.

Comments anyone?