Discovering that my public media profile had hit full-peak as I featured on the front page of the tabloid ‘The Daily Star’ this week, I found myself reflecting on the power of Godwin’s law; or rather a spiritualised version of it.
You will be familiar with Godwin’s law. It is an Internet rule asserting that as an online discussion grows longer (regardless of topic or scope), the probability of a comparison or reference to Adolf Hitler grows more and more likely. If the discussion is long enough it becomes a certainty. Whoever is the first to refer to Hitler instantly loses the argument. (Godwin commented, ” I just wanted folks who glibly compared someone else toHitler to think a bit harder about the Holocaust “)
The metaphysical version of Godwin’s law replaces Hitler with the devil. Basil Fawlty’s advice on having conversation with Germans ‘Don’t mention the War’ is echoed by in the equivalent ‘Don’t mention the devil’ when talking to journalists.
Chatting to a broadsheet journalist about Good Fridayand Hot Cross Buns, I casually, and it turned out, fatally, mentioned the devil.
Just as Godwin predicted, both argument and plot were instantly lost.
Let me explain the context. A few days ago I received two phone calls from journalists at the Daily Telegraph. One was asking me for some advice. They were bringingthe Queen’s obituary up to date; could I help?
The other wanted my opinions on the significance of the adulteration of Hot Cross Buns. (Why?!) Having given a lot of thought to the Queen, I may have approached began the Hot Cross Bun conversation a little too casually.
Apparently supermarkets are filling HCB’s full of all kinds of sugary goop. The journalist wanted to know if this was a problem for Catholics? Was it cultural appropriation? Was it disrespectful to the faith? Did it matter at all?
At first glance, in the shadow of the threat of WW3 and a possible constitutional crisis I found myself not very worried about supermarkets adulterating Hot Cross Buns. But as I thought about it, hidden issues began to emerge from the mist.
We are in the middle of an obesity crisis. Changing a simple spiced bun into a choco-maple-syrup fest wasn’t exactly going to be good for public health. Did that matter? Well, a bit.
So what about the symbolism of the Hot Cross Bun, a simple spiced cake, marked with the sign of the cross. Did it matter that, although it was being marketed in the spring for Easter, it was being turned into just one more gloopy, sugary, fat-fest cake?
In the excitement that was to follow in the next couple of days, when I was being given the opportunity to explain myself in the wake of breaking Godwin’s (second/spiritual) law, I found myself on Talk Radio talking to the redoubtable Julia Hartley-Brewer.
She described herself as a well-educated and committed atheist. And as the tale unfolded, it turned out that ‘woman of the world’ that she was, in her world she had absolutely no idea that the Hot Cross Bun had anything to do with Jesus, Good Friday or the faith in any way. This was news to her.
She’s not the only one suffering from religious and spiritual illiteracy. When I was teaching literature at one of our red brick universities, we came to the point where undergraduates began to have insuperable difficulties understanding Chaucer, the Grail romances, Shakespeare, Milton, and the Metaphysical poets among others, because they had no idea what the biblical and Christian allusions and names were about. A darkness was falling over one of the most profound and beautiful cultures the world has ever produced, as without the key of Christianity, the door of wisdom and beauty could not be unlocked.
Did the loss of the Hot Cross Bun cause this? No, but it was a symptom. Was it important enough to make a fuss over? In all spiritual, moral and cultural struggles, people of conscience find themselves having to draw the line somewhere.
Was this a line worth drawing? I tried.
And so I explained to my Sikh reporter interlocutor that,without the analysis of the human condition that Christianity brought, we had inadequate philosophicalresources to grapple with the serious conundrum of thestruggle between Good and evil.
In the present culture wars, Judaeo-Christian values and insights are being energetically and ruthlessly routed by the followers of Rousseau.
All progressive thinking finds its view of the human condition dictated by Rousseau’s optimistic assurance that each human being is born with a moral or ethical clean slate. Sufficient education and law can, in the right quantities, make good people and a virtuous society.
In fact there is no evidence for this even in the eighteenth century, but for sure by the Twentieth century, the hellish horrors humanity had inflicted on itself should have suggested a better metaphysical analysis was needed.
The cross on the hot cross bun points to a cosmic rescue operation taking place. Emerging from the abuse of the gift of free will, pride, perversion and hubris seep into the physical and spiritual air. Unable to rescue ourselves, God enters time and space, confronts evil on our behalf, carries the judgement justice requires, and until time and space are wound up, institutes a guerrilla war against thepowers of evil, subverting them through turning the other cheek, and loving our enemies.
The Hot Cross bun is a love-token to Jesus by his grateful people.
Does the despoliation of the love-token go beyond the economics of capitalism seeking a faster buck, and the immorality of gluttony thirsting for more sugar? What would the spiritual analysis suggest? Could it at the same time reflect a metaphysical revulsion and spitefulsacrilege ? Perhaps.
Can we combine all three spheres of reference, economic, moral and spiritual? Perhaps we should.
Meanwhile, the cost of taking the conversation in this direction and breaching Godwin’s second law becomesthe Daily Star headline :‘Very Hot Cross Buns. Former Queen’s chaplain hits out. Novelty Easter treats branded ‘the devils work’.
At least Julia Hartley Brewer will think a little more of Jesus over her Easter tea-time tea-cakes.