The world, the flesh and the Archbishop of Canterbury

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The Independent Online
All I am asking for is about a minute-and-a-half," pleaded Cardinal Hume in a last-ditch attempt to intrude some Christian element into the Greenwich Dome fiasco. Dr Carey has made comparably plaintive bleating noises - "Unless there is some Christian component in the celebration, I won't be there".

Whether you are the most flinty-hearted secularist, a Muslim Triumphalist or a Whirling Dervish, wasn't a little bit of you moved to pity at the spectacle of these two archbishops making their feeble entreaties? As has now been reiterated thousands of times, the millennium is either a religious anniversary or it is nothing. This does not mean the literal commemoration of a birthday. No one knows where or when Jesus Christ was born. This is, or could have been, a celebration of the Christian Thing, of Christendom, of the religious idea, myth, call it what you will, which lay behind the development of European civilisation since the conversion of the Emperor Constantine.

To hear the senior English RC bishop begging for "one-and-a-half minutes" of the action on millennium night made some of us think that institutional Christianity was not merely dead, but putrescent, stinking, abominable in all its ways. One scarcely ever heard a feebler utterance from a senior cleric.

The Archbishop of Canterbury presents an equally sorry sight. "We are now in discussion," he says (ie with the New Millennium Experience Company, that collection of vulgarian businessmen who found their true soulmates, first with Michael Heseltine and then with Mandy, whom they persuaded to give political justification for their commercial jamboree). "We will see where we are," says the successor of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, "when they [ie the spivs] have made up their minds what they are going to do."

The point at issue is whether these archbishops, consecrated, as they would have us believe, in direct line from the holy Apostles of Christ, and charged with confronting the world with the uncompromising commands of the Gospel - whether these Apostles of Christ should be allowed one and a half minutes on telly just before the clock strikes midnight.

One suggestion is that these joint Apostles should recite the ludicrous (some would deem blasphemous) "prayer" composed for the occasion to appeal to "those of other faiths and those of no faith at all" (sic). "Let there be respect for the earth, peace for its people, love in our lives, delight in the . . ." No, No. One can't bear to quote any more of this nauseous drivel. The pointless subjunctives are not even addressed to God, or to a God. The vacuous Blue Peter-ish hopes are to be distributed by the Churches to every home in the land at a cost of pounds 6m. Yes, six million pounds.

You could say that this was a small sum when compared with the pounds 100m of your, the taxpayers' money which Chris Smith is spending on millennium projects - pounds 25,000 for a play "celebrating the aspirations of the people of Dagenham"; pounds 25,000 so that people in Herefordshire can fly millennium kites etc. But you would surely have something stronger to say if you were an archbishop?

The Cardinal has now said that if he doesn't get his one and a half minutes, squeezed in between Noel Edmonds and Zoe Ball, he will have to consider going to say his prayers in Westminster Cathedral on millennium night. How can it ever have crossed his mind to do anything else? When the tormentors of the early Christian martyrs asked Saints Ignatius or Polycarp to worship false gods, did they reply: "We are now in discussion?" Did Tertullian bleat with self-pity because there was not one and a half minutes of Christian "dimension" in the orgies of blood at the Colosseum? Did Saints Basil or Gregory of Nyssa whine because they were "excluded" from the profane Mysteries of Eleusis? Or did they serve a Master whose Kingdom was not of this world, and did they preach that their message was essentially and eternally contra mundum?

The true voice of Christianity during all the millennium controversies has come, not from Canterbury or Westminster but from York. Ena the Cruel, as Anglo-Catholics used to call the Archbishop of York, has been the one sane, authentically spiritual voice. It was perfectly obvious from the start that the Greenwich Rocky Horror Experience was a godless, vulgar prank got up by a gang of capitalist entrepreneurs with the aim of parting fools from their money. It had as much to do with the 2,000 years of Christian tradition as has your local branch of Burger King. That is why, in the initial stages, no Christians gave money to the Dome, and it was left to four philanthropic Hindu businessmen to provide a "Spirit Zone" which would enable the New Millennium Experience Company to say that they took religion seriously. Ena, with characteristic intelligence, simplicity and edge, contrasted the humility of the Stable at Bethlehem with the vainglory of the false idols on offer at Greenwich.

Any person of common sense, regardless of their religious background or affiliation, knows that the so-called millennium celebrations will be a bore and an absurdity. We shall all in our different ways boycott the non-event. It would cross none of our minds to pay money to see the ugly Mandy-Dome.

If we belong to the tiny minority which cherishes 2,000 years of Christian tradition, would we be sitting in front of the telly at midnight watching the Prime Minister put on his "solemn" face or worrying about whether Basil Hume is given his one and a half minutes? Wouldn't we rather be staring at the mysterious night sky or joining with others who thought as we did in our local parish church? That is where we should expect to find our priests and bishops. Any Cardinal who did not see this should be considering his position.