Give ‘Em What They Want!

My latest love affair is with the delightful British comedy “Rev” on PBS. A recent episode was especially interesting. As the Rev’s wife tried to think of ways to spice up their sex life, the Rev found himself with a mess of problems. He is the newest vicar at a large inner-city Church in London that is struggling to remain open. It has a regular congregation of around 20 parishioners and an Archdeacon who is always in the Rev’s face about “numbers.”

In this episode the Rev is distraught just after delivering his sermon to about seven people when there suddenly appears a tall, good-looking man who professes to be a vicar himself whose church is under repair; he asks if he can bring his congregation to the Rev’s church on Sunday. If it works out they would continue to come until his own church is repaired. This delights the Rev who has been told that the Archdeacon will attend next Sunday’s service to count noses. It’s an answer to the Rev’s prayers. Be careful what you wish for.

The new vicar moves comfortable furniture into the back of the church, sets up a smoothie bar and installs a sound system to carry his voice to the far reaches of a crowded church — which is exactly what he has to do on Sunday as, helped by the rap star “Icon,” he takes the floor away from the Rev and proceeds to put on a performance for several hundred screaming young “believers.” The session is so successful the new man is able to hand the Rev a check for £10,000 at the end of the day — to the delight of the Archdeacon and the chagrin of the Rev. It’s not what he thinks religion should be: religion is not about spectacle and giving the folks what they want; it’s not about large checks at the end of the day. It’s about teaching the gospel and helping folks turn their attention to more important things than smoothies and rap music.

The point of the episode was made clear in amusing fashion, especially interspersed as it was with the Rev’s wife’s various role-playing attempts to seduce him in dark corners. But the point rings true as traditional churches are closing their doors — in England many of them have been turned into flats or even into public houses — while the non-traditional churches give the folks what they want and realize growing numbers of “believers” who are all told they are terrific, that Jesus loves them no matter what, and they don’t really have to change a thing no matter how much they hate people who aren’t like them.

The movement to give the folks what they want has indeed taken off. And why wouldn’t it? It is certainly a major movement in the schools as teachers entertain students to keep them awake and the students are constantly told they are wonderful and can do no wrong — the leading edge of the self-esteem movement that has gained ascendency in educational “theory” these days, giving rise to a deep sense of entitlement on the part of so many people. In fact, the culture as a whole has come to think that struggling is wrong and to expect everything handed to them with little or no effort whatever. I hate to say it, but this is the kernel of truth at the heart of the Republican rhetoric that insists we are losing our freedom to government handouts. There is indeed some truth in this, but it is a message that is lost in the forest of political exaggeration and hysteria and is generally falling on ears deafened by rap music, stomachs filled with fatbergers, and attention turned to the next large purchase.

The Rev ends up sending the tall young man on his way . But it takes a confrontation between the Rev and his nemesis who demands the eviction of one of the old parishioners who has, in the ecstasy of the moment as emotions ran high during the service, pinched one of the young women in the ass. The Rev, backed by the Archdeacon, stands his ground: we cannot deny church attendance to anyone. The young man leaves in a huff and the Rev goes back to preaching to his empty church. Unfortunately we cannot dismiss entitlement and unwarranted self-esteem that easily. They seem to be here to stay.