Turning to God

June 2, 2009

Tom Whipple
377 words
12 December 2008
The Times
(c) 2008 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved

A newspaper’s relationship to trends is much like a crank clairvoyant’s relationship to ghosts. Any rattle or shake is grasped as proof, any conflicting evidence as argument that we’re not looking hard enough. But, in their more reflective moments, psychics and newspapers alike probably suspect that it is all nonsense.

While clairvoyants are interested in proving the presence of your long-deceased great-uncle, newspapers nowadays want to prove the omniscience of something far more tangible: the credit crunch. If there is a trend — even, or perhaps especially, if that trend exists only among the Editor, the Editor’s mate and the Editor’s mate’s cat — then it must be linked to the economy.

So it was that The Sunday Telegraph told us this week: “As we face the most frugal Christmas for years, churches are witnessing a steady rise in attendance.” In 1,874 colourful and impassioned words, the author talks about an emergence of new values: “A belief in the value of frugality, modesty and charity. An appreciation of the role of the family.

Even a dislike of vulgarity, perhaps.” How heartwarming. His evidence for this cultural shift? “A straw poll by this paper reveals that church attendance was up last Sunday, the first of Advent.” Then on Monday, perhaps encouraged by a clairvoyant, the journalism fairy struck and provided genuine statistics. “Thousands of people are turning to religion during the recession,” the Telegraph claimed again.

This time, though, it had data. “Back to Church Sunday, an annual service in September when church members invite a friend, attracted 37,000 new congregants this year, almost twice the number in 2007.” In newspaper terms, that’s not a trend — it’s a cast iron, copper-bottomed, bona fide social phenomenon.

Except Back to Church Sunday has been going for just four years, and in each of those years more churches have joined the programme. So what would be surprising would be if, in a year when the scheme was still growing, the scheme didn’t grow.

And still no one has explained what any of this has got to do with the credit crunch.


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