Press column Tuesday, 14 October 1997

Press column Tuesday, 14 October 1997

Andrew Brown

In February the Mail on Sunday magazine carried a long and very funny article on the Southern Baptist diet plan. Now the craze has reached Los Angeles, according the to Independent’s weekly diary from there. " ‘JC is helping me to resist the cookie jar’ says Dawn in apartment 9. ‘And I’m not talking about Jenny Craig. It’s great — just like Weight Watchers except that if you think you’ve got someone real spiritual and powerful watching over you all the time, you know He’s going to see you eating that ice cream.’

" ‘From the moment I gave myself to the Lord, my weight loss was a steady 2lbs to 5lbs each week’ says Dawn, who has lost 10lbs in total." So her jog with the Lord cannot have gone on for more than ten weeks, and might have been as short as a fortnight. Never mind. Weight Watchers must be kicking themselves for signing up the Duchess of York instead of someone really spiritual and powerful — but then Diana didn’t need the money.

The only thing that seems to be holding the diet plan back from being a real spiritual revolution is the fact that Jesus only appears around the refrigerator. Dawn in apartment 9 doesn’t actually go to church as a result of it, "but no one at the weight watching group says you have to."

From a religion almost perfectly adapted to the modern woman to its polar opposite: the Guardian had a long report in Section two from Mount Athos, where women are banned by law. "Too much monk business" said the photo caption. The article was less good-humoured. Women may only approach within 500 metres of the shore by boat; and Helena Smith quoted an American painter who had come that close after she had visited an exhibition in Salonika of the priceless icons of the Virgin which the monks own. "I am here to see the setting in which these unbelievable works of art were made, but I think you should tell your readers that from the point of view of modern women having to see it from a boat just stinks."

I like her use of "unbelievable" for an icon of the Virgin, for that is the root of the struggle. As the story goes on to explain "The all-male Mount has lived in thrall to the Mother of Christ since its establishment. This is Her garden the guides, will tell you, and on it, She is protector, guardian and muse — a life force for the 4,000 Greek, Russian, Serbian and Bulgarian male Orthodox Christians who now see themselves as the custodians of the world’s last mediaeval colony." The latest threat to their existence is the "Satanic" European union, whose foreign ministers are refusing to write into the Maastricht treaty the peninsula’s ban on "all females" — which includes animals. The monks are now busy writing tracts denouncing this, and still more the plans to abolish internal frontiers and replace them with a common identity card.

One advantage which the Roman Catholics have over the Church of England is absolutely impossible to deny: you could not ring round its senior clergy and ask whether their children were cohabiting or living in sin. Well, you could, but you would get a rather different story to the one the Sunday Times got when it rang around the diocesan bishops of the Church of England and ended up with a story saying the church was preparing to drop its opposition to the practice. I hadn’t notice that it did oppose cohabitation before marriage; perhaps I should take more seriously what Archbishops say.

"No sin to live in sin, say leading bishops" is a perfect headline; and illustrates the inexhaustible resources available to any journalist prepared to pretend that the Church of England has a coherent policy on sexual morality which is widely understood and enforced.

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