I haven’t checked this out, but I have a suspicion that if you looked at the programmes in the TV listings and subtracted all the cooking, news and sport, you’ll be left largely with confessional programmes and ‘makeovers’. Now, there was a time when confession, absolution and new beginnings were the Church’s stock in trade, but it looks to me as if the bulk of the business is going elsewhere.
On the confession front Jerry Springer lifted that scary practice of public confession right out of its natural habitat - namely religious communities fired by reforming zeal - and, hey, it became profitable TV. There’s no shortage of families ready to tell all in front of the cameras, and live audiences revel in the opportunity to join someone else’s argument without risk to themselves; to judge without being judged. After all, who could judge the audience? Certainly not the TV viewer!
How can the Church compete? Confession in the Roman Catholic Church is the butt of jokes (is it because people haven’t tried it?); in most Churches it is offered quietly, prayerfully and in privacy. Absolution is given, a penance may be required, and counselling may be offered. It’s more like Radio 4’s "In the Psychiatrist’s Chair" than Jerry or Tricia or Oprah - no razzmatazz, no publicity, nothing spectacular to market; a gentle process of healing. The confessional programmes do offer help but it’s solutions rather than absolution; people are told to move on, they’re encouraged to receive counselling and work at new ways of relating to people.
On the makeover front several categories can be condensed into two: the remodelling of property, and the rescue/re-branding of people. Astonishingly there seems to be a steady stream of (mostly) willing guinea pigs. People will submit to having their homes redecorated by the neighbours, their clutter catalogued and binned, their attics pillaged for saleable items, their wives ‘swapped’ - and even their lifestyles and bodies prodded and scrutinised from every possible angle - and all with a view to improving their image. I am fascinated by the phenomenon; improvement seems to be an emerging theme for the ‘noughties’.
‘Starting over’ has been one of the enduring promises of Christianity. "Behold I make all things new" says Jesus in the book of Revelation. Forgiveness enables us to let go of past hurts and begin again. When we are ‘in Christ’ we are a ‘new creation’, set free from the destructive habits of the past. The secular pundits have grasped the value of the concept and are re-packaging the Church’s wisdom - minus Jesus, of course.
Maybe it’s time for the Church to think about its image. The product (Christianity) after all, is good - so good that it’s widely copied. So, let’s consider the Church - surely by now a lady of ‘a certain age’ - is it time for the Church of England to bare all to Trinny and Susannah? Perhaps they could make it a Christmas Special! Do you think the two ‘fashionistas’ would succeed in transforming the appearance she presents to the world? Could they restore her confidence and enable her to take her place once more in fashionable society? Would British communities finally sit up and take notice, and maybe start to fancy the Church of England?