“A memorial of nothing”

The elusive, enormous, and nameless thing, with which I have so long wrestled, as with a slippery leviathan, in such places as this, suddenly heaved in sight the other day and took on a sort of formless form.  I am always getting these brief glimpses of the monster, though they seldom last long enough for me to make head or tail of it.  In this case it appeared in a short letter to the Daily Express, which ran, word for word, as follows:

In reply to your article ‘What Youth Wants in Church,’ I assert that it does not want sadness, ceremony, or humbug.  Youth wants to know only about the present and future, not about what happened 2000 years ago.  If the churches forsake these things, young people will flock to them.

The syntax is a little shaky, and the writer does not mean that the young people will flock to the things that happened 2000 years ago if only the churches will desert them.   He does actually mean (what is much more extraordinary) that the young people will flock to the churches merely because the churches have forsaken all the original objects of their existence.  Every feature of every church, from a cross on a spire to an old hymn-book left in a pew, refers more or less to certain things that happened about 2000 years ago.  If we do not want to be reminded of these things, the natural inference is that we do not want any of the buildings built to remind us of them.  So far from flocking to them, we shall naturally desire to get away from them; or still more to clear them away.  But I cannot understand why something which is unpopular because of what it means should become frightfully popular because it no longer means anything.  A War Memorial is a memorial of the war, and I can imagine that those who merely hate the memory might merely hate the memorial.  But what would be the sense of saying that, if only all the names of the dead were scraped off the War Memorial, huge pilgrimages would be made from all ends of the earth to visit and venerate the absence of names on a memorial of nothing?

All is Grist (1931).

Published in: on July 15, 2009 at 8:05 am  Leave a Comment