Yesterday, an old friend and her son came for a visit. I made medium-high tea, i.e., little sandwiches and scones. No cakes; my friend is diabetic.
I haven’t made scones in many a year. I used to make good scones, but these scones were not good.
When a thing goes awry in life, I do not take to my bed for a week. No. What I do is consider why it went bad so it won’t the next time. The scones went bad because (1) I baked them in an expensive, lousy Italian stove; and (2) I didn’t use self-rising flour. Instead, I used flour with a tablespoon of baking powder. The baking powder made them slightly bitter.
You don’t want “bitter” in your scones. (Also, you never want to buy an Italian appliance. I’ve had two and both have discarded necessary parts like insulation flanges without my permission.)
I apologized for the scones (“No, no — they’re fine!” Good friends are so polite, to the point of flagrant dishonesty), and we discussed other matters, like maybe politics, which prompted me to say, “I hate religion.”
Now, my attitude toward religion is no shocker to anyone who knows me, but the absence of any kind of intellectual rigor or nuance in what I said…well, it must be because I was simultaneously contemplating my bitter scone along with the subject of religion.
So last night, when I picked up the Trollope I’m re-reading now, Barchester Towers, I found a Trollopian reference to one aspect of religion — sermons — which satisfied my need to expand and deepen my curt expression earlier in the day.
Plus, it’s so fucking contemporary: mentally replace Trollope’s “preaching clergyman,” a particularly greasy and blatantly regressive church character named Slope, with a certain branch of our polity. So you can trash both religion and specific politicians in one quick read.
And it’s funny.
There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries, than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent, and be tormented. No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes, truisms, and untruisms, and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege, the same respectful demeanour as though words of impassioned eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips. Let a professor of law or physic find his place in a lecture-room, and there pour forth jejune words and useless empty phrases, and he will pour them forth to empty benches. Let a barrister attempt to talk without talking well, and he will talk but seldom. A judge’s charge need be listened to perforce by none but the jury, prisoner, and gaoler. A member of Parliament can be coughed down or counted out. Town-councillors can be tabooed. But no one can rid himself of the preaching clergyman. He is the bore of the age, the old man whom we Sindbads cannot shake off, the nightmare that disturbs our Sunday’s rest, the incubus that overloads our religion and makes God’s service distasteful. We are not forced into church! No: but we desire more than that. We desire not to be forced to stay away. We desire, nay, we are resolute, to enjoy the comfort of public worship; but we desire also that we may do so without an amount of tedium which ordinary human nature cannot endure with patience; that we may be able to leave the house of God without that anxious longing for escape, which is the common consequence of common sermons.
Some things never change. (That “leaving the house of god without that anxious longing for escape” thing.) Haven’t been to that house in a long time, thank…whoever.
Great piece, Naomi!
I will take all the credit…for recognizing how fine a writer Trollope is.