BBC Radio 4’s Today programme was in fine form yesterday, fulfilling the highest public broadcast remit of making me snort over breakfast. This time, curiously, it wasn’t Thought for the Day. Rather than Giles Fraser, it was the normally blameless business correspondent Greg Wood, who had me spluttering.
A piece of self-serving PR puff from Debenhams (a department store) was the hook to hang a two minute report on the recession-proof nature of weddings. Debenhams have now increased the upper limit of their wedding insurance to £70,000: that’s seven-zero. Thea Darricotte, executive retail editor of Brides magazine (part of the Condé Nast aspirational empire) was asked the wholly reasonable question: why are weddings so expensive? Her reply is worth quoting in full:
I think it’s a matter of choice. There is so much choice out there for, for people getting married. There seems to be a general kind of misconception that they are being pressurised by celebrity weddings. I think actually, brides and grooms are getting older hand they’re just choosing to have more exciting, more elaborate, more expressive weddings that reflect themselves.1
“More exciting, more elaborate, more expressive weddings that reflect themselves”. And there we have Anti-Lent in a nutshell.
Our society is so based upon the need for people to buy things, to consume, to aspire, to upgrade, to indulge, that we no longer exist unless we are buying our identities. This wedding states who I am, really, deep down, because I have bought all the knick-knacks, and gee-gaws, and folderols which say what a special, individual person I am. (And I know that I am special because I’ve got the receipts which prove it).
It’s Anti-Lent, because the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, a goodly and godly chunk of the Sermon on the Mount, warned us that treasures on earth are subject to rust and decay and theft. And if we put our heart into such transitory things then our heart will also be subject to rust and decay and theft. Jesus stands full on against the current cultural assumption that he who dies with the most things, wins.
But the conspicuous consumption of modern day weddings is also Anti-human: a society purportedly full of free people is really a society of slaves, if the people mistake where their freedom truly lies. If they think freedom is to be found in jostling for status, accumulating possessions, branding themselves in a a mania of what Freud called the narcissism of small differences, then they are the most enslaved people of all, living a life that is less than human.
That’s what Lent calls us to renounce; to live a time of sabbath rests, a period in which we can set aside the imperative to consume, and, once more, try to be the fully human beings God calls us to be.
- I was so taken with this interview, that I have transcribed it, and made it available here: [download id=”10″] [↩]