Hymn the Dean of Southwark really ought to ban
There’s another hymn ‘not in the glory of God’ the Dean wouldn’t dare to ban, says Theo Hobson
The Dean of Southwark has entered dangerous territory. He has banned the rousing anthem, Jerusalem, from the cathedral's play-list.
He dropped the hymn from a memorial service last week, because it was "not in the glory of God". His spokesman has since expanded on his decision slightly: "The hymn Jerusalem is often used on national occasions, although rarely in Southwark, even on such occasions. The Dean of Southwark does not believe that it is to the glory of God."
He has a point. When Jerusalem is sung in church, the atmosphere suddenly changes, from quiet meditation to rugby stadium: the blokes who've been mumbling the previous hymns start belting it out. It shows up the half-heartedness of normal hymn-singing. And, of course, the enthusiasm usually has more to do with patriotism and sport than the Gospel of Jesus. No wonder the clergy don't like it.
But what's really interesting here is that the motivation for banning Jerusalem has been fudged somewhat. The implication is that it is too nationalistic, but the Dean's spokesman does not quite say that.
Why not? Because there is another hymn that is more explicitly nationalistic that the Dean would never dare to exclude. I mean the National Anthem. A hymn that prays for the monarch's military victories is hardly closer to the New Testament than Blake's odd song about the young Jesus rambling through the English countryside.
So it seems that the Dean has consciously left his motivation vague: if accused of a lack of patriotism, he can reply that the hymn is theologically rather than politically dubious; that he finds Blake's poetic fantasy to be theologically absurd, rather than jingoistic.
There's an added irony: Blake himself hated the monarchy and the established Church and if rugby had been invented, he'd have hated that, too. ·
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