From The Church To The Press – The New Form Of Confession | Ben Thompson
It’s no secret that organised religion – namely Christianity – has been on the decline in Britain in recent years. Anglicanism is all but extinct among young people, with only 2 percent of young adults saying they’re members of the Church of England.
Catholicism hasn’t fared much better. A 2016 report by St. Mary’s University found that the Catholic Church was struggling to gain converts in Britain, and had the fewest number of new believers among other Christian denominations. For roughly every convert, there are ten Catholics who no longer identify with the faith.
The Church is certainly heading into uncertain waters. Where that leaves many of its practices is less clear.
As somebody who grew up Catholic, I’m all too familiar with the Sacrament of Penance – better known as Confession. This is where a believer steps into a confessional booth and admits their sins to a listening priest – sat behind a screen – before saying prayers to repent of their sins.
The idea of Confession has fascinated many people, and prompted many a hypothetical question in Religious Studies classrooms (‘So if somebody confessed to murder, would the priest have to tell the police?’)
But as fewer people head into the church to confess to their short-comings, they are turning to other means of airing their dirty laundry – without as many Hail Mary’s.
There’s been a recent upsurge of articles in recent weeks relating to adultery, infidelity and general marriage dysfunction. Often these are letters from members of the public, seeking advice on their various conundrums.
Here are just a few examples-
- ‘I’m involved with a married man. Will our affair survive lockdown?’ – The Guardian, 18th April 2020.
- ‘Coronavirus Diaries: A Quarantine Fling With My Roommate Has Me Questioning My Sexuality’, Slate, 10th April 2020.
- ‘Self-isolation could stretch marriage to breaking point – mine included (probably)’, The Daily Telegraph, 16th March 2020.
- ‘I am extremely attracted to my brother-in-law – and now we’re locked down together’, The Guardian, 14th April 2020.
You get the idea – there’s a lot of soul bearing going on. Much like confession, anonymity is usually guaranteed, whilst the one bearing witness to your admittance of sin tends to be a celebrity with a Agony Aunt column – Coleen Nolan in The Daily Mirror, for example.
It’s quite different from a Catholic confession in that forgiveness tends not to be given out – but advice. We’re no longer giving our turmoil up to a Higher Power, we’re handing it over to a stranger to analyse and make sense of.
But that’s not the oddest aspect of this whole thing, in my opinion.
It’s that people seemingly believe their only outlet is a total stranger – and by default everybody who will read the article when it’s published online. Do they not fear being uncovered or exposed? Are we sacrificing privacy for the sake of a little levity?
And worse, are we making light of adultery altogether? There’s been a noticeable pushback against these recent articles, but they aren’t an entirely new phenomenon. Much has been made of The Daily Telegraph’s recurring editorials on adultery-
- ‘Why men should give their wives a cheat pass this Christmas’, The Daily Telegraph, 7th December 2019.
- ‘Licence to cheat: the wives who give their husbands a ‘sex pass”, The Daily Telegraph, 21st May 2016.
- ‘I’m happily married and in a long-term affair – and I’m not prepared to give up either man’, The Daily Telegraph, 25th September 2019.
- ‘I’ve been having a secret affair for eight years…and have no intention of stopping’, The Daily Telegraph, 16th February 2020.
- ‘My husband has had at least ten affairs – and it’s made our marriage stronger’, The Daily Telegraph, 14th August 2019.
And maybe these headlines get to the crux of the issue.
These aren’t remorseful tales of caution. These aren’t shameful revelations between a believer and his preacher.
These are dishy tales, woven to cover the backs of adulterers and cheaters. And the fact that a supposedly conservative newspaper runs them is a sign of how blase we’ve become about adultery.
It’d hardly even register as a ‘sin’ anymore – what’s to confess?
You’d have no chance of getting a Scarlet Letter nowadays – you’d be more likely to land a job as a Telegraph columnist.