The parliamentary recess is with us once more, affording me the opportunity to experience an increasingly rare delight. For as one goes about London during the week, whether sitting through debates at Westminster, or mixing with 'friends' in restaurants, or even lying in one's cot contemplating matters of state and the reason for Lembit Opik, one is rarely if ever afforded the luxury of 'complete silence'. The incessant throb of our great capital city is unfortunately, like the threat of gout or a branch of 'Tesco Metro', never very far away. It seems, increasingly, as if people in general are afraid of stillness; that if they were to switch off their 'walkmen' or reduce their verbal babel they might, like Echo, fade into nothingness.
Last week, the High Court in London decreed that councillors in the town of Bideford in Devon were breaching the terms of the 1972 Local Government Act, by choosing to hold prayers prior to their sessions. It seems that one of their number, a certain Mr Bone, had 'got Dawkins' and subsequently taken umbrage at the religious devotion of his fellow members. I need hardly add that Mr Bone is a representative of the Liberal Democrats, whose leader is such a fan of the oddball 'Professor' and his crackpot views, but one cannot help feeling that this victory is a hollow one, a shallow one and a rather sad reflection on the sort of noise obsessed, spiritually shy, society in which we live.
Both Houses of Parliament start their day with brief prayer sessions. This tradition, thought to date back to the mid sixteenth century, affords Members of the Commons and the Lords the opportunity to reflect on their duty and in the case of the Lords to thank their maker for giving them the chance to see another day. These sessions are a wonderful moment to stand silently, before the hurly burly, rough and tumble business of democracy 'kicks in' and although they are often poorly attended, for my own part, I am always very grateful for the meditation they afford.
I am sad to report that having won their first scalp at Bideford the agnostic rabble have now turned their gaze on Westminster. While consoling oneself with the fact that The Established Church remains an integral part of the constitutional framework of our nation, one does increasingly fear that 'political correctness' and this populist 'fad' for atheism may yet win the day. Should this happen, we will not only lose a rather superb tradition, but yet another moment of rare silence in the cut and thrust, hither and thither, shout and mumble ‘culture’ of our depressingly modern world.
One day perhaps, when faith has been reduced to an echo and the Narcissus Dawkins remains - staring fondly at his eyebrows in a stream - we may think back on what we have lost. And weep.