Christopher Howse

The gospel truth

And even the Archers, according to Simon Loveday’s seriously skewed ‘new look at the Good Book’: The Bible for Grown-Ups

More brides in Britain go down the aisle to Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ than to any other tune, Simon Loveday notes. He cannot resist adding that ‘it seems doubtful that they have fully taken in the words of the rest of the song’. That must be true. ‘I’m not that chainedup little person still in love with you,’ yells the defiant narrator in Gloria’s song. ‘You’re not welcome anymore.’ If anything, ‘I Will Survive’ belongs, it seems to me, to a genre of assertive anthems, like ‘My Way’ and ‘Invictus’, that appeal to people who are the imaginary heroes of their own Desert Island Discs and examine their lives as little as the lyrics that make them feel better.

So why does the author bring up this detail of the modern British marriage ritual? Because, for the brides, he says, this song ‘may be only a piece of rock music, but the resonance with the Psalms has not escaped them’. I’d have thought this very unlikely indeed. Many brides, and grooms, are utterly unfamiliar with the Psalms, unless they have by chance run into ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’. But his larger point is that ‘I Will Survive’ shares with religion a language of ‘high seriousness’.

Such high seriousness is exemplified, he says, by something Emily Dickinson wrote about the only way to recognise poetry: ‘If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.’ One knows what she means, but it is a pretty useless litmus test. It would exclude most of Pope, much of Browning and long stretches of epic poetry. Of course, she might have retorted: ‘That is — not what — I call poetry.’ But it doesn’t help Loveday’s next generalisation: ‘Anyone who examines religious language is going to find that it evokes feelings of solemnity and awe.’

That is a question-begging principle that rules out acres of the Book of Numbers, for example, or the letters of St Paul.

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