The answered prayers of the great and the good

The Spectator has carried out a Christmas survey, which solicited “answered prayers or wishes”. Presumably ‘wishes’ were included for those who don’t pray. So we have a Christmas survey sent out to… well, who precisely? We don’t know how many people were surveyed, but the Speccie received responses from Justin Welby, Amber Rudd, James Dyson and 12 others. We know this because the article is headed: ‘Answered prayers, by Justin Welby, Amber Rudd, James Dyson and 12 others‘. It’s an interesting piece, not least because of the headlined chosen three and the supplementary “12 others”. Perhaps one can understand the higher profile of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Home Secretary – they are the Establishment, after all. But why does Sir James Dyson outrank Cardinal Vincent Nichols? Does a knighthood trump a cardinalate? If so, why that particular knight? Why not Sir Anthony Seldon or Sir Tim Rice? Or is the compiler of this list not particularly favourable toward the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster?

It’s really quite interesting to observe how the Speccie discerns worthiness of inclusion in an article about answered prayers. It’s basically a list of the great and the good mingled with a few Speccie mates – irrespective of faith – and the list inclines toward the Establishment:

Justin Welby
Frederick Forsyth
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Dan Snow
Helen Lederer
Tim Rice
Tom Holland
Peter McKay
Anthony Seldon
Christina Lamb
James Dyson
Amber Rudd
Darius Guppy
Libby Purves

It’s even more interesting in the context of the imminent announcement of the #CranmerList2016 (in about a fortnight) – the ‘Top 100’ UK Christians of the year. Every year there’s an outpouring of disgust and dismay that such a list should even be contemplated, but what’s this Speccie list if it isn’t some subjective ‘survey’ of people whose answered prayers are considered more interesting to read about than, say, those of 15 Christians from all walks of life in all levels of society? What’s wrong with that? Too demotic?

And then we get the ‘Catholic of the Year‘. This year the Catholic Herald have decided that this honour goes to Bishop Philip Egan:


The enclave which determined this denominational insularity is composed of the editorial staff and board of directors of the Catholic Herald. That’s cosy. Were they eligible for inclusion themselves? Did they solicit nominations? Were they inspired by the Holy Spirit as they voted? Did they actually vote, or did the Bishop ’emerge’? But what of ordinary Roman Catholics – you know, the laity who feed the poor or house the homeless, or those who are being martyred in Iraq and Syria (‘Catholic of the Year’ doesn’t specify UK citizenship). And is a bishop not already honoured by men? Does he not already have his reward in full? Is Bishop Philip Egan really more worthy of being named ‘Catholic of the Year’ than, say, Sr Catherine Wybourne, whose digital fragrance and daily Twitter prayers (while she endures her own cross of suffering) are a blessing to the world? At least The Tablet extends its Catholic list to a ‘Top 100‘ and focuses on laity, though, again, it isn’t clear how these are selected.

The #CranmerList 2016 will be released to coincide with the New Year’s Honours list. Everyone named has been nominated by ordinary people: it is your list. If you’re not happy about the sex / ethnic / denominational make-up, it’s because you didn’t nominate enough intersex Asian Quakers. Perhaps next year it’ll be worth writing a piece about the answered prayers of nurses, teachers, cleaners, farmers, dustmen and white working-class boys. Wasn’t the faith preached in the first instance to poor, ignorant, illiterate men – a college made up, for the most part, of uneducated but inspired fishermen? Perhaps not enough of them read the Spectator.