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Hellish hymns

Hellish hymns

by Ann Farmer | May 06, 2019

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They say that 'My Way' is played on a loop in hell

For the first time ever, no hymns made it into the top 10 musical choices for funerals in Britain last year, according to Co-operative Funeral Care. Pop songs (Ed Sheeran and Abba) and themes from movies (Monty Python’s Life of Brian) and television series (Game of Thrones) have evidently displaced hymns like The Lord’s My Shepherd and Nearer My God To Thee from the most popular list.

Telegraph columnist Jemima Lewis notes that, in line with the 1944 Education Act, even non-religious state schools are legally required to provide a daily act of “broadly Christian worship,” though “vanishingly few do.” Many have dropped assemblies altogether, while others offer secular themes like “number bonds or Chinese New Year” in order to cater for “multiple faiths and none.” Lewis says that the children love the new rituals, but,

“the absence of hymns troubles me – for romantic, not religious, reasons. They were the folk songs of our bygone Christian culture, repositories of knowledge and traditions and comfort, passed down through generations. Allowing them to die feels to me like a well-meaning act of cultural vandalism. Like watching a great cathedral burn, without mourning its loss.” (“Letting our old hymns die out is a tragedy – even for a non-believer,” Telegraph, May 4, 2019).

It is indeed a tragedy when a nation is deprived of its own cultural heritage,  but an avoidable one ‑‑ if only education authority Ofsted were quite so zealous about schools observing the law in this respect as they are for teaching children “sexual diversity” and singling out religious schools for special censure if they fail to conform. 

Traditional hymns are culturally valuable, especially in a diverse nation where there is now less and less national culture for various groups to integrate into, but they are also wonderful primers of Christian theology ‑‑ the works of John Wesley, for example, and John Henry Newman’s Firmly I Believe and Truly. Perhaps that is the very reason why successive governments have allowed them to fall silent even when, judging by the rapid degeneration of our society, they have never been so much needed.

We do not even think it necessary to hold a funeral for our dying religious heritage, viewing its threatened demise with much less concern than the conflagration of Notre-Dame de Paris. However, we should heed as a warning that fact that at funerals, Frank Sinatra’s "My Way" is “always hogging the number one spot.” They say that it is played on a loop down in Hell, where the fire never goes out.

Ann Farmer writes from the UK.

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