MaundyI was called these things in this exchange at Will & Testament after giving my opinion about a subject with which I’m intimately familiar: the British addiction to pomp and ceremonialism.

My friend William Crawley did a fantastic job of hosting for the BBC a live 90-minute program covering the Royal Maundy Service in Armagh, Northern Ireland. The Maundy thing is strange: it’s a service during which the Queen distributes some specially minted coins to selected senior citizens during a religious service. I watched part of the broadcast this morning and set the cat among the pigeons by remarking: “I’d rather kill myself than live a life where I’d be excited to attend an event like this. In my opinion, there were only two redeeming factors of this event: Crawley’s professionalism amidst the anachronism, and the hot blonde in the tenth row, presented for us so willingly by Camera 3, who clearly feels the same way about this stiff-fest as I do.”

And then it started.

‘AnneB’ responded:

“John please don’t try to speak on behalf of those of us living in the US. Viewed from New York, the pageantry was wonderful. Yes … history … tradition … a great spectacle. Well done everyone involved.”

I replied. “I’m speaking on behalf of myself. … ‘Pageantry’ is a Miss America contest. ‘History’ is the Industrial Revolution. ‘Tradition’ is Easter. A ‘spectacle’ is when Hitchens debates Galloway. … This is an event during which nothing of any significance whatsoever is accomplished other than the purely masturbatory exercise of keeping up tradition. The Queen is walking down a line of seniors patronisingly giving them 82p each, lowering herself – once a year – to the status of a mere subject and daring to use the name of Jesus Christ to suggest that in so doing she is fulfilling his exhortation to serve others?”

This seemed to offend some people.

“Don’t insult our Queen. Your insult is a sign that you don’t understand the Scriptures because this entire service is based on an episode in the life of the Lord Jesus. … Her Majesty the Queen is reenacting that act of humility and she is reversing the betrayal of coins into almsgiving. … Perhaps you would be gracious enough to apologise for your insulting words.”

“John pull your head in and stop being so patronising.”

I don’t think I was patronising at all, and this reaction highlights for me a tendency of an increasing number of people in our society who seem to have been conditioned to react with ‘offence’ to everything said with which they disagree, rather than dealing with the arguments themselves on their merits. I replied.

“The institution of the monarchy must be in bad shape if you really take offence to my opinion about it; in any case I’m not any less gracious for refusing to apologise for having such an opinion (or for stating it). … Unlike your response to me, however, my response to you will not demand any apologies for merely holding these opinions. I’m glad you have the faith to look upon a contrived formality of the establishment and see in it genuine humility; in my view the genuine article looks quite different in that regard, happens more than once every year and tends to be ‘actual’ rather than an ‘enactment.'”

It’s true that the American life which I’ve become accustomed to living tends to reject unnecessarily stuffy formalities like this, perhaps originally as a way of rejecting the British way of life and embracing the freedom of the New World. Just the other day someone pitched me the argument that Americans are genetically predisposed to dislike the phony and the pomp (though there are many clear exceptions if the argument has any merit).

It’s also true that the people I tend to resonate with most are those who cut through the bullshit and deal in a high level of honesty; take my compadre Stephen Graham for example, who cuts it thrice a week on this very blog. I like Chris Hitchens, Gordon Ramsay, Richard Dawkins, Simon Cowell, Howard Stern, Piers Morgan. I hate conventionalism and traditionalism, the doing of things because they have always been done. On my radio show I deal in the spontaneous, the enterprising, the real and honest, rather than the faked and affected. I suppose this may help to explain why the kinds of people who would enjoy the Royal Maundy Service would be so incensed at my straightforward comments about it on W&T.

Recipe for the perfect storm?