THIS point of view is seen as eccentric by some, but on the whole I have found that it is a very good idea to listen to what someone has actually said before attacking them for it.
I didn’t hear the lecture which the Archbishop of Canterbury gave recently. Only a few sentences from it were broadcast, and largely the same few quoted in the press. So I can’t comment on what he said because I don’t know what it was.
However, I have seen a fair bit of what has been reported and broadcast, and most seems to have been based on what someone told them they’d read that someone thought he’d said. Or pretty well the same snippet I’d heard. But, overnight, it seems that the chap’s demanded beheading in the streets, starting tomorrow.
This isn’t impossible, but it seems unlikely, so possibly one needs to check if it’s true before grabbing the tale and running with it.
We all know how gossip works. Someone sort of hears something with half an ear, passes it on to someone who’s after a good tale, tips it across to someone who embroiders it a bit, and then it becomes something that “everybody knows”.
A whole game is based on this: we call it “Chinese Whispers”.
There is an old story from the First World War, when messages got back from the front by a variety of messengers, crackly field telephones, and small boys on bikes with muddy bits of paper. The besieged captain sent the message: “Send reinforcements; we’re going to advance!”
Back at base they received: “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance.”
But I prefer the James Thurber fairytale about the Goose’s Husband.
This well-mannered bird was highly thought of by everyone in the farmyard. Someone commented of him: “He really is a most proper gander!”
A panicked hen misheard this, and rushed off, clucking to all and sundry that she had heard that the Goose’s Husband was involved in propaganda, and by the time the tale hit the farmyard press he was a Russian spy.
He was carted off in the night, and was never heard of again.
Before we cook the archbishop’s goose it seems only fair that everyone concerned goes off and ploughs through the whole script of the lecture. Especially journalists and commentators, who are busy turning a possibly quite proper old bird into yet another agent of evil, and opening all kinds of cans of worms to feed it on.