England on Sunday
Julie Burchill on the Bible (and other religious topics)
by Le Roux Schoeman
Date:Dec 17, 2004
Julie Burchill is to Lutheranism what Madonna (aka Ruth) is to Kabbalah. "I find beauty in the very lack of ritual when it comes to religion. I love campness in its right place … but when I worship I don’t want a bunch of jokers ponced up and waving perfume around," she spews and you know straight away you are talking to someone who earns a very comfortable Brighton-based living on the opinion, fact and overstatement Exchange of column writing.
"‘The truth loves to go naked’ said a wise man, and this is one of the reasons why I find Rome so incredibly suspect — apart from other minor considerations such as woman-hatred, child-molesting and saying that Protestants can’t go to Heaven. Just drop the drag and tell the truth, suckers," she implores the Vatican.
With a third marriage notched on her ring finger in early August this year, Burchill has just returned from a rainy, enjoyable honeymoon in Antigua. She recently switched, after five opinionated years as a columnist for The Guardian, to the column pages of The Times as an outlet for her trademark rant-bordering writings. And for better money.
The work ‘regime’ behind a Burchill column, however, resembles more closely a laissez faire federalism, with Burchill working from her sea-side pad, reportedly a shrine to self-expression, fitted out with Punjabi pink and fake animal print.
"I am the laziest gal in town, as the old song has it — spend approximately three hours a week working. I do all my work between 5 and 9 in the morning, then just goof off/do publicity/e-mails/charity all day," she replies during our mildly unconventional e-mail interview (explaining the absence of any word here on her ‘svelte figure’, comments on which dot most of the recent features on her by (mainly female) journalists covering her debut as a teen author.
If the body of teen book Sugar Rush (Young Picador, £9.99) is youth in Brighton, its limbs are lesbian love, changing schools, family break-up, and under-age drinking.
Scenes in it, such as one where a suspected gang rape turns out to be consensual queue sex have been criticised by some. But others, such as Channel 4, have expressed plans to bring the story to television screens.
As a mother of two sons (one from her first marriage to Tony Parsons and another from her marriage with Cosmo Landesman) and someone who, as she states in a recent interview, was a lesbian for a month in 1995, Burchill seems wholly un-jaded as she enters her union with Daniel Raven, 13 years her junior. She has made very public, as columnists do, perhaps, her sense of expectation for her current relationship, noting that their past nine years together have felt like nine months. They only feud over ‘proper things’ (which include "domestic religion": "I am furiously Protestant; my husband, though allegedly God-fearing, finds all organised religion equally dubious, the swine)," she reported in her column.
So, as a teen author and furious Protestant, does she think the Church of England has lost its youth appeal?
"You’re not kidding! I went to a local Anglican church earlier this year, I was described as ‘this young person.’ I’m 45!" she replies.
She also hopes all the Church’s "gynophobic whoopsies mince off to the Church of Rome" to allow "stinky women to serve God."
She’s not all about knocking Rome though, ‘By Grace, Through Faith’ does really seem to give her lasting religious goose bumps.
"We don’t need no place to worship, Lutherans. It’s a distraction, innit. From the individual’s relationship with God," says a fervently Lutheran boy in his cameo in Sugar Rush – Burchill’s Lutheran equivalent of Jehovah Witness-style canvassing among the young.
But it’s not all youthful sex and Lutheran boys along Brighton’s briny beach. She too, she says, fears the Church is getting dangerously stuck on issues such as the ordination of women bishops and homosexual clergy.
"The irony is that it is the anti-sex people who end up obsessing about it, rather than people like me who see it as a total pleasure but would never confuse it with the real issues which confront us, such as poverty and theocratic oppression," she says.
What frustrates her about religious leadership in this country? "Most of all, the way that they are always sucking up to religions which would have them murdered in a moment if the boot was on the other foot. There is a difference between living in harmony with religions which wish us no ill — Sikhism, Hinduism, Judaism, etc., — and living in harmony with somebody who’d smite you soon as look at you. One is respect — the other is self-loathing bordering on the suicidal," the reply comes.
Burchill, who started out in journalism at 17, running away from her Bristol home to go and write for NME in London, is an unlikely spiritual mentor. Hers doesn’t strike you as a one-size-fits-all salvation template. Parts of her very customised Confession of Faith, like the bit where she admits to getting drunk before reading the Bible (I [then] get totally swept up on the magic of it all), would seem too frivolous for the liking of any imaginable congregation, it is fair to say.
And, in the Church, a robust straight-talker has met, in a secular view, a pastorally minded mealy mouth. The rush of the showdown is: who reigns in who?