The empty vessels clang with oily insincerity

People lay flowers and light candles during a candlelight vigil for murdered British tourist Grace Millane

Jesus is reported by Matthew as warning, ?when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others?. AC/DC?s Brian Johnson expressed the same sentiment, slightly more earthily, when he said, ?I don’t tell everybody I’m doing it?spend some of your own money and get it done?.

But this is 2018, and no sentiment can possibly have any moral value unless it?s expressed loudly, publicly, and repeatedly. Quote:

All over New Zealand?there has been an outpouring of emotion, or at any rate of public displays of emotion?there being no point in having an emotion unless you can show it in public. The candles have come out en masse, as it were, and have been lit in prominent places at what are called vigils. People at these vigils?mainly women, to judge from the photograph?stand around and look mournful, and I daresay they hug one another. They shed tears, as the prime minister of the country was said nearly to have done as she apologized to the parents of the victim on her country?s behalf.

Do people have vigil candles at the ready at home, and joss sticks, just waiting for the occasion to demonstrate to the world the depth of their feeling and their inner goodness, or do they have to go and buy them and, if so, from where? It all seems very peculiar to me, this outpouring of kitschy emotion. End of quote.

This sort of fatuous conspicuous compassion is reminiscent of Dickens?s Uriah Heep, assuring anyone who could bear to listen that he was ?ever so ?umble?. When it comes to such oily public displays, however pointless, Jacinda Ardern is determined not to be outdone. Quote:

The prime minister of New Zealand was not the only public figure in her country to apologize; several others did so. These apologies were, of course, both costless and meaningless. The people making them were not remotely responsible for the murder, and therefore could not have felt anything remotely resembling genuine guilt. They were simply preening themselves by apologizing. If history shows anything, it shows that, even in the best of social circumstances, murderers will occasionally arise, and as far as can be known, no official in New Zealand, by act of commission or omission, caused the murder. End of quote.

In a more dignified age, perhaps, people would have mourned quietly. But ours is not a dignified age, as Queen Elizabeth found when the braying flagellants of enforced ?compassion? demanded the sort of public histrionics to which they have become addicted.

Like the hypocrites whom Jesus scorned, these public displays of unctuous sentimentality are solely for the purpose of announcing one?s goodness to the world at large. Quote:

But what do all the neo-pagan ceremonies, not only in New Zealand but throughout the rest of the Western world, signify? What do all the candlelighters think that they are doing, and whom benefiting??Probably most of them would claim to be spiritual but not religious, that ghastly phrase that is unctuously self-congratulatory, in that it implies that the person who says it of him- or (more frequently) herself is not crassly materialistic, believes that there is something to human life over and above the day-to-day flux of getting and spending, and is an all-round good person, unlike most of humanity. End of quote.

If the candle-lighting virtue-signaller-on-the-street is bad enough, politicians are even worse. Quote:

No sooner is there a terrorist outrage such as the recent one in Strasbourg than politicians scramble to let it be known that their thoughts are with?etc., etc. This is plainly bilge. Their thoughts are I had better say something or the electorate will think that I am unfeeling and don?t care, and then where will my chances of reelection be? And this is symptomatic of the emotional falsity of our age, a consequence of the decline of religious belief and cultural confidence; an age the emotional life of which is too shallow to be plumbed. End of quote.

Public vigils were once solely reserved for such solemn occasions as honouring the fallen, state funerals, or religious holidays. Nowadays, even a brutish thief justly struck down during the commission of one of his string of thuggish crimes is honoured with the ubiquitous flowers, teddy bears and candles.

Dalrymple traces this trend back to the death of Diana Spencer, but I would look back further, to 1980. The murder of John Lennon prompted the sort of public ?vigils? which have become so depressingly common. In its way, then, it is rather fitting that Lennon’s vacuously sincere dirge, Imagine, should have become the anthem for the candle-lighters and public weepers.