At the 2002 Edinburgh Book Fair, Antonia Fraser attributes this saying to Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV of France. Whilst it has been variously attributed to other French princesses, if it was ever said, it should probably more accurately be translated as “Let them eat brioche”.
‘Who cares?’ I hear you say. ‘Does it matter who said it, and does it really matter whether it was cake or brioche?’ Probably not.
On the other hand, the issue as to whether a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit has much more significance. Produced at the McVitie’s factory in Stockport, the Jaffa cake production area covers an acre and includes a production line over a mile long. They are big business, and as such, a right definition is crucial because chocolate covered biscuits carry 20% value added tax whilst chocolate covered cakes do not.
The issue was settled in court in 1991 with the Jaffa Cake being defined as a cake in spite of it being the size of a biscuit and being eaten like a biscuit. One of the factors taken into account by the court, was that, in common with other cakes, Jaffa Cakes go hard when stale whereas biscuits go soft. With tens of billions of Jaffa Cakes sold since that definition, the treasury has lost out on millions of pounds of VAT income.
Perhaps more than any previous generation, ours is happy not to place any real significance on accurate definitions. If you want to call it a cake, call it a cake, but if you want to call it a biscuit call it a biscuit.
Sometimes, it simply does not matter; a rose by any other name smells just as sweet. However sometimes it does matter and one of the most difficult tasks we face today is deciding when it does and when it does not.
Perhaps more than any other group in history, the Pharisees tried to define everything; at least as far as the law of God went. Their problem was that they took things too far. For many of us Christians today, we are struggling to find the right balance. We definitely should not copy the Pharisees, but neither should we just take on board the prevalent cultural norms of our society.
So how do we become better at judging when to insist on accurate definition and when to say, ‘who cares – it does not really matter?’. I am going to suggest four ways:
Firstly, allow our thinking to be shaped by the Holy Spirit through what God says in the bible.
Secondly, make sure we don’t ignore our inner voice of conscience. It is not infallible, but it is a helpful guide.
Thirdly, read and research things that you disagree with, not to disprove them, but to understand why others hold the views that they do.
Fourthly, don’t be afraid to disagree and argue. It will need to be done graciously, and it will require effort to ensure we are informed in what we say.
For many of us, it is perhaps too late to solve the situation completely; it can take a lifetime of learning to even begin to judge rightly on the hundreds of issues that face us. However, whatever stage we are at in life, we can all improve a little. Even from this blog you have learned how to distinguish between a cake and a biscuit.