The Press Saturday, June 28th 1997
The religious event of the week, so far as the papers were concerned, took place in New York, with a meeting between two of the greatest spiritual leaders of our age: Mother Teresa and Princess Diana. Angels appear to have announced the "unannounced visit": how else is one to account for the presence of "a small, noisy crowd plus a bevy of reporters and photographers"? A spokesman for the order described the visit as "very private", which no doubt explains which the two of them appeared hand in hand at the end of it, waved to the audience, and chatted for a while for the benefit of the photographers.
The Times, however, devoted even more space to another spiritual leader, an American disc jockey named Neale Donald Walsh, who teaches that "There's no such thing as sin. No evil. No right. No wrong. We're all imperfect, yet perfect in our own special way." And he has five ex-wives (and nine children) to prove the point.
Volume two of his Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue (love that subtitle) has joined volume one in the he New York Times's non-fiction best-seller list. It has to be said that God has vouchsafed to Walsh a revelation peculiarly well-adapted to the American best-seller lists. Devotees are to practice saying three times a day "I LOVE SEX, I LOVE MONEY AND I LOVE ME" (capitals Hers). The only thing of which God really disapproves, it seems, is alcohol and meat. Susan Ellicott's interview with him was exquisitely funny, especially at the end, where he dissolved into tears in front of her: "I really don't want to be the flavour of the month. I want this to have an effect."
"These are the home movies of my mind." He told her. "The personal sacred process of communicating with myself." Don't think that becoming a best-selling channel for divine wisdom of this sort is all fun and games. He has to spend thirty weeks a year on the road promoting himself with his sixth wife; and he is beginning to see what he has in common with Princess Diana: "It's like the Royal Family. There are simply things one can't do if one has any sense of responsibility to those who look up to one."
God's conversations are published in this country by Hodder and Stoughton. Perhaps they just got bored of publishing people like John Stott and Cardinal Hume.
Prince Charles, unlike God and his ex-wife, talks to Clifford Longley. This makes it difficult to be sure how well-informed Clifford's shrewd speculations about Church-State relations are. He would, after all, be sniping at the establishment even if the Prince had no view on the matter. But perhaps this point is irrelevant. What matters is that there is for the moment a coincidence of interest between the Roman Catholic case against the Establishment and the high Tory case against the General Synod. Several pieces in the Daily Telegraph recently have suggested a growing tension between the Prince's advisers and what they take to be the ruling evangelical clique on the General Synod.
The prospect of the Prince marrying Mrs Parker Bowles is clearly one of the knots in this tension. I can't imagine Dr Carey putting up a real fight against this. On the contrary he is clearly trying to work out a way by which the Church of England can come to terms with remarriage. But there is just as clearly a vocal Anglican tendency determined to oppose it, and this faction is saying what the whole Church should, in the opinion of the middle market papers. Note, this is not to say that the readership of the Daily Mail think Charles shouldn't remarry. They just think the Church should oppose the prospect, because it is part of the constitutional role of the Church of England to be wrong about things like that.
In any case, Clifford's column last week was a pretty clear indication of this sort of dissatisfaction: "An increasingly moralistic tone is being adopted by the Evangelical group which has come to dominate the affairs of the Church of England Some Evangelicals will be happy with nothing less than a squeaky-clean happy-clappy Evangelical, sort of royal Cliff Richard.
"This suggests it is high time that public opinion started to move Prince Charles's way. The Church of England needs reminding that the Supreme Governorship is an institution offered strictly on a 'take it or leave it' basis, and has, in fact, nothing whatever to do with the personal conduct (or religious sympathies) of the royal individual who holds it."
In other words, the Church of England needs the monarchy more than the monarchy needs the Church of England. If this is really what the monarchy thinks, we are in for interesting times, foir it is not a proposition to which the General Synod will readily assent.
The Guardian has virtually given up religion while Madeleine Bunting is on maternity leave, but it did have one wholly delightful story on the foreign pages: the Roman Catholic bishop of Catania has refused Pietro Aglieri, an arrested Mafia boss "who was once one of the Mob's most ruthless killers" permission to take a correspondence course in theology from his prison cell. This is odd. I thought that Cardinal Ratzinger could always use Mafia-trained theologians.
The only other appearance of theological education in the papers came in the Times, where the producer of the Spice Girls' film explained that his Oxford degree in theology had been a considerable help in his career. Both the Times and the Daily Telegraph, however, covered a survey showing that sixth-formers studying religious education quite ignore the sexual aspects of it. This got a distressingly ambiguous headline in the Daily Telegraph: "Single sex is all right say young Christians". Perhaps that's why there are so few of them. Victoria's, story, too, showed signs of odd cutting. "When asked if there were any circumstances in which adultery was morally right, 50% of the students describing themselves as atheists answered 'yes' compared with 30% of Anglicans and Catholics.
"Mr Vardy said the survey had its limitations in that the teenagers questioned were among the more intelligent in the country."