The Press Saturday, July 4th 1998

When Enoch Powell died, the Daily Telegraph columnist Peter Simple published an elegy to the Lost Leader which seemed to me not so much fascist as Nazi. I used the word to describe it in this column; and afterwards felt a small pang. After all, the man is very old, and on other subjects very funny. Life no doubt has worse pains and humiliations to offer than being vilified in the Church Times  but I had done what I could to pain and humiliate him. I should not have worried. Last week he was at it again. "Ours has become a country where four-year-old children in primary schools may soon be subject to court orders restraining them from 'racially harassing" fellow pupils; where great big grown-up Army officers may be obliged to attend "racism awareness" courses to bring them into line.

"In an extremely interest-ing court case (which got hardly any notice in the "media") two members of the British National Party were recently accused of publishing 'material likely to incite racial hatred'. After a fair but somewhat farcical trial, they were found guilty … They complain that they and their families have suf-fered continual surveillance and even harassment from government security agen-cies. What is their crime? … They write of the tragic decline of the Euro-pean white race to which we belong, the race that pro-duced the greatest civilisa-tion the world has ever seen … It seems to me that the material complained of, which I have read, is no more likely to incite racial hatred, perhaps less likely, than is the tiresome non-sense about "racism" inces-santly purveyed by the nationwide race relations industry."

And this stuff is published on the op-ed page of the best-selling broadsheet newspaper in the country, and the only one to be edited by a devout and conscientious Christian.

It's the sort of thing to escape the notice of most Christians, especially if they work in the business. A survey conducted by the Journalist magazine to find what professions read discovered that they almost all read the Times. These things are not in the least bit scientific, but perhaps for that reason they tell you more about the responders than a scientific survey might, including the fact that they will answer such questions. I hadn't realised quite ewhy people regard James Jones as a media darling until I realised how much attention he devotes to us. His was quite the longest reply. Is there nothing he does not read? Times, Telegraph, Guardian, London Review of Books, Spectator … He even name checks the three religious correspondents of the papers he reads and chides the Independent for not covering religion more. He goes up in my estimation for not adding Shoot, NME and Loaded to cover all the bases. But in fact none of the bishops admitted to reading anything more vulgar than the Sunday Times; and the only person who admits to reading Management Today is a Unitarian.

With so many priests reading the Times's centre spread, it is not surprising that its diary has acquired supernatural gifts. On Monday it published a squib claiming the Bishop of Chichester had sneaked incognito into David Hare's play about the Church of England, Racing Demon at the Chichester festival theatre. It missed what one might have thought the most interesting aspect of this production, from a diarist's point of view: that it is produced by the Bishop's son; and even from the viewpoint of journalism as practised outside diary columns, there was one small mistake: the play's run at Chichester did not start till three days after the story appeared.

A rather better reason to read the Times is provided by Libby Purves's column on the Diane Blood case: "this has been wrong, and horrible, and demeaning to the very centre of human life. It was a temptation that should never have been offered. To say this is not to wish the mother and baby anything but good luck: history is full of infants who have been born, innocent and unscathed, as a result of bad acts. But a happy ending around a cradle is not everything. Something has been violated here, and someone has to say so.

"The recovery of semen on [Stephen Blood's] deathbed through invasive electronic stimulation.. with all respect (and speaking as a wife myself) .. takes marital rights a long way beyond decency. The dying hours are a mysterious and private land, to be respected. In every great culture, dying words, dying wishes, dying comfort, have been regarded as having power and mystery. To insult somebody on their deathbed is an abomination … Reverse the genders, and it is hard to imagine a man getting similar sympathy if he asked doctors to cut open his unconscious wife and whip out her eggs."

Most of the other religious news was foreign. There was extensive coverage of the trial of two Amish youth for distributing cocaine among their peers. It is a wonderful story, and brought to light the Amish practice of allowing their young a couple of years of freedom in the dangerous modern world, before they decide whether they want to return to a life beyond electricity.  

In the Times there was an elegant report on the case of Christine Gallagher, a housewife in the West of Ireland who claims to receive messages from God and visions of the Virgin.  The hierarchy has now decided this has gone too far; and the Archbishop of Tuam has banned the Masses and confessions that were held in her house. The result has been an economic catastrophe. She lives on an island with a population of 3,000, and the pilgrims who come to see her spend 500,000 a year there. "In the past there was only one way to find work on this island and that was by getting out. Now for the first time we have real work all the year round and the Archbishop wants to take it away" the island's butcher complained.

Is there really such a thing as Pentecost 2000. It was mentioned in the House of Commons, and gave Simon Hoggart, the Guardian's sketchwriter, a fit.: "You could rename all the events in the Christian calendar. Christmas could become Nativity Year Zero, Good Friday would bring us Hanging On In There in '33, and Casting out the Money Lenders would change its theme altogether: In Partnership with the Business Community."

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