Press Column

It’s rare to be able to report good news for Dr David Holloway, but he must be delighted by the payment of £10m or so by the Bank of Scotland to Pat Robertson as compensation for pulling out of their joint venture to bring telephone banking to the population of his extensive mailing list. For Dr Robertson’s offence, when you examine it, was not to say that Homosexuals were wicked men who would go to hell, though he undoubtedly said and believes this. It was to accuse the Scots of being poofters. "In Europe, the big word is tolerance. Homosexuals are riding high in the media .. and in Scotland you can’t believe how strong the homosexuals are." It’s all that tossing the caber, I suppose.

Enlightened opinion has been complaining about his opinions since the deal was first announced. The Bank ignored them; after all, there are more potential customers on Dr Robertson’s mailing lists than in the whole of the United Kingdom. The only person who seems to have taken any notice was Dr Robertson himself, who announced to his audience that homosexuals were incredibly strong in Scotland. It was after that that the Bank was forced to pull out. Whatever the spin put on the story by such worthies as Richard Holloway and Roseanna Cuningham, the SNP "Justice spokeswoman" the fact remains that it was what the Guardian called "a direct attack on Scotland" which forced the collapse of the deal. So there is probably lots of mileage yet in the view that being nasty to gays is an acceptable substitute for morality. This is better news for David than for Richard Holloway.

The Sunday press coverage of all this was extensive, if not deep. Both the Observer and the Sunday Times had long articles describing the inner machinations of the Bank of Scotland as it decided to extract itself form the deal; the Independent on Sunday had a comment piece from A.N. Wilson, which is cheaper than employing reporters, and gives more readers pleasure. But it made an odd contrast with his piece in the previous day’s Guardian which had been a sophisticated defence of benign agnosticism. It was chopped down from a forthcoming book, and so left some very odd lacunae. "I had always thought that the human race was stuck in a religious position as a result of a serious of philosophical mistakes" he wrote. What, "always", even when studying at St Stephen’s House? I’m sure he’d now reply "especially then", but it would be interesting to know that truth.

His conclusion on Saturday may be compatible with camp Anglo-Catholicism but it is completely opposed to his column on Sunday. On Saturday he wrote : "Let us say that .. all religion is no more than a projection … then would it not still be s projection of our most fundamental moral, ethical, spiritual and emotional concerns? Would not the discarding of such a projection have the most calamitous psychological results, not only for individuals but for societies? What is the literalists and the fundamentalists on both sides of the argument had got it wrong? What if the truth lay elsewhere, in the those mysterious and linguistic areas which the simple-minded would like to dismiss as wishy-washy or fudge?

"Religion has .. cash value: irrespective of whether you can prove the existence of God, you can demonstrate the effectiveness of religious practice. In the actual business of life, in grief, fear, and sorrow, men and women and children say their prayers and find themselves comforted."

This kind of nostalgic acceptance of the inevitability and utility of religion seems quite incompatible with the brisk scorn on display in the Independent on Sunday, where he lambasts Tipper Gore for helping in a twelve-step program for junkies which is based squarely on the effectiveness of religious practice. "One moment a junkie, Herlinda gave her life to the Lord. Now she’s employed at Wal-Mart and has been ‘honoured as an employee of the month’. Christianity thus bandied about by the politicians looks like a catch-all solution. ‘Faith-based approaches’ do not cost the taxpayer one bean. They claim to be able to transform American society into a squeaky-clean Evangelical paradise in which the young people come off crack cocaine and get jobs at Wal-Mart."

Next week he can write a column arguing with equal sincerity that a job at Wal-Mart is better than a life on crack cocaine.

But it would be wrong to suppose that the Americans have a monopoly on miracle cures. Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph had a story that will make the treasury salivate. Gerald Coates’ Pioneer church has reported that worshippers find gold dust on their hands and faces after praying. There is even a report, in Hinchley Wood, Surrey, of a muscian displaying to the congregation a miraculously gold-coated molar. The final paragraph, completely deadpan, reads: "Mr Coates also claimed that a teenage girl from Cobham, Surrey, who worships at Hinchley Wood, had been smothered in gold dust while sitting her exams last week." Extraordinary, really, that no one else in the hall noticed what had happened. But it should certainly help him to outbid the local Church of England schools. The Daily Telegraph had earlier carried a front-page story about state schools opting out to become Anglican on the grounds that they then get better results. I am sure this is true, and probably the one factor which might do something lastingly to reverse the decline in church attendance. But how can a mere Church of England school compete with something which promises not merely scholarships but showers of gold dust to its pupils?

In the mean time, there will presumably be a tremendous inflation as more and more charismatic churches go onto the gold standard. This particular wave originated in Mexico, though the miraculously golden filling is common in Latin American countries with poor teeth and unaffordable dentists. Over here, in the materialistic West, most people know better than to value gold like that: at HTB they’re probably praying for platinum dentures.

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