Press Column

One of the reassuring things about American television is that people will explain to you there that the end of the world is not at hand. When I finally found a televangelist in Boston ó why is there never one when you need him? ó he was explaining that the present war, or World Situation as it is known in Anglican circles, could not possible be Armageddon, nor even the start of the World World Situation Three, since that will be signalled by a Russian invasion of Israel, as the Bible makes quite clear. Until then, there is no need to worry. Of course, America isnít really a Christian country, or so it seems to me after a weekís in-depth research, though it remains a deeply religious one; however what American believe in is not Jesus but America. Iím not mocking this actually. It is a faith that it is easy for most of the world to share; and what makes it successful is that it is not really credal: at least the formularies are not terribly important. I know that the constitution might as well be a creed, to which all subscribe; but it is not a conclusion to which one is led by a process of ratiocination. On the contrary, itís truths become valuable when they become self-evident. Itís this inability to imagine a world in which the self-evident might not hold that really makes religions secure. But no one has found a way to bottle and preserve it.

There was an extremely significant religious gathering last week, showing the integral role played by religious leaders in the life of the nation, but I was able to find it reported only on the BBCís monitoring service which carried a report from Herat, where, according to the Bakhtar Information Agency, "Various sectors of society, including religious scholars, jihadi figures, and representatives of various fraternal ethnic and tribal groups, who took part in a large gathering held in the grand central mosque of Herat city, overwhelmingly elected the great mojahed His Excellency Mohammed Esmail, overall emir of the southwestern zone."

I love "the various fraternal ethnic and tribal groups": the General synod has been duller without them since the rout of the Anglo-Catholics. We think of spinning as a modern art, but what modern Communications Officer would come up with quite such a delightful phrase to describe an Afghan electorate? One can only hope that the synod starts to refer to its own factions in this way, as a gesture of solidarity at least as effective as everything else it accomplished last week.

And here is the Emirís assumption of office as reported by the Taleban newspaper. "Opening the gathering with praises to God, the great mojahed and overall emir of the Southwestern zone spoke briefly on the duties of religious scholars and jihadi personalities of Herat Province to overcome the prevailing difficulties under the current situation." Thatís how to get the church attendance figures out next time.

The Yorkshire Post had a nice little story on fraternal groups in Ripon Cathedral, where two people have resigned "and a third is considering quitting over what a bishop last night called Ďtensionsí involving the Dean." It had the timeless perfection of a story in which everyone gets their lines just right. The organist says : "Working with the Dean is so difficult and uncomfortable that I am seriously considering whether I should continue in church music. If the Church of England had let a man like him get this far up in the hierarchy I really wonder if Iím in the right organisation." The Dean says he was "astonished and saddened" by the criticism.

Yet an alien, an American, even a Southerner, might wonder whether this was really the most important religious row in Yorkshire at the moment. Peter Hitchens, in the Mail on Sunday magazine, had a long and very disturbing piece about Muslim yobs in Bradford and the attempted burning of St Philipís Church there, which is is situated in a district that has become largely Muslim. It starts with a woman walking to the Girl Guides, when someone throws a rock the size of half a brick at her, shouting "Christian Bitch!" Then the parents taking their children to the Brownies find their cars had stones and eggs thrown at the,, "The vicar says that one of the parents felt a special despair when she realised that the people doing this were not children playing a prank but full-grown young men who clearly intended to frighten and demoralise, and who didnít care if th elittle girls themselves witnessed this display of adult cruelty and spite."

Hitchens goes on to say discussing this, and then the attack on the church, that "It is no good dismissing this series of events as some kind of anti-Asian or anti-Muslim propaganda. Anyone who is seriously concerned with achieving racial harmony and religious peace in this country simply has to admit that something has gone wrong .. which conventional wisdom cannot help." Whether it helps more to say as he goes on to do, that "This part of the city, just over the hill from the more famous Muslim quarter of Manningham, has, in effect, been colonised by a different power. Itís English inhabitants have almost all left, starting with the most prosperous Ö there is something loose here that men of goodwill may not be able to control." The piece is full of careful disclaimers ó the local Imams, for example, are numbered among the men of goodwill: "their horror at these things is genuine". But thereís no doubt that the writer was frightened by what he saw, and that he wants his readers to be frightened too. He blames Muslim separatism. So here we have the outline of an alliance between Conservatives and Guardian secularists against the expansion of faith schools.

That deserves deeper treatment but Iíve only got room for a joke. The Methodists are reported by the Daily Telegraph to be urging women to bring china to church this Sunday so they can smash it as an expression of their feelings about domestic violence. But theyíre Methodists, so the china is to be smashed inside polythene bags, so that no one gets hurt. Do Methodist wife-beaters wrap their wives in polythene first?

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