Press Column

The Rev’d Ian Paisley’s attack on line dancing was most exhaustively covered in the Guardian. I find his logic hard to fault: "the dancing of the world, hugging the other sex, set to music, is sensual, and clearly caters to the lust of the flesh." Who can forget the frisson that ran through the room when Ruth Gledhill waltzed through her own wedding reception in the arms of her husband? Had Mr Paisley been present, he might have popped all his rivets and exploded, like an overstressed boiler. "Line dancing is as sinful as any other type of sexual gestures and touchings" he said. "It is sensual, not a crucifying of lust, but an excitement to lust."

Fortunate that she did not tango then, or even Dr Hope’s glasses might have steamed up as he beamed at the happy couple. For as Ruth explains the Times today: "Short of a full-frontal bedroom/ naked-body-in-the-shower close-up, there is no quicker way to suggest sexual arousal than dancing the tango.

"For the modern ballroom version, the more lewd and suggestive movement were excised to render the dance ‘suitable’ for the salons of Europe. Even in ballroom tango, though there is no escaping the fact that the good male dancer must make a dynamic contact with his right hip and thigh directly beneath is partner’s pelvis if he is to generate a successful lead." Plaster sprinkles the wedding guests as another rivet from the groaning Paisley crashes into the ceiling.

It is possible that Free Presbyterians distinguishes insufficiently between different types of dancing. At my prep school, we were taught to waltz with chairs for partners: a room full of twelve year old boys pushing chairs ahead of them in a long slow line through the gymnasium must surely be the crucifixion of anyone’s lust for anything.

The Guardian found another minister in Mr Paisley’s sect who explained that any form of rhythmic movement has its dangers: "It very often does happen, as mentioned in the Bible, that dancing has a sexual outcome. When Moses came down from the mountain to find the Israelites dancing, there was undoubtedly sexual activity going on." This is shocking enough to contemplate; but there is worse, for the paper also went to get the views of the chairman of the Western Dance Association of Ireland, who said: "We have 70 instructors teaching thousands of people every year, many of them committed Christians, who’ve made a lot of friends across the religious divide". At least the Isrealites, however shameless and apostate they became in the Wilderness, were never tempted to make friends across religious divides.

The Ven John Marsh had the misfortune to bookend the week’s religious coverage, first as the chairman of the Stipends Review Group, whose report was widely and generously covered, and then because he had been suspended from his post on suspicion of having child pornography on his hard disk. I don’t know anything of the case except that the alleged pictures are supposed to have been discovered when he handed his computer in for repair. This is a prima facie argument for innocence, since any who hands over his hard disk for repair must expect it to be ransacked for interesting pictures. So I am a little shocked that he has been suspended so absolutely. Of course, if a bishop didn’t think his archdeacon capable of dreadful crimes, he would hardly have appointed him in the first place.

Jonathan Petre deserves marks for something in the Sunday Telegraph. He had a story, nicely illustrated with graphs and picture, breaking down the decline I church attendance by county. It was based on material from Peter Brierley’s Christian Research outfit, and so impeccable; but nasty people might notice that it wasn’t based on new data. What he did was to take the last report’s data and crunch the numbers differently, so that they were analysed by county, and not by region. That way, a two-year-old set of figures re emerged as good as new; better, in fact, since there was no danger of anyone else coming up with the story. I shouldn’t mock too much, having once pegged a comment piece of my own on the Syllabus of Errors. It was news to me, at any rate.

The consistory of Cardinals gave everyone the excuse to produce their runners and riders piece for the next Pope. These can only be enjoyed to the full when you remember a couple of salient facts. The most important is that no one has any clear idea of who will be the next Pope, including the Cardinals who must elect him. The second is that everyone hopes that there is somewhere a journalist who understands what is going on; but since the death of Peter Hebblethwaite there is no longer anyone with the mixture of knowledge and self-esteem to put himself forward as the expert on whom everyone will rely.

So any piece about the papal election must first explain that it is imminent, and that the Cardinals gathered in Rome this week will be jockeying for position. So far so good. "ABOUT 150 cardinals convened in Rome yesterday from around the world ostensibly to discuss the future of the Catholic Church but in reality to prepare for the papal succession …" (the Daily Telegraph) or, in the Independent ‘s version "One hundred and fifty five ‘princes of the church’ gathered solemnly in the red velvet chamber of the Apostolic Palace yesterday to discuss (out loud) the future of the Catholic Church and (sotto voce) the succession to the throne of Saint Peter".

Then, a couple of paragraphs in, you get to the tips from the horse’s mouth. The only people willing to be quoted are journalists, but if they’re Italian journalists then they’re practically cardinals anyway: The Telegraph quoted La Repubblica’s splendidly oracular prognosticaiton: "The ideal candidate was someone who "speaks a couple of languages, knows well the problems of the Third World, and the crisis of faith in the West, and is in favour of moderate reforms but without upsetting the traditionalists."

Couldn’t they have stuck their necks out a little further, and predicted he’d be a Catholic, too?

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