Press Column

The resurgence of religion after September 11th was variously marked by the Guardian and the Observer: the Guardian reported rising church attendance around the country; the Observer’s sports pages reported the a Norwegian farmer, Jarle Johansen, has asked Tromsø football club for permission to sacrifice a goat on the pitch before the final match on which depends the team’s chances of relegation. The ostensible reason is to lift a gypsy curse, placed by a gypsy who lost whose favourite seat during a stadium redevelopment, though the concept of a "favourite seat" seems suspiciously un-nomadic to me. It is not surprising that there are Gypsies in Tromsø, though it is well above the Arctic Circle. Everyone in the world passes through Tromsø sooner or later. . I once watched the Pope celebrate Mass there, in front of an audience of Vietnamese Boat people. This proposal seems less pious. "can you imagine how much fun it would be if I were allowed to slaughter that goat, and then Tromsø crushed Lyn?" Mr Johansen said.

The same column carried a proof of God’s omnipotence I had not noticed before: A footballer named Taribo West has announced he is retiring to launch a new church, rather than joining Liverpool from Derby. "God uses Derby to prove to us all that He is still fully in control of life. He said to me, ‘Go and save the club’ and I obeyed. All I know is that Derby escaped relegation. That is the power of God."

Elsewhere in the world, piety struggled on without the aid of football. The most astonishing manifestation of this was that the Archbishop of York made the front page of the Sunday Express as a victim of the government’s control mania. It is almost as astonishing that the story appears to be true, but that’s another matter. The story claimed that the government will abolish the life peerage granted to retiring Archbishops of York in its further reforms of the House of Lords after this one had made a number of deeply off-message remarks about foot and mouth and the was in Afghanistan.

The polar opposite of Dr Hope as a Christian leader must surely be Jesse Jackson, a man whose travel around America cost $500,000 a year, which is rather more than even Dr Carey finds it necessary to spend on world spiritual leadership.

The New Yorker had an astonishing hatchet-job on Jesse Jackson’s attempts to rehabilitate himself after the discovery last winter that he had an illegitimate child by a woman he had hired. At the time, and advised by his five legitimate children (who all call him Reverend", he had announced that he would retire from his ministry for a while, But her has not done so. On the memorable grounds that "It’s an error to fall down, but it’s a sin to wallow."

"Jackson’s theology is highly personalised It centres on a Jesus who was a black social activist ordained by God who got himself into trouble by fighting the social order — defending a woman on death row, for example — a profile strikingly similar to that of a certain modern-day African –American social activist. (‘I can identify with Jesus. I can understand him. He was born with a controversy about who his daddy was’)." This last phrase is an allusion to the fact that Jackson himself is illegitimate. He also has a fantastic line in fund-raising. He threatens to organise a boycott of companies found wanting in their employment of minorities, and then rewards them with a certificate of good behaviour. But an astonishing co-incidence, they then make large donations to his organisations, or, in my favourite case, the brewers Anheuser-Busch atoned for their sins by giving the Chicago contract to distribute their wares to a company two thirds owned by two of Jackson’s legitimate children. It’s difficult to imagine any Archbishop of York behaving quite like that.

A rather more uplifting tale of American religion came from the Economist who had found a property developer who repented. James Holub had made $10m by the age of 29; then he became a Jesuit and gave it all away. Now he works with teenage gangsters in a Milwaulkee ghetto with a death rate twice New York’s. He took 28 gang-related funerals before discovering the way out for them: a career in web design. This is not a joke. The qualifications are stringent. First the boys must be detoxed — 90% are drug addicts when he finds them — and then each must find a job on find own and spend six months studying in the evenings. Yet he still manages to get eighty a year that far on the course, and about a quarter of these go on to train as web designers for a firm he has himself set up. They make $40 or $50,000 a year: the firm does good work — at least it works for some very rich and respectable clients, and itself makes profits of a million dollars a year, which go to subsidise the work. More than 160 gang youths have found jobs like this, and they are all still employed.

This is not a column that strives to excite its readers unduly, so the next item is not a dramatic or overwhelming change of shift: merely a drop from the pretty sublime to the Daily Telegraph, which carried a long piece by Edward Norman in the features pages. This appeared to be an attack on his usual targets "Blairite and episcopal propaganda" and contained some rollicking stuff on this theme. "Authentic Islam, we are now being told, is all about peace and respect between cultures and tolerance of diversity. Most Muslims, it would appear, are just like Anglicans: their faith is in exact correspondence with the preferred values of the Western intelligentsia."

The real kick, however, came at the end, with a sentence that ran counter to everything the Daily Telegraph believes and preaches about Israel: "Instead of shuffling about and trying to interpret Islam in propaganda images of their own devising, Christian leaders might more fruitfully divert their attention to the grievances that fuel international terroris, This .. means addressing the plight of the Palestinians."

In case anyone got the point, the piece was illustrated, with a picture: "A Muslim boy clutches a toy automatic rifle during prayers in Calcutta."

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