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Reviews >

Press: People who walk in darkness

by Andrew Brown

THIS WEEK we have a lesbian bishop, two fascinating stories about God and money, and, somewhere in Belfast, a very happy sub-editor, who looked at the disturbing story about pilgrims who travel to Knock, where they expect to see the sun go reeling round the sky as a token of the Virgin’s favour.

In order to see this, they have to look directly at the sun, which is a bad idea for all sorts of reasons, neatly summed up in the Belfast Telegraph’s headline: “I could see, and now am blind”.

The Telegraph reported that five patients were being treated for serious eye injuries at the University College Hospital in Galway after staring at the sun, and quoted a doctor there, who said: “If it did not have such monstrous effects you could describe it as a cheap circus trick.”

The most interesting thing is that the devotion has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic Church, which is trying to discourage it. The pilgrims are encouraged by a “spiritual healer” in Dublin, Joe Coleman, who appears to be a gypsy; and, according to other reports, are disproportionately Travellers themselves. They have suffered very badly in the collapse of the Irish economy.

I IMAGINE that Jonathan Petre will be lighting a candle to Canon Mary Glasspool now that her election allowed him a story in The Mail on Sunday with “fury” in it: “Fury as lesbian is chosen by Anglican Church to be a bishop. . . The worldwide Anglican Church has been plunged into a fresh crisis after a lesbian was chosen as its second gay bishop.”

He went on with the standard follow-up line: “In a move that will dismay the Archbishop of Canterbury . . .” And, for a double bonus, this move did almost immediately “dismay” the Archbishop of Canterbury: “The future of the worldwide Anglican Communion was in jeopardy last night after the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the election of a lesbian bishop in the United States raised ‘very serious questions’.”

In The Independent, Paul Vallely argued that the schism was now inevitable: “So it has come to this, for a man who made his reputation as one of Anglicanism’s leading liberal Catholic theologians: he swiftly condemns liberal Americans for being too tolerant, and yet feels forced to remain silent over a rank and brutal inhumanity.” This was a reference to the Ugandan anti-gay law.

“Critics from both sides have unkindly quipped that Dr Williams has boldly nailed his colours to the fence. He may find that preferring unity to truth will not be possible much longer.”

EVERYTHING else written was a variant of these three lines; so let us skip lightly on to the Atlantic Magazine, which had a wonderful matched pair of articles. The cover story, under the lurid headline “Did Christianity cause the Crash?”, looked at a prosperity-gospel congregation made up largely of Latino immigrants, whose pastor drives a beautifully polished Mercedes.

“It can be hard to get used to how much Garay talks about money in church, one loyal parishioner, Billy Gonzales, told me one recent Sunday on the steps out front. Back in Mexico, Gonzales’s pastor talked only about ‘Jesus and heaven and being good’. But Garay talks about jobs and houses and making good money, which eventually came to make sense to Gonzales: money is ‘really important’, and besides, ‘we love the money in Jesus Christ’s name! Jesus loved money too!’”

The twist is that Pastor Garay, before he was a full-time preacher, worked selling mortgages for loan companies. “He was hired explicitly to reach out to the city’s growing Latino commu­nity, and Latinos, as it happened, were dispro­por­tionately likely to take out the sort of risky loans that later led to so many foreclosures.”

Compare and contrast with Dave Ramsey, who preaches through a network of white Evangelical churches the gospel of cash. People pay $220 to hear him testify: “We hear how, during the second half of the 1980s, a young Ramsey built up a multimillion-dollar real-estate empire — then lost it all as the bank got nervous and called his loans, ultimately forcing him and his wife into bankruptcy.

“How, searching for help in his hour of need, he turned to the Bible and discovered Proverbs 22.7: ‘The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender.’ At that moment, he told an audience so hushed that we could hear the ice squeak, Ramsey decided to never borrow another dollar again.”

Whether he keeps his money in the banks that made bad loans to really poor people, we are not told.

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