Burns & Oates £9.99 (0-86012-388-X)Church Times Bookshop £9
THE cover of this book reminded me of the “odd one out” round in TV’s Have I
Got News for You: four faces with, at first glance, no obvious connection
between them. Perhaps the publishers hope that the juxtaposition of the four —
Cherie Booth, Gyles Brandreth, Charles Moore, and George Weigel — will arouse
curiosity, for only the cognoscenti will know that what links them is their
Roman Catholic faith and status as “Tyburn lecturers”.
The Tyburn lectures, Michael Ancram tells us in his foreword, were
established in 2001 to honour Roman Catholics martyred at that notorious spot.
The lectures are not opportunities to re-examine the past, but to showcase
Catholic thinking today in relation to moral, religious, and social questions.
This book contains the first four lectures.
Each certainly does what is intended, though the thread holding them
together is desperately thin. While Brandreth writes a delightful,
heart-warming piece on childhood, Weigel offers a dryish essay, more suited to
an undergraduate textbook, on Catholic social teaching. Moore and Booth’s
pieces on, respectively, truth-telling in public life and human rights are
lively and readable; but, as a whole, the book has a somewhat uneven feel.
Moore reminds us that “martyr” originally meant “witness”, and calls on
people in public life to say more boldly what they believe. He accepts that his
own trade has not exactly encouraged straight talking, but longs for a Thatcher
or Bevan to counter the blandness of much politics today. I read his
suggestion that no politician today was saying anything so boldly that it would
be remembered long afterwards just as George Galloway was taking on the US
Senate; but his point is surely sound.
Booth’s is a thoughtful piece on the Church and human rights — including
human rights within the Church itself — and Weigel’s is a useful resource for
students of contemporary Catholic thought. But the gem is undoubtedly
Brandreth’s, with its unsentimental call for a rediscovery of childhood and its
challenge to adults to make it happen. Children still want to scout and guide,
but where are the people to lead them? When will children again have
places to play? “It would be inconceivable to build even one house nowadays
without provision for car parking,” Brandreth writes; “yet you can build an
entire estate without providing safe playspace for children.” If the
Tyburn lectures can generate this kind of debate, long may they continue.
Andrew Bradstock is Director of the Christian Socialist Movement.
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