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Press: Faith — or funky fungi

29 June 2011

by Andrew Brown

ALL the people I know do not read The Sunday Times now that it is behind a paywall; so they may well have missed the remarkable piece on God and psilocybin by the gay Roman Catholic conservative Andrew Sullivan.

“When I was in Amsterdam a few years ago at a libertarian conference (how apposite), I picked the mildest dose of psilocybin-containing mushrooms legally on sale there and ate it. The mushrooms were disgusting. Then I plonked myself on a bench next to a canal and waited.

“And all I could think of was God. A sense of unity with an overwhelming force of immense love and kindness suffused me. Fears disappeared; calm and perspective flooded me like a slowly rising tide. The earth itself did not change shape, but it was as if a veil had been lifted from it, the veil of constant doing, fretting, planning.

“It brought back to me moments in my life when I felt that I had had similar mystical experiences without any chemical enhance­ment. . . These had lasted minutes at most. But the psilocybin lasted hours, and seemed to suspend time itself.

“Psilocybin also reminded me powerfully of the more immediate sense of the divine I had felt after absorbing the news, almost 20 years ago now, that I was HIV-positive, when the prospect of painful mortality also lifted the veil of the deadliness of doing.”

Of course, the question for Mr Sullivan is whether these are the effects of brain chem­icals, or whether there is a divine reality beyond, which operates through the chemicals. Now, this is something on which hardly anyone under 60 does not have strong views; yet his piece had, by Tuesday, attracted precisely three comments online. I think that in either of the other broadsheets, it would have attracted at least 100 times as many. More than three of these might even have been worth reading.

It shouldn’t be entirely impossible to work that into an advantage that someone, some­where, would pay for, as clearly no one will pay to read him online.

THERE wasn’t any religious news, strictly speaking, in the papers; and that in itself is a story, because there was one story that really should have made the big time. The establishment of GAFCON’s bridgehead in this country was clearly the biggest and most deliberate challenge to the Church of England since the Ordinariate was announced.

It is true that we have no idea how many parishes or people will sign up for the full GAFCON/Reform programme. But the same was true of the Ordinariate when that was announced, and that didn’t stop the coverage for a moment.

I happen to believe that a schism from the Reform side is likely to be much more of a threat to the Church on the ground than the silliness around the Ordinariate. But no newspaper has dealt with it at all. The schism, as a story, is dead.

THERE was a huge noise in The Sunday Telegraph about the Church’s education policy. The only snag, really, was that it was all balls. It had a nice strong lead: “Parents who ‘gold plate’ their membership of the Church by worshipping every week and volunteering to help at church will no longer get priority over less regular congregation members for class­room places for their children.

“The measures will end ‘points systems’ under which classroom places are offered to children whose families are most involved in the church.”

But anyone with any knowledge of the subject, including Jonathan Wynne-Jones, who wrote it, knows perfectly well that this is not going to happen.

The bewildered cat emerges from the bag a few paragraphs down, where all of a sudden the story starts referring to “the new guidance” and later on says: “The admissions advice will apply to any school where demand for places exceeds supply.” It does not make explicit the fact that this advice is as likely to be influential as if it came from, well, me, or even a Telegraph leader-writer. The Bishop of Oxford has no control over admissions pol-icies, whatever he would like them to be. They are determined by people who, by and large, disagree with him. That was abundantly demonstrated on the letters pages of the Church Times (6 May).

Even the quotes that the Telegraph had were pretty feeble: “Points systems used to dif­ferentiate between families with equal com­mitment should be as simple as possible, and only used if absolutely necessary, and ideally should be phased out over the next few years.” This is so full of holes that it might as well be a Sunday-newspaper exclusive.

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