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Please put us out of our misery

09 November 2012

Not the CNC: the Coptic papal election in Monday's Times

Not the CNC: the Coptic papal election in Monday's Times

MODESTY forbids me to say anything about The Guardian's report on the state of the rural Church, except that it was very long (2400 words on the web) and contained a couple of reasonable jokes. But still, it shows what can be accomplished by a newspaper prepared to send someone out to talk to people, and write down what they say, even when this makes the story seem complicated.

It was meant, of course, to accompany the announcement of the next Archbishop. But we haven't had that as I write, though someone gave me a terrible shock this morning by saying that it was to have been this Tuesday. I have come to think of the new Archbishop as a figure like the Twelfth Imam: he will appear at the end of history, but not before. Had Mitt Romney won his election, that might have been sooner than we thought.

OVER at The Times, they developed a sudden interest in the affairs of the Coptic Church. In many ways, the Copts lead an unenviable life. They are horribly persecuted (see Rupert Shortt's admirable book on Christianophobia), and the only thing that anyone knows in their language is a fragment of gnosticism that turns out to be fake; but at least they can manage to elect a leader by a colourful, public, and, above all, timely process. An altar boy pulls one of the final three names from an urn.

This reminds me of the scabrous YouTube parody in which Hitler, raving in his bunker in the film Downfall, is subtitled as if he were Lord Luce. "What was wrong with the old system", he asks, "when we just threw darts in the senior common room at Cuddesdon? Every change since then has been for the worse."

As Ruth Gledhill pointed out in her report: "More than 2000 electors were involved in drawing up the final shortlist, chosen from Coptic bishops, leading laity, and even members of the Egyptian journalists' syndicate.

"The openness of the ancient Church's process contrasts with the secretive dithering of the Crown Nominations Commission, the Church of England body that is attempting to choose the successor to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"An announcement on the successor to Dr Rowan Williams, who will be expected to have a strong working relationship with Pope Tawadrous, is expected soon."

That was in Monday's paper (and I am sure the Copts talk of little else but their strong working relationship with Dr Williams). On Tuesday, she tweeted that an announcement was imminent.

Will someone please put her out of her misery - though not this afternoon, please? I am rather busy right now.

AND so to Stonewall, which took a fairly clear position on matters ecclesiastical by naming Cardinal Keith O'Brien as "Bigot of the Year", and Canon Giles Fraser as its "Hero of the Year".

I think the award to Cardinal O'Brien was silly and nasty in equal measure, when you consider that he was running against a Ugandan politician, among others. The Scottish Roman Catholic Church may be wrong in all kinds of ways, but it does not compare with a Ugandan government that seriously considered bringing in the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality", and five-year prison sentences for arguing in favour of gay rights.

Perhaps it's absurd to worry about such things. The publicity will have delighted both the winners and the organisers of the award, and that's what really matters.

FULL marks to the FT travel section, which marked the US election by sending someone to Nauvoo, the township where Mormonism took shape before the inexplicable lynching of Joseph Smith while his successor, Brigham Young, was out of town. Most of the town has been reconstructed as a kind of 19th-century theme park.

"But as I walk around, it doesn't feel like I am getting any closer to the faith of Romney's co-religionists. The reconstructions are charming (albeit with rather less in the way of dung and malaria than I suspect the originals had); the volunteers delightful, and the town autumnal and beautiful. But, overall, the experience feels more about history and housing than it does about religion; a sort of upmarket Ironbridge.

"Until, that is, you sense the schisms and doctrinal differences betrayed by the multiple visitor centres. Nauvoo (population 1149) has no fewer than four: one run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; one run by the Community of Christ; one run by the local tourist board; and one run by a non-Mormon Christian.

"Each, a local tells me, will give you their own, subtly different version of history (except for the non-Mormon, who eschews all subtlety to tell me that Mormonism is 'toxic')."

Perhaps this is the perfect retirement job for journalists: to sit all day in an anti-tourist bureau where you can tell visitors that everything your neighbours believe and make their living from is toxic.


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