ONE of the reasons why there is so little religious news in the
papers this week came in a side chapel of a Belgravia church, where
six people - two retired bishops, three middle-aged members of the
clergy, and the wife of one of these - addressed three journalists
on the subject of the schism. No one else turned up. After 20 or 30
years of writing about splits in the Church of England or in the
Anglican Communion, it turns out not only that the thing is
hopelessly split, but that no one any longer cares.
In the long run, students of Evangelical self-importance will be
interested in this moment, because, when the movement started, it
was with the confidence that the culture and the great mass of
Anglican churchgoers were on their side in a rebellion against the
liberal dons who were presumed to have hijacked the Church. Now
they realise that their concerns are simply incomprehensible to the
outside world. What used to be typified by a pressure group called
Action for Biblical Witness to Our Nation is now all about clinging
on in someone else's nation.
One of the saddest moments came when Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
said that, of course, the Archbishop of Canterbury had not been
able to attend the GAFCON II conference (the original invitation to
the press had said that the conference "will be opened by the
Archbishop") because of his prior commitment to going to Iceland. I
dare say he had to wash his hair that day, too.
FULL MARKS, then, to Steve Doughty of the Daily Mail
(absent from this, since Mail readers no longer care about
the politics of the Church of England, and had never noticed that
the Anglican Communion existed) for picking up a story from the
Icelandic trip. I present it without comment:
"The Archbishop of Canterbury has risked inflaming the debate
over Scottish independence by saying the English had mistreated the
Scots for centuries.
"The Most Reverend Justin Welby painted Scotland as a victim of
English oppression, and claimed Scottish people were reluctant to
work alongside their southern neighbours.
"While his remarks appear to have been intended as a
light-hearted aside, they run the risk of being seized upon by
nationalists in the run-up to the independence referendum in
September next year. Mr Welby was speaking in Iceland about his
scheme to challenge payday loan companies with low-interest,
co-operative credit unions."
Let this stand as a warning to anyone who thinks that they can
determine what part of their message will make it through to the
public. It is an extreme example of the completely dehumanising
effect that journalism has on conversation.
This is because the media generally do reflect the attitudes and
interests of their readers, and the vast mass of the readers care
nothing about any particular story. There are always some who care
passionately about every one. But most Mail readers would
rather contemplate the pleasurable spectacle of upset Scotsmen than
the distressing one of poverty and debt-servitude; so that is what
they get to read about.
THE TIMES seems to have resumed online the kind of news
stories that were once a staple of Ruth Gledhill's blog: reports of
speeches and small news stories that will not make it into the
paper. This is an intelligent kind of niche marketing.
I was struck by her report of the case brought against the Revd
Stephen Sizer by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (News, 25 October).
This was not so much because of the fact of the complaint: all is
fair in the internet wars between Israeli and Palestinian
partisans. It is because Mr Sizer's offence consisted not so much
in what he wrote as in what he linked to on his blog.
It is an interesting kind of hate-speech - if that is what in
fact it is. The question whether we endorse the people whom we
quote from does not arise in normal journalism. Perhaps it should
do more often, but for the most part, the ethical problem lies in
the fact that to quote someone at all suggests that their views
matter, and this is sometimes done with the deliberate intent to
mislead, however accurate the quotation.
Yet the complaint against Mr Sizer appears to be slightly
different - that there are some websites to which no one should
link because parts of them are cesspits. This is almost certainly
true. But suppose they are significant cesspits?
On television, there is the opposite problem. Mobs shouting with
as little inhibition as if they were on the internet make great
pictures, and so they tend to be over-represented. On the web,
though, the opposite principle applies, as if the act of clicking
through makes you sympathetic to what you will see. I don't think
that this makes sense. My own policy is to link to anything,
however vile, if it is central to the argument.