I AM pretty certain that The Times has not
found "the world's first religious theme park" - there are the
various creationist attractions in the American south, to say
nothing of Dollywood, for followers of Diana of the Ephesians - but
who cares, when its report from Buenos Aires contains these two
"Modelled on the Jerusalem of Jesus's day, Tierra
Santa looks like a cross between Disneyland and one of those
mock-ups of an Iraqi village that the US Army builds in the deserts
of New Mexico to train troops in Gulf warfare.
"The centrepiece of a show that features a son et
lumière Nativity, plenty of whipping and busty female angels
clad in low-cut evening gowns, is a 40ft-high (12m) plastic Jesus
who bursts out of the fibreglass hill of skulls every hour,
oblivious to jets landing next door."
A similar difficulty with reality is present, if less
obvious, in the coverage of the Roman Catholic bishops'
questionnaire on sexual attitudes. The Times, again, had a
leader on this, which at least acknowledged the problem:
"In the developed world, at any rate, the [Roman
Catholic] Church's doctrines concerning sexual and personal
morality are now completely out of kilter with how people actually
live and think. The teaching that masturbation is 'an intrinsically
and seriously disordered act' has somehow survived the Kinsey era,
but not in any practical way.
"Much more serious for the 1.2 billion Catholics in
the world are the Church's continued and strenuous opposition to
divorce and, above all, to 'artificial' birth control. This
doctrine has led to the moral authority of the Pope being used,
among other things, to try to stop the use of condoms as a way of
controlling the spread of Aids.
"The result in Europe and America has been a marked
division between what is taught to Catholics and what they actually
do. In other parts of the world the consequences have been,
arguably, far worse in terms of disease and over-population."
This is fine as far as it goes, but it does not, I
think, emphasises enough that the divide is not between what Roman
Catholics are taught and what they do - after all, there is a
considerable gap between what Jesus taught and what almost any
Christian actually does - but between what they are taught and what
they believe is true and moral.
Professor Linda Woodhead's data suggests that the
proportion of Roman Catholics under 50 in Britain who agree with
the official teaching on abortion, euthanasia, and contraception,
and who self-report as attending church weekly, is two per cent, or
one in 50 of notional RCs. That is what really threatens the
survival of churchgoing, because while parents will happily
transmit hypocrisy to their children, in the sense that "this is
what we ought to do, even though we don't in fact do so," they will
not transmit obligations that seem to them not so much impossible
to live up to as meaningless and just plain silly.
Talking of which: the Pilling Commission. Jonathan
Petre, who remains one of the most thorough and scrupulous
reporters in the business, had a story saying that it would suggest
that gay clergy be no longer quizzed about their sex lives if they
enter civil partnerships.
"They will argue that gay clergy should not be
treated any differently than other clerics who do not face
intrusive questioning about their sex lives - and that they should
be able to follow Church teachings without having to make a solemn
"But the move is likely to provoke fury among
conservatives, who will regard it as another step towards the
acceptance of actively gay clergy by the Church.
"The most depressing aspect of the story, of course,
is that one sentence is entirely and incontrovertibly true -
whatever happens "is likely to provoke fury among
It is very likely to provoke fury among their
opponents, too. It really is a nice question whether the RC model
of publicly asserting absurdities does more to discredit
Christianity than the Anglican model of publicly arguing about
And so to Lucy Kellaway's column in the Financial
Times, where she considered self-deprecation: "The more
ludicrous the self-dissing is, the better it works. Think of some
of the modern-day masters: Tony Blair, Boris Johnson or Justin
Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
"When I interviewed the latter recently, he told me
that he was hopeless compared with his predecessor, that he was
boring, not terribly holy, had a second-class mind and that he got
terrified before big speeches. In a way it was all hogwash. Yet it
made me putty in his hands.
"Self-deprecation is only dangerous if there is any
chance at all that the person you are talking to might agree with