HOW very strange the ways of public attention are. After all the
fuss about Archbishop Welby's braggadocio over Wonga, when he
promised to "compete it out of business", there was almost no
coverage at all of the Church Commissioners' investment in a bank
that might actually, in some small way, hope to do this.
I am trying to think why this should be. One answer is, of
course, the party-conference season. Anyone with a serious interest
in politics will be concentrating there, and on personalities, not
on policies. The question that political hacks answer is very
seldom "What should the Government do?" but "What should, or will,
such and such a politician do?"
Since the Archbishop is not a politician, and does not move in
those circles at all, his moves and those of the Church
Commissioners are simply irrelevant.
Another point is that this was not a policy that could, or
should, be personalised. That makes it very hard to sell to
newsdesks. "Welby defies Wonga" makes a headline and suggests a
story that readers can understand. "Church Commissioners to take
stake in possibly slightly less unethical bank than all the others"
does not quicken the pulses.
The fact that the second story is more or less true, and the
first, at best, misleading has no bearing on their relative
HOW much easier and more satisfying, at least in some ways, to be
the Pope. I am writing before the outcome of his countercuria
commission has been announced. But it is already clear that this is
going to be a return to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council,
although in a very different and less authoritarian world, where
what goes on in Rome matters much less to the rest of the Roman
Although Pope Francis has not changed any doctrine - and in the
way of things will never admit to doing so - the change in tone has
Andrew Sullivan, writing in The Sunday Times, was in no
doubt: Pope Francis "hasn't come out for female priests, or gay
relationships. He has not shifted on contraception; he has barely
mentioned the child rape and abuse horrors that, more than anything
else, have robbed the Catholic Church of moral authority in our
time. . .
"I am not a seer so I cannot predict anything. But I have
carefully studied the theology of Joseph Ratzinger, which dominated
the core of the Church for two papacies, and it seems to me that
the change is much more striking than has yet been fully absorbed.
It is a stark, glaring repudiation of the past 30 years.
"Which recent Pope does the following description remind you of?
'Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those
who long for an exaggerated doctrinal "security", those who
stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists - they have
a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith
becomes an ideology among other ideologies.' This is not a mild
correction to the direction of the Church. It is a blunt, brutal
Sullivan is writing from an American perspective, though I think
he's completely right about Francis. A lovely story from Texas
shows the wonderful lack of connection between theology and a
talent for religious leadership. If you've got that talent - as
some people clearly have - then it hardly matters what religion you
lead or where.
What is clearly happening in parts of the American
atheist/secularist movement as it grows is that it is being
assimilated into the general pattern of American religion. They
are, in other words, Americans who believe in a particular destiny
for America, and like to gather in groups to contemplate the
wondrousness of their country, their world, and themselves, not
always in that order.
So, first, we have a Houston Chronicle story that jumps
straight in at the deep end: "What is a former pastor and church
planter to do after publicly declaring that he's an atheist? Mike
Aus started another church.
"Aus, along with several other atheists, freethinkers and
secular humanists in Houston, launched Houston Oasis, a community
grounded in reason rather than revelation, celebrating the human
experience as opposed to any deity. The first of these Sunday
morning gatherings was held in early September and featured live
music by local artists, personal testimonies, a message and time
I believe that in this country it is known as Fresh Expressions.
It is fairly predictable that, within 20 years, the survivors will
have tired of live music by local artists, impromptu testimonies,
and so forth, and gone in for a robed choir and the BCP.