ONE of the things about media people is that we believe we're
like Bishop Berkeley's God: our gaze holds everything in existence,
and what we don't see isn't real. By this criterion, the Church of
England is already ectoplasmic, a frail and shapeless thing
glimpsed only in dark rooms by sympathetic investigators.
In the run-up to this week's General Synod, the only person in
the press to find an angle on its proceedings was Ruth Gledhill at
The Times, whose angle was either extremely acute or
extremely obtuse. In any case, it was a long way from obvious: "The
Church of England's General Synod will next week debate a new form
of the baptism service that removes a requirement for parents and
godparents to 'repent sins' and 'reject the Devil'.
"Yet out there, in wider society, belief in the Devil and all
his works is in places as strong as it has ever been, along with
belief in the power of ordained clergy to banish evil and evil
And so, seamlessly, into the memoirs of a retired exorcist who
is also an expert on butterflies.
"He describes being called in to help highly intelligent people
from the professional classes who admit to being 'in league with
the Devil', people who start speaking in incomprehensible 'demonic
tongues' that rattle out 'like a machine gun', people who walk
around looking decades older than their years, men who gnaw table
legs, women who launch themselves six feet into the air when
anointed with oil by a diocesan exorcist."
I am writing this while half-listening to the Synod's debate on
women bishops. One woman has just compared her excitement to that
of Moses - about to die, but vouschafed at last a glimpse of the
Promised Land. She sounds, as she says this, about as excited as a
tortoise offered a chance to learn sky diving. The scene would be
hugely improved by random members launching six feet into the
THERE were various treatments of the story that archaeologists
have proved that Abraham, supposing he existed, could not have had
any camels. They were not domesticated until after 950BC. My
favourite was the New York Times, because it had the most
exquisitely mealy-mouthed quote. The paper is not normally shy of
alienating Christian fundamentalists, but it does have a very large
Jewish readership, some of whom suppose that Israel has a biblical
mandate to the country that Moses may or may not have seen.
The science is unequivocal: "The archaeologists, Erez Ben-Yosef
and Lidar Sapir-Hen, used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the
earliest known domesticated camels in Israel to the last third of
the 10th century BC - centuries after the patriarchs lived, and
decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible. Some
bones in deeper sediments, they said, probably belonged to wild
camels that people hunted for their meat. Dr Sapir-Hen could
identify a domesticated animal by signs in leg bones that it had
carried heavy loads."
None the less, "One should be careful not to rush to the
conclusion that the new archaeological findings automatically deny
any historical value from the biblical stories," Dr Mizrahi said in
an email. "This does not mean that these very traditions cannot
capture other details that have an older historical
THE FT Weekend Magazine had a wonderfully wry story by Gary
Silverman about Carl Cole, a Christian who reinvented himself as a
real-estate agent in California after a conviction for molesting
one of his students in North Carolina. He became hugely rich by
supplying mortgages to anyone who wanted one.
"A man with Cole's mindset wound up feeling right at home in the
US real-estate business of the first decade of the new millennium.
Miraculous things seemed to happen to Cole with regularity,"
Silverman writes, and later: "Crisp & Cole had become connected
to a higher power - Wall Street."
Now Cole faces a long jail sentence in the aftermath of the
crash. When he comes out, he hopes to move north to join his son,
who was also jailed for his part in the scam. There he will pursue
his interest in environmental causes.
AT THIS point, the tranquillity of the press room was interrupted
by the Synod's vote. I am delighted to have been comprehensively
wrong in my earlier predictions of disaster. I even learned
something in the course of the afternoon, which was that 39 people
were convinced by Canon David Banting's argument that the Synod was
in danger of acting too fast.
If you want to know why the rest of the world looks askance at
the workings of the Synod, a close study of his speech would be
illuminating. But, of course, the media would never report it, so
we can, as usual, blame them.