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Tap-dancing towards our doom?

24 January 2014

Jesus and Bible a "sort of handy guide": the Prime Minister in the Mail on Sunday

Jesus and Bible a "sort of handy guide": the Prime Minister in the Mail on Sunday

THE schism is coming to England. Will anyone care? Lord Carey's latest intervention, in the form of a sermon picked up by the Daily Mail, looks to me like a clear declaration of intent. "Church risks break up, says Carey", ran the headline. "The Archbishop spoke out as the C of E prepares for a fresh round of internal conflict over gay rights.

"He said in a sermon at Chester Cathedral that the Church is being 'shaken by seismic shifts and changes as a result of disagreements on ministry, marriage and human sexuality'.

"Lord Carey said: 'We must not allow ourselves to fracture under the colossal weight of dancing to the world's agenda'."

As metaphors go, "fracturing under the weight of dancing" is pretty much up there with George Orwell's jackboots on the fascist octopus. Perhaps it's a tap-dancing fascist octopus? But the meaning is clear. If the Church yields to the pressure to recognise gay marriage, then there will be a split.

So there will be a split. There is simply no way to reconcile the global attitudes to homosexuality. The Pew Forum has just published a wonderful graph on global attitudes to gay people. When asked "whether homosexuality should be accepted", the figures in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda saying it should came out at one per cent, eight per cent, and four per cent respectively. The figures for the UK, the United States, and Germany are 76 per cent, 60 per cent and 87 per cent. There is no way that a global Church can have a global policy that seems moral to both these constituencies. Nor does breaking the figure down by age show that attitudes are converging. If anything, young people hold more tightly to their side of the divide.

Now, these are not only attitudes to homosexuality. They are also tightly bound in with questions of manliness and womanliness. They are part of the whole system of patriarchy that feminism so radically disturbs. Straight male attitudes to homosexuality are also attitudes to our own weakness. Can we afford it? Should we tolerate it? It's interesting that, in those countries where there is a gender gap in attitudes (by no means all), women are much more tolerant than men.

The other things these figures mean, and especially the divergence that they show, is that, in England, Lord Carey, as usual, has backed the losing side. The pressure isn't really what's coming from the Government. The Government is responding to what it hears from the public; and what matters here is the widespread delighted and incredulous laughter that greeted the UKIP candidate who announced that the flooding in England was God's way of showing what he thinks of gay marriage. I loved best the suggestion someone on Twitter came up with - that we send gay couples to the Sahel in the hope that, if they get married there in sufficient numbers, God will end the drought. A very cheap and uncorrupted form of aid. If only it were possible to believe it worked.

 

NO WONDER David Cameron is eager not to present himself as religious. In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, he presented himself not as someone who doesn't do God - too late for that line - but certainly as someone who doesn't bother God at all: "'I wouldn't say I seek guidance. I am a believer. I'm a classic Church of England member, but part of the Church of England's strength is the fact that it doesn't ask us to sign up to too much of a canon.

"'I wouldn't say I drop to my knees and try to find divine guidance - that's not what I do.

I've always found the teachings of Jesus and the Bible quite useful as a sort of handy guide'."

This makes God sound like one of the bright young people in the policy unit. Very useful, not to be forgotten at Christmas, and helpful in supplying draft materials for speeches - but, really, you have to watch that they don't give themselves airs. They have no idea at all about what makes realistic politics.

 

MUCH the same lack of realism afflicts the wealthy Sunnis of the Gulf, but in their case the consequences are tragic and horrendous. The New Yorker had a fascinating piece on how the civil war in Syria was being bankrolled by private individuals there. In 2012, "Fund-raisers appealed to potential donors with a simple Koranic verse: 'He who prepares a jihadist for the sake of Allah has received the reward of being a jihadist himself.' The words were splashed on posters and put into tweets. Kuwaiti Sunnis opened their pocketbooks. The rich transferred funds directly, and more modest contributors sold their cars and their best jewellery in order to send cash to Syria."

The main targets of this jihad, by the way, are neither Christians nor Jews, but the Shia. Now that the war has become an atrocious stalemate, the Kuwaitis are beginning to lose their enthusiasm. But it's too late. There are some conflicts more terrible than anything that faces the Anglican Communion.

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