THE last word on the women-bishops debate (for the moment, at
any rate) goes to Sam Leith, in The Times: "As someone
remarked on Twitter, the appointment of female bishops is like
finding out your grandma finally has broadband."
IT WAS a busy week. After the women, we were almost immediately
into the Falconer debate on euthanasia. The Economist was
gung-ho in a way that no one else quite dared: "It is also true
that, as some countries relax their restrictions on assisted
suicide, the practice will become more common and there will
probably be pressure for other restrictions to be removed. But
there is nothing unusual in this. Moral absolutes are rare. When
faced with dilemmas societies draw boundaries and carve out
"In even the seemingly clearest of cases, such as the
prohibition on killing, exceptions are made for things like war and
self-defence. Assisted suicide is no different and each society's
boundaries will no doubt differ and evolve, as they already have.
The Netherlands and Belgium legalised assisted suicide in 2001 and
2002, but only the latter has approved the practice for terminally
Similarly, Matthew Parris, in The Times, went head on
for an objection frequently made: "News that a former Archbishop of
Canterbury is softening towards assisted suicide has prompted the
usual media alarm that people may end their lives so as not to be a
burden to others. People say this as if it were a terrible reason
for killing yourself. Why? If I should ever end my life it will
certainly be among my reasons."
I do think this goes to the very heart of the debate: both the
aspect of autonomy - what right do we have to tell people that they
ought to be a burden on others, or even to judge, as outsiders,
whether they are - and the slightly different libertarian argument
whether the state can demand moral behaviour from families: if
everyone hates granny, perhaps because she is, as some grannies
are, quite genuinely loathsome, what right has the state got to
insist that they behave better?
The libertarian answer to that is nicely summed up by The
Economist's leader, which puts a most unusual faith in
government regulation to solve the problem: "Vulnerable people . .
. may indeed feel pressure, but that is simply a reason to set up a
robust system of counselling and psychiatric assessment, requiring
the agreement of several doctors that a patient is in their right
mind, and proceeding voluntarily." Not since we were assured by the
same paper that the invasion of Iraq would improve the Middle East
has it been so confident of the benevolent power of Western
There is a curious dislocation here. Because the great shift in
sexual morality was understood, in part, as an abandonment of all
rules, rather than the replacement of one set by another, it seems
extraordinarily hard to argue for laws that promote virtue without
sounding either hollow and pretentious - the danger for
conservatives - or nannyish and frankly rather boring, as the Left
can sound. Some religious objections have managed to be both; some
gracefully evaded both traps.
The Rt Revd John Inge,
writing in The Guardian about the death of his wife,
Denise, managed to be dignified, personal, and persuasive, speaking
from the authority of experience and evident thoughtfulness rather
than appealing to whatever respect is still felt due to a Bishop of
It is interesting that he chose to give his speech to a
newspaper, rather than delivering it, as planned, in the House of
Lords. It almost certainly had far more impact that way and, of
course, I am delighted. But I can't help, at the same time, feeling
that there is something wrong here. Is a regular newspaper column
worth more - in terms of power - than a seat in the House of Lords?
On reflection, it almost certainly is. So the levers of patronage
once held by Prime Ministers are now held by newspaper editors and
proprietors. What a strange form of establishment!
THE other big religious story of the week was the results of the
inquiry intothe "Trojan horse" schools in Birmingham. These found
no evidence of terrorism, but plenty of bullying, dishonesty,
corruption, and the teaching of thoroughly pernicious doctrines.
The Guardian coverage had earlier been sceptical of the
allegations, based mainly on the testimony of the deputy head of
Park View School, and that of the reporter who had spent a couple
of days there. But then the politial journalist Patrick Wintour got
a leaked copy of the report, and
his scoop started: "A damning report into extremist
infiltration of Birmingham schools has uncovered evidence of
'coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an
intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the
When you consider the background factors that made the
Birmingham fiasco possible, it looks absolutely certain that there
will be more of this in other cities in years to come.