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In praise of modest living

06 June 2014


The lack of interest shown by the daily papers in live Christians has been vividly shown by the defenestration of Ruth Gledhill from The Times (Press, 16 May), but it still was a shock to find how easy it is for dead ones to make the front of the Telegraph. All they need do is to await resurrection in a safe Tory seat; then, when it is threatened by development, their fate is front-page news.

"The Church of England has announced its opposition to the Government's HS2 proposals after warning that the line will desecrate thousands of graves and shatter the peace along the £43 billion route.

"The Archbishops' Council, one of the Church's most powerful bodies, has said it is opposed to the line because human remains will not be 'treated in a decent and reverent manner'."

Of course, this is nonsense: as soon as proper arrangements are made for the reinternment of exhumed bodies, the Church will drop its opposition - but it will do very nicely as a Monday-morning splash for the Telegraph. A cynic might think that the ascent of property values towards the stratosphere is something almost as sacred as the bodily resurrection, and somewhat easier for the Telegraph to believe in. But if the HS2 line will disrupt both, let's not quibble about the details.

The Times, meanwhile, gave its Friday front page over entirely to the fate of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who has been threatened with flogging and death in Sudan for the supposed crime of apostasy (News, Press, 23 May).

This is a campaign that stands more chance of success than does appealing to the finer feelings of Boko Haram in Nigeria, which may explain why it has driven its mass kidnapping right off the front pages. I wonder what price the Sudanese government will exact for releasing her in the end, as it probably now will.

The Times also ran a leader demanding that all civilised countries shun those that use the barbarous forms of sharia: "This cruel and archaic form of jurisprudence is not a requirement of modern Islam. It is not practised in Turkey, Bosnia or in many other countries where Muslims are a majority. But in those countries where such laws are in force, the human consequences are appalling. It is time for governments that endorse the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to make its implementation a goal of foreign policy and a condition both of aid and support."

This can hardly do any harm, but the real problem is that most of the countries where things are really dreadful are either in no need of our aid and support, because they are floating on oil, or else - like Pakistan - places where our national interest seems to demand collaboration with their repulsive secret police.

At this reflection, the liberal imperialist will feel a twinge of nostalgia for the days when it was so much easier to be high-minded, since, whatever happened, we had got the Maxim gun, and they had not. It is a pity that we did not find the demands of justice entirely compelling even when we had the means to enforce them.

Not all parts of the Roman Catholic Church have hoisted in Pope Francis's ideas about modest living. After the Archbishop of Newark and Cardinal Dolan of New York (Press, 30 May), the latest prelate to place an unusual interpretation upon modesty is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, until recently the Secretary of State at the Vatican.

According to a delightful piece by John Hooper in The Guardian, he has denied indignantly that he is building a 700-square-metre apartment for his retirement on top of one of the Vatican buildings. It is only 350 square metres, and he will share it with a staff of three nun-housekeepers. That seems surprisingly few to keep such a large area clean.

But the most delightful touch is his defence against the charge that it is selfish. He has paid for it with his own money, he says,and, besides, someone else will have the use of it when he dies. So not only is he defying the present Pope's strictures on living simply: he is ensuring that an unending line of successors can do so, too. As they say, the Vatican thinks in centuries.

The Telegraph had a still more delightful story of money and the simple life from India, where a revered guru, His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj, has entered a state of meditation so profound that his followers have popped him in the deep freeze. Western medicine would say that he was, in fact, dead, after having had a heart attack, but what does Western medicine know?

In particular, it would appear that Western medicine is unable to grasp the subtleties surrounding control of the guru's property empire, worth £100 million. His wife and son are now suing his followers tohave the body defrosted, and indeed cremated. Then they want to know about the money.

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