THANK goodness that Archbishop Welby, Cardinal Nichols, and, indeed, Pope Francis all — sort of — sanctioned the use of force against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh last week, and so avoided being lumped with Jeremy Corbyn and assorted Lefties in the newspapers’ lexicon of hate.
They would otherwise have found themselves haplessly part of the media’s Great Church Story Number 3: Loony Bishops.
As it was, saying sensible things about just-war criteria, as the Archbishop of Canterbury did in the House of Lords, or stating that the use of force to protect the vulnerable was defensible, as Cardinal Nichols remarked in an interview, or that it was licit to stop an aggressor, as the Pope suggested, made almost no waves in the secular press. This was in contrast to Jeremy, scowling glumly on the Opposition front bench behind the People’s Hilary.
PERHAPS it was just as well to stay out of it. The vitriol poured on Benn Minor’s head for his apostasy in daring to support British bombing in Syria showed up social media yet again in all its Technicolor ghastliness.
No use suggesting that both sides are as bad as each other, or that politicians deserve all they get. It has to be said that, for sheer nastiness, the Hard Left takes some beating at times like this. There was much talk about purging the “Red Tory scum” in relation to the 67 Labour MPs who supported the Government.
Tony Benn would have been outraged by the treatment of his son. For all the high-minded talk of opening up social discourse, the web this week plumbed new depths of squalor and demonisation.
BUT, if one moral story passes without much overt religious involvement — and the media, by and large, did explore the ins and outs of the Syria debate pretty comprehensively, if largely from its manifold secular, political angles — then there is sure to be another along in a minute.
And, lo, it came to pass at the weekend that the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life did publish a report, Living with Difference.
Those of us with long memories can recall the Faith in the City report of 30 years ago. As a junior reporter on The Daily Telegraph, I was given the task of précising it, with 73 paragraphs — a whole page — to cover it, as I recall. I also recall how it was derided at the time.
This week’s report was also mocked, even as it stated the starkly obvious: that religious attendance is in long-term decline, and that the Church and the institutions of the State need to reconcile themselves to the consequences of that change.
That scarcely accounted for the Telegraph’s apocalyptic headline: “Rid public life of Christianity, say faith leaders” (only 22 paragraphs this time, though it was on the front page).
The Mail’s scarcely less caustic reportage predictably cited “Church fury”, which turned out to be a comment from a press officer rather than a thunderbolt. You just can’t get the divine wrath these days.
Charles Moore, the nearest thing the Telegraph has to a sage, pointed out wisely that, so often, religion in schools is taught badly, or not at all: “Religions can only be understood through knowledge. . . The huge problem about religion in modern Western society is ignorance — never more strongly revealed, funnily enough, than by Islamist fanatics who are sometimes found to have been desperately mugging up on Islam for Dummies as they get ready to blow themselves and others up.” Can this be true?
Comments online included a prediction by one “AlanButler79” that the Churches were surrendering to compulsory burkas and prayer mats. Given the Telegraph’s demographic, the 79 may have referred to his age.
One Daily Mail reader posted a warning that the Quiet Majority would shortly turn, though without specifying into what, or where. None of the bemoaners admitted to going to church themselves, which perhaps made the report’s point.
THERE was also the first sighting of the BBC’s annual war against Christmas in the Sunday Express (where else?). The paper breathlessly revealed that the Corporation was devoting just four hours out of 300 to religious programming over the period.
Admittedly this includes a midnight mass, a Christmas-morning service, carols from King’s College Chapel, and a talk by someone called Andrew Brown (who he?) on Radio 3, but still.
Curiously, there was no comparative mention of how much space will be devoted to the festival by commercial channels, including Channel 5, owned by the Express’s proprietor Richard Desmond — or, indeed, his other publications, such as Asian Babes.
ON A more heartening note, The Guardian reported that the former US President Jimmy Carter has announced that he has been cured, for now at least, of cancer. That he made the announcement in his church in Georgia rather than on a chat show, or social media, seems entirely in keeping with this praiseworthy man’s modest and authentic Christian spirit.
Stephen Bates is The Guardian’s former religious-affairs correspondent.