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When the led don’t follow

13 November 2015

High church: the contribution of cannabis, in the New York Magazine

High church: the contribution of cannabis, in the New York Magazine

THE Pemberton story (News, 6 November) made less fuss than I thought it would.

John Bingham in the Telegraph got the best quotes from Bishop Alan Wilson: “‘The Church of England seems to have spent hundreds of thousands and possibly more on top London lawyers to ensure that a gay hospital chaplain in Lincolnshire cannot practise in Nottinghamshire,’ he said.

“‘People are going to find this extraordinary: on one side of a line through the village of Norton Disney he is fine as a hospital chaplain, on the other side of the line it is a matter of faith worth taking to Strasbourg that he must not be allowed to preach.’”

This was accompanied (at least online) by a picture of the Bishop with Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner and “other faith leaders supporting gay marriage”, which is, in the case of some of them, a severe case of grade inflation.

In any case, faith leaders are overrated: if you want to get your cause noticed, the only thing that makes politicians quail is an imposing number of faith followers. Pope Benedict XVI was only taken seriously as a faith leader here after he had shown he could pull hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets.


OF COURSE, these people are only followers of the Pope in the technical sense: they hold his teachings in such awe that they follow them at a very respectful distance. What’s interesting is the effect when a Pope changes course.

Damian Thompson had a long piece in The Spectator under the headline: “Pope v Church: the anatomy of a Catholic civil war”. It is not so very long ago that Damian was writing about how the conservative Pope was struggling with the liberal obstructionist bishops.

But here he is, wielding the “S” word: “For millions of Catholics, the great strength of the Church is its certainty, coherence, and immutability. . . If successive popes come across as lofty and distant figures, that’s because they need to, in order to ward off schism in a global Church that has roots in so many different cultures.

“Now, suddenly, the successor of Peter is acting like a politician, picking fights with opponents, tantalising the public with soundbites, and ringing up journalists with startling quotes that his press officer can safely retract. He is even hinting that he disagrees with the teachings of his own Church.

“A pope cannot behave like this without changing the very nature of that Church. Perhaps that is what Francis intended; we can only guess, because he has yet to articulate a coherent programme of change, and it’s not clear that he is intellectually equipped to do so.”

It’s the last line that spoils it. But he wouldn’t be Damian Thompson if he could resist that kind of temptation. Still, I admire the shock he displays at the idea that an elected pope who survived 20 years of high-level Argentine politics might sometimes be less than entirely straightforward.


FROM The Times (which, so far as I could see, entirely failed to notice the Pemberton case) a strange little piece of science reporting: “Children brought up in religious families are more selfish than those from atheist or agnostic houses, a study claims.”

I had a quick look at the (Templeton-funded) study that the story is based on, and this seems a fairish report of it. What’s measured is not selfishness exactly, but the willingness to give away stickers indicating esteem.

Obviously, these results will get sucked into the culture wars, but the results do look solid, as far as they go. The other thing to emerge from the study was the consistency with which religious parents overestimated the niceness of their own children.


THIS all needs thought, but not perhaps the kind most popular in Colorado, from where New York Magazine reports something that made me giggle uncontrollably for hours: the Stoner Bible Study Circle.

It nearly didn’t happen at all: “Stoner Jesus Bible Study is the creation of Deb Button, a 40-something mother of two who had never considered smoking pot until last year, when Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over 21.

“‘I was majorly conservative,’ said Button. . . ‘But when I started smoking I just got so connected to God.’”

Cynthia Joye, the first to join the circle, arrived to the opening meeting to find Button “‘so baked out of her head she forgot that she’d invited me over.’ They talked for four hours.”

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