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Press: Humanist chaplains, free of charge on the NHS

13 April 2018


IN A thin week, the appointment of a humanist to lead an NHS chaplaincy team got the most coverage of any story not connected to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

If any member of the royal family wanted a humanist wedding, we really would have reached the point of disestablishment, whatever the law might say, but that is probably some decades off. The aristocracy does provide a safe reserve for cultural Christianity, which is the only sort that does not look strange to those inside the culture. They will take their rituals there, whatever they may believe.

It was instructive to compare The Times’s and The Guardian’s coverage of the NHS-chaplaincy story: both had more or less the same facts, in more or less the same order; but, when it came to getting the background to the story, The Guardian went to the humanists, while The Times went to Christian Concern.

The quote from the latter pressure group was remarkably feeble: “People of different faiths or none should be able to choose which chaplaincy service they would like. Putting a humanist in charge of the chaplaincy team shows how far we have come from the Christian roots of the NHS.”

Somewhere below the radar of the mainstream press, Christian Concern has been chuntering away about a rather more interesting chaplaincy story, in which a Christian pastor has, they claim, been excluded from Wandsworth Prison by a Muslim one. I would have thought that that was a natural for the Mail, or The Times in its Muslim-bashing mode, last seen in Tower Hamlets. But no one has so far bitten. That is probably just what happens when you put out press releases every week that cry “Wolf! Wolf!”


THE letter from 60 bishops to the Times demanding an end to applying the benefit cap to families with more than two children was not much covered elsewhere. Perhaps this was because it was in the Times, or perhaps it was because we have just become inured to the idea that this Government will punish children for the crime of having poor children.

Still, the comments online show an astonishing level of support for what amounts to a policy of compulsory abortion. That was the angle that the Times story took, too: “The two-child limit on benefits is likely to have caused women to have abortions because they could not afford another baby, a coalition of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders has said.”

Obviously, online comments are the worst impulses of humanity. If God had had access to the comment section of the Sodom Times, he would have demanded more than ten righteous men to spare the city. But the London Times has a paywall; so the authors of comments there had actually paid money to read it. They say things like this: “It’s excellent news that we the taxpayers will no longer be subsidising the 3rd, 4th, 5th . . . children of families that cannot afford children — and so shouldn’t be having them! If only we could do something about the first two.”

Or: “When many children are sent to school without having breakfast, and some even without a meal the evening before, we should encourage women to have more children? They don’t seem to be able to support the ones they do have. Or don’t want to support the children they already have, but prefer the school, Local Council and Government do it for them with free meals etc. But they’ll still have mobile phones, large screen tv’s etc.”

These really are people who think of the poor as an alien species.


SO TO the best journalism of the week: Kate Maltby’s account in the FT Magazine of the conditions of Hungarian Jews at a time of rising anti-Semitism, not least in Hungary. She is an enviably assured, smart, privileged young woman: “I am neither Magyar nor Jewish in most meaningful senses; I speak neither Hungarian nor Hebrew. The tradition I have been given is that of the Anglican Church, which I feel no need to trade in order to reclaim another religious cause.”

But, in a few quick anecdotes, she cracks that shell: “My mother still remembers, at the age of five, watching my grandmother’s rising panic when her youngest child’s baptism certificate failed to arrive in the post on the promised day. (Years later, my grandmother explained to her: ‘One day, that piece of paper may save your sister’s grandchildren’s lives.’) First my mother, then I, discovered our pasts and were sworn to secrecy. ‘We are doing it to protect you,’ the older generation told us.”

This is not only an excellent pice of journalism about Hungary. It also shows something important about contemporary English politics: the way in which the smug, if partly inadvertent, anti-Semitism around the Corbyn circle will drive Jewish voters away so that they’ll never come back.


AND so to the best story of next week: Cardinal Robert Sarah, the reactionaries’ preferred candidate to succeed Pope Francis, has told an American audience that some priests listen to confessions while playing on their smartphones. So far, this is only on Twitter, but it really ought to be irresistible.

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