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‘Remote islands’

11 December 2020

FOR those who love fairgrounds, the attraction of the helter-skelter is the feeling in the pit of the stomach as they spiral downwards. For those not so keen, but persuaded to have a go none the less, there is the reassurance that firm ground —not too firm, they hope — is not far away. The political helter-skelter of the past few years has tested the stomachs of all but the most ideological Brexiters. Sadly, since Boris Johnson came to power, these latter have packed the Cabinet, so that, even were the rest of this column to be spent listing those sectors of the UK economy which are feeling sick at the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, the view from the Government would still be gung-ho for the chaos that would ensue after 1 January. Those who prefer the Government’s interpretation may substitute “readjustment” for “chaos”.

This is not the first time that Britain has been locked in negotiation with the rest of Europe. The Synod of Whitby in 664 could be termed a debate about a customs union, although the customs at issue were the dating of Easter and the ecclesiastical tonsure. In the Venerable Bede’s account, Wilfrid, arguing for the equivalent of the EU, upbraided Colman’s parochialism: “The Easter which we observe, we saw celebrated by all at Rome. . . We saw the same done in Italy and in France . . . and all the world, wherever the Church of Christ is spread abroad, through several nations and tongues, at one and the same time; except only these and their accomplices in obstinacy, I mean the Picts and the Britons, who foolishly, in these two remote islands of the world, and only in part even of them, oppose all the rest of the universe.” Those who dislike this analogy and favour the Government’s interpretation may substitute “proud defence of sovereignty” for “obstinacy”.


Many miracles

THE first injections of the Pfizer/BioNTech anti-Covid vaccine on Tuesday have rightly been hailed as a remarkable achievement. The biological and manufacturing marvels (in Mainz, Germany, and Puur, Belgium, respectively) have meant that doses of the vaccine were ready even before the first regulatory approval was given. Modern scientific understanding is sometimes said to have done away with miracles, dismissed by some as theologised ignorance. We don’t hold with such reductionism. On the contrary, greater knowledge leads to a more complete understanding of miracles. It can embrace context, the spark of inspiration, the complexity of nature, the industry behind such discoveries, and the network needed to spread its efficacy. It can embrace, too, each life protected by vaccination, and is not diminished by familiarity. We welcome millions of miracles.

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