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Press: Op-ed dispenses medical and spiritual advice  

20 March 2020


SOME years ago, the Archbishop of Canter­bury told a friend of mine that he did not want to make any public pronouncements without getting the name of Jesus in, very high up. If you want to know how seriously he takes the present crisis, look at the op-ed in Tuesday’s Daily Mail, signed and presumably written by him and the Archbishop of York, which runs for 40 paragraphs before Jesus is mentioned — and 22 before the Bible and praying are recom­mended.

I’m not knocking it. The suggestion of pray­ing while washing your hands very nicely com­bines spiritual and medical hygiene. They don’t tell people to go to church to pray, which is sensible, calming, and honest. It is what an Etonian Prime Minister ought to say. Whether it would appease Simon Heffer, writing the day before in The Daily Telegraph, is less clear.

Heffer had written: “As deaths rose and coronavirus cases multiplied last week, the Primate of All England, spiritual leader of the Established Church, was notably silent. Given we were being warned of a possible death toll that would remove a higher proportion of our population than at any time since the Great War, did the Almighty’s Anglican vicar on earth have something to say? He did not.”

It does not take very much effort to imagine what Heffer would have written, instead, if the Archbishop had sounded the alarm the week before, when the Government was still plan­ning for 260,000 deaths before we got to herd immunity.


AT LEAST Lord Carey is not a party hack: “How can it be a relief for a respected medical body to defy the overall will of its members and actively obstruct a change in the law?” he wrote in a letter denouncing the BMA’s reluc­tance to support assisted dying.

“I would not wish to see doctors criticised for being the last group defending a status quo that many now recognise is leading to great suffering. Indeed there are growing calls for a government in­­quiry into this and other effects of Britain’s ban on assisted dying, and I echo them.”

Ouch. This is what happens when you ride your hobby horse into the middle of the Grand National.


THE best spirituality story of the week came from Suzanne Moore, with an account in The Spectator of her adventures on mushrooms in Amsterdam: “We entered the ceremonial space — ‘the sacred circle’ — and I raised a concern about what we would be listening to on our eight-hour trip. ‘Suzanne, you seem anxious,’ said the group leader. ‘I just don’t want that awful plinky-plonky massage music,’ I said. ‘I’ve got taste.’. . . I was brought earplugs but I could still hear it. At one point, as a dire track ended, I said: ‘Men should not be allowed to make playlists ever.’ At least some people laughed.

“Then I was asked if I would like to leave the sacred circle. Yes, I would. I sat by the fire read­ing and chatting to a doctor. I wasn’t trip­ping, just hungry.”


THE most sobering story came from an essay on the online publishing platform Medium, by a man who had made a great deal of money from a horoscope app on Facebook, which ten million people installed at its height, and hun­dreds of millions see. Of course, he doesn’t believe a word of it himself, and never did. He found, through Google, “a sketchy website that will charge you £1,500 a year for daily horo­scopes for every Zodiac sign. So we bought that content, piped it into our app, funneled it to our users, and posted it once a day on their feeds. They loved it.”

Only the app writers could see how the horoscope text repeated itself within weeks, but across different signs, so that the readers never notice.

Then came the twist: “On an otherwise un­­eventful day, I was slouching on my chair, in front of my laptop, reading down the list of messages from our readers, when I stumbled upon something like this:

‘Hello. I’m a 36-year-old who is divorced. I have a 21-year-old boyfriend. We’ve been going out for 2 months. He’s my last oppor­tunity. Will I marry him, or will I be alone for the rest of my life? Please help me you’re my only chance. Ciara.’

“I stopped what I was doing. The despair hit me.”

He stopped work on the app the next day, and left the company soon after. The story does not go on to say that he gave his profits to charity. I rather suspect that he did not.


FROM the South China Morning Post, a story of a congregation outside Seoul whose pastor believed that salt water would guard against the virus, and so sprayed it down their throats using the same bottle for everyone. There were 64 confirmed cases as a result.


AND, from The Times, a perfect headline on the story that reported that the Dead Sea Scrolls had been identified as fakes, written in modern times on the leather of genuine Roman legionary boots: “Museum of the Bible is told its Dead Sea Scrolls are cobblers.”

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