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Press: Ladybird humanism ought to be recognised  

11 March 2022


THIRTY-FIVE years ago, the then Lord Bishop of Edmonton took me out for an agreeable lunch to tell me that I was “most certainly going to hell” — public relations not then so advanced a science as it is today.

I don’t know quite why he was so certain of my ultimate destination, but I can now add to the charge sheet the fact that I once sent the president of Humanists UK on an Alpha course. The series of ten articles that Dr Adam Rutherford produced, in 2009, for The Guardian, about his adventures are still worth reading, I think — it’s not as if the arguments have moved on — and the readers’ comments are now invisible.

Dr Rutherford got a very softball interview in The Times last Saturday, the day when his appointment was announced, complete with a wonderful definition from the Ladybird Book of Niceness: “Humanists are atheists or agnostics who believe that science provides a guide to how the universe works, that people can make ethical decisions based on empathy for fellow humans and animals, and that people can create meaning in their own lives by seeking happiness for themselves and others.”

The substantial point was that the Government should recognise humanist marriages in this country. This is going to be very hard to resist, either practically or in principle. Some sort of Ladybird humanism really is what most people take for granted in Britain today, and it ought to have public recognition.

Of course, it will always remain a middle-class phenomenon, implacably opposed to the liturgical use of teddy bears. But, while the world is still a comfortable and reassuring place for most of the English middle classes, humanism will continue to offer them an alternative to the vision of the Church presented by Jane Shaw in Prospect magazine: “Traditionally, the C of E has been able to serve . . . those on the edges of organised religion, locally through the parish — through the provision of baptisms, weddings and funerals; compassion and pastoral care in times of crisis; distinctive contributions to a community’s wellbeing; civic rituals that cement the bond between individual and society; and the beauty and peace of the parish church itself. With the careless (or deliberate) erosion of the parish system, all that will go.”


OUT in the dangerous and horrible world, it was worth noting the letter to The Times from the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams: “Last weekend Orthodox Christians in many countries celebrated ‘Forgiveness Sunday’, the day before Great Lent begins. Many will have hoped to hear from the Orthodox Church in Russia some acknowledgement of the shocking — not to say blasphemous — absurdity of Orthodox Christians engaging, at this season of all seasons, in indiscriminate killing of the innocent, insanely reckless attacks on nuclear facilities (endangering their own homeland as well as the wider environment), the unashamed breach of ceasefire agreements, and an attack on one of the most significant Holocaust memorials in Europe.

“It is not too late for the leadership of the Church in Russia to call for (at the very least) a credible ceasefire as Lent begins.”


AN EXCELLENT piece of reporting in The Guardian showed up the political consequences of the schism in the Orthodox between Moscow and Kiev: Ukrainian soldiers went looking for the source of a laser pointer that they suspected of identifying possible targets in their camp. They found it in a monastery near by, run by monks loyal to Moscow.

“‘It’s very, very surprising, because it was a monastery,’ said Father Mykhailo Arsenich, army chaplain to the unit that searched the church. ‘There was a big stockpile of food, packed for military use, designed to keep 60 to 65 people for a very long time.’

“‘We found two pistols, and one hunting rifle which was converted from a combat Kalashnikov. They couldn’t address the question of why priests needed guns.’”

The story goes on to supply a horrible illustration of Why We Can’t All Get Along: “To many residents, the thick walls and cave networks of ancient monasteries and churches suddenly look like potential military bases, or warehouses for a hostile invading force. Pochaiv, one of the holiest sites in western Ukraine, was built to honour a footprint of the Virgin Mary and a famous military victory four centuries ago. The sprawling complex of ancient churches, cave chapels and a historic bell tower, normally bustling with pilgrims, is almost empty.

“Some are staying away because they fear it could be targeted as a symbol of Moscow, some are staying away because they fear it could be used as a military base to launch attacks, and others simply want to distance themselves from the ties to Russia it represents.”

Mind you, the fact that “one of the holiest shrines in the western Ukraine” was “built to honour a famous military victory” might supply a hint about religion in those parts.


ON A completely different note, the Telegraph had a lovely obituary of Sister Catherine Wybourne, @digitalnun on twitter (News, 4 March). She had worked in banking before taking the veil; afterwards, she kept chickens and websites.

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