It’s often said that Britain’s church congregations are shrinking, but that doesn’t come close to expressing the scale of the disaster now facing Christianity in this country. Every ten years the census spells out the situation in detail: between 2001 and 2011 the number of Christians born in Britain fell by 5.3 million — about 10,000 a week. If that rate of decline continues, the mission of St Augustine to the English, together with that of the Irish saints to the Scots, will come to an end in 2067.
It used to be that the most annoying thing in academic life was political correctness. But a new irritant now threatens to supplant it: the scourge of correct politicalness.
The essence of correct politicalness is to seek to undermine an irrefutable argument by claiming loudly and repetitively to have found an error in it. As with political correctness, which seeks to undermine arguments by declaring the person making them a bigot, correct politicalness originated in the US.
On the 12th of January, 500 of the great and good, or at any rate the well-heeled, sat down to a sumptuous dinner at the Guildhall at a cost of £500 a head. This was to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, widely regarded as one of the most important documents in the world.
Celebrate? A funeral procession would have been more appropriate. Clause 38 provided,
‘No judicial officer shall initiate legal proceedings against anyone on his own mere say-so, without reliable witnesses brought for that purpose.
I adore undertakers. Unlike dentists or buses or boyfriends, they’re always there when you need them: even if you call in the middle of the night you will be answered by a human, not an answer-phone message. Funeral directors (as they prefer to be called) are surely the only businesses in Britain never to greet a customer with the words: ‘Sorry love, we’re just closing.’ They are unfailingly courteous and full of good sense.
Three weeks ago, a journalist from Le Figaro asked France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who would be attending the 200th anniversary ceremony at Waterloo. ‘When is it?’ was the reply.
Two centuries on, the French are still in denial about Waterloo. To understand why, you have to bear in mind a quotation by the 19th-century historian Jules Michelet, who declared that: ‘The war of wars, the combats of combats, is England against France; all the rest are mere episodes.
The website illicitencounters.com connects married people who are interested in straying, in cheating on their spouses. Or, as the website puts it, people who are ‘looking for a little romance outside their current relationship’. The site now has a million British users.
If you are old-fashioned and simplistic enough to disapprove of this, as undermining of marriage, then one of the company’s recent press releases can help you towards a more sophisticated view.
Just so you don’t get it confused with the City That Never Sleeps, Tel Aviv — my favovurite place on earth — now markets itself as the Non-Stop City and, indeed, it never lets up for a moment.
We like to refer to the Blitz Spirit; Israel has it. Any of the lovely youngsters playing matkot on the beach (an American journalist once used the bat-and-ball game as a metaphor for Middle Eastern conflict — ‘No rules, no winners and it never ends’) could be called up to fight and die for their country that evening.