Why is it so hard to be a Christian in public life?

Is it any longer acceptable to be a Christian? News reaches me of a strange case involving the Liberal Democrat party. Ordinarily, I would pay no more attention to happenings within the Liberal Democrat party than I would to a golf tournament. But this case is a telling one. It involves somebody called David Campanale, who has been deselected from the Lib Dems’ parliamentary candidate list. You would have thought that is quite a difficult thing to do. First because it is extraordinary that anyone would want to join the Lib Dems – the party is hardly bursting with talent. Secondly, since the party and its predecessor have traditionally been

What does Christian atheism mean?

Two opposed camps can only have a fruitful debate if they agree on what it is they disagree about. A militant atheist such as Richard Dawkins is right to call out scientific ignorance in some religious settings. But at a deeper level his argument fails, because the deity he rejects is a blown-up thing, not the Creator conceived in classical tradition. Similar considerations apply to Slavoj Žižek’s Christian Atheism. When the claim that religion is no more than pious fantasy forms your starting point as well as your conclusion, then reason becomes the first casualty. This approach is as circular as beginning a book on socialism by asserting that all

Easter special: how forgiveness was forgotten

36 min listen

This week: how forgiveness was forgotten, why the secular tide might be turning, and looking for romance at the British museum.  Up first: The case of Frank Hester points to something deep going on in our culture, writes Douglas Murray in the magazine this week. ‘We have never had to deal with anything like this before. Any mistake can rear up in front of you again – whether five years later (as with Hester) or decades on.’ American lawyer and author of Cancel Culture: the latest attack on free speech, Alan Dershowitz, joins the podcast to discuss whether forgiveness has been forgotten. (02:11) Then: Will and Lara take us through some

Grappling with anti-Semitism at Easter

Easter meant little to me as a child. It was chocolate eggs, magical rabbits, films about Jesus on television. I had three Jewish grandparents and, though not raised with any particular religious identity, there was a sense of cultural Jewishness in the home. But those Easter movies must have made an impact, because I became a Christian in my mid-twenties and am now an Anglican priest. I am, however, deeply aware of Christian anti-Semitism – something that is once again becoming grimly fashionable. Anti-Semitism is especially poignant at Easter, the epicentre of the Christian calendar. We remember the great commandment to love one another, and take shelter from an increasingly

A Christian revival is under way in Britain

Tom Holland recently invited me to attend a service of Evensong with him at London’s oldest church, St Bartholomew the Great. Holland, who co-hosts the phenomenally popular The Rest is History podcast, has been a regular congregant for a few years. He began attending while researching Dominion, his bestselling book which outlined the way the 1st-century Christian revolution has irrevocably shaped the 21st-century West’s moral imagination. It also recounts how Holland, a secular liberal westerner who had lost any vestige of faith by his teenage years, came to realise he was still essentially Christian in terms of his beliefs about human rights, equality and freedom. Christianity is not just a

The many Jesus-like figures of the ancient world

What people tend to forget about Jesus Christ is that he killed children. As a five-year-old, Jesus was toddling through a village when a small boy ran past, knocking his shoulder. Taking it like any five-year-old would, Jesus shouted after him ‘you shall not go further on your way’, at which point the boy fell down dead. Later, when the boy’s parents admonished Joseph and Mary for failing to raise their son properly, Jesus blinded them. Something to bear in mind next time you ask yourself: ‘What would Jesus do?’ Jesus smites teachers, sells a ‘twin’ into slavery, and has someone crucified in his stead If this story is unfamiliar,

The English were never an overtly religious lot

Generalisations about national characteristics are open to question. Nevertheless, the overwhelming impression one gets from reading the major works of English literature, or from studying the famous English men and women of politics, the military or the academic world, is that the English have not been an especially religious lot. Or, if you think that a strange judgment of a nation that produced the finest Gothic cathedrals in Europe and the hymns of Charles Wesley, then you could rephrase it and say that they have not generally worn their religious feelings on their sleeve. Jane Austen’s hilarious novels do not quite prepare us for her letters in which she confesses

What Jesus taught us

This is the 47th year in a row that I have written a column for The Spectator’s Christmas issue. It began when I was a young 40-year-old, and is at present being written by an 87-year-old vet. The years have passed in an eye-blink. Recently I asked myself why do bad things happen to good people? (Well, not very good people, but well-intentioned.) This question has occupied thinkers throughout the ages. People who do not believe in a good God should logically have no problem with the existence of evil. In my case, I very much believe in God and it has served me well during a very long and

Everyone is a victim these days – even me

Lord Moore and I go back a ways, more than 40-odd years. I clearly remember the first time we met in editor Alexander Chancellor’s office at The Spectator. I was called in and Alexander introduced me to a fresh-looking 25-year-old Charles who had just been named foreign editor. ‘He went to our old school,’ joked Alexander, knowing full well I was not an Old Etonian. ‘I don’t remember you there,’ said I. ‘I think I was there a bit after you,’ answered Charles. Many years later, and after Charles had kept me on despite my four-month graduate studies at Pentonville, I attended a party at his and Caroline’s house. I

The perils of being pope

Rome in the 1st century AD pulsated with religion. The knowledge that they lived in a sacred city, protected by the gods, permeated the daily lives of its citizens. They would see oxen being led down cobbled streets to be sacrificed on marble altars or offerings of incense and wine being made when the gods or the emperor demanded. There were constant religious festivals. At the Lupercalia, childless women were beaten with goatskin thongs that promised fertility; at the Saturnalia, Romans shed their togas, drank heavily and gambled. Even non-citizens and slaves were obliged to take part in these religious ceremonies. In the darkened rooms of brick-and-stone tenements in the

Bags of charm and a gripping plot: Netflix’s The Chosen One reviewed

Some years ago, Mark Millar (the creator of Kick-Ass, Kingsman, etc.) hit on yet another brilliant conceit for one of his comic-book stories: a three-part series based on the premise that Bible-believing Christians are right, that the Antichrist walks among us and that only the second coming will save us – eventually – from the horrors depicted in Revelation. Since the late 1960s, screenwriters have tended to give the devil all the best tunes ‘I have nothing but happy memories of growing up as a Catholic, and I wanted to do a book about faith that was both intelligent and respectful,’ said Millar. ‘If we can do a thoughtful take

The ‘historic’ national dishes which turn out to be artful PR exercises

In 1889, Raffaele Esposito, the owner of a pizzeria on the edge of Naples’s Spanish Quarter, delivered three pizzas to Queen Margherita, including one of his own invention with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, their colours taken together resembling the Tricolore. The Italian queen loved the pizza, and Esposito duly named it after her. In that restaurant today hangs a document from the royal household, dated 1889, declaring the pizzas made by Esposito to be found excellent by the queen. And so was born the Pizza Margherita, a dish now synonymous with Naples. The queen’s seal of approval in the wake of Italian unification, which had proved difficult for Naples, came

From persecuted to persecutors: the story of early Christianity

Dante travels through the circles of Hell, guided by Virgil. At the summit of the mountain of Purgatory, Virgil abandons him, leaving him with Beatrice, the woman Dante loved. With Beatrice’s smile, Dante is transported to Paradise, experiencing astral bliss as he soars through the cosmos. But Beatrice must leave him at the approach to the Eternal Fountain: for him to glimpse her smile further would be to incinerate him with its divinity. The relationship between humanity and divinity lies at the heart of this new history of the Middle Ages. Mark Gregory Pegg’s vignettes of martyrs, theologians, scholastics and secular figures illustrate the development of Christianity in the West

Has the Vatican abandoned beauty?

The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity in the Cambridge-shire market town of Ely is one of the supreme achievements of European Gothic architecture. Its octagonal tower lifts the eye to a sumptuously restored wooden lantern from which Christ looks down in majesty. Who on Earth thinks faith can be awakened by seeing a crucifix floating in urine? On the last Friday in June, his gaze fell on a congregation worshipping him at Evensong. Two hours later, as the Times reported, the cathedral was filled with ‘a very different crowd: 800 people [wearing headphones] attending a 1990s-themed silent disco. They wore diamanté strappy heels and leather trousers, carried

Why the Chester Mystery Plays are more popular than ever

Hang around for long enough at Chester Cross, and theatre is pretty much guaranteed. It’s a Saturday morning in May: a human statue holds his pose, a remote-control buggy zips about advertising the spring sale at MenKind and three connoisseurs of discount cider are making their views known from the bench outside St Peter’s Church. All normal for Chester, and when the Town Crier strides up, crowds gather on the first-floor Rows like the audience at a Tudor playhouse. Oyez! The people of the city seek permission to stage the latest cycle of the city’s medieval Mystery Plays and tradition dictates that the Banns be read in public some six

The Anglican priests charged with exorcising evil spirits

Last month, a trailer for the new Exorcist film – the scariest trailer ever, apparently – was released. The Exorcist: Believer isn’t out until Friday 13 October – just in time for Halloween – but Hollywood movies about demons are legion. This one follows The Pope’s Exorcist (released on Good Friday), in which Russell Crowe is a maverick exorcist who doesn’t play by the book, but gets results – despite the pen-pushers at (Vatican) City Hall. The Reverend Canon Dr Jason Bray, the Bishop of St Asaph’s ‘deliverance minister’, will not be watching either film. He hasn’t even seen the original Exorcist – ‘I don’t go big on horror movies,

Why millennial men are turning to the Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer is enjoying a revival in the Church of England, despite the best efforts of some modernists to mothball it. Over the past two years, more and more churchgoers have asked me about a return to Thomas Cranmer’s exquisite language, essentially unaltered since 1662, for church services and private devotions. Other vicars tell me they have had a similar increase in interest.   It helps that the Book of Common Prayer has had a fair bit of attention recently. The late Queen Elizabeth’s insistence on the use of Prayer Book texts in her funeral rites meant that in September more people witnessed the beauty of this liturgical treasure than watched Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon. The

The myth of atheist America

The American comedian Bill Maher is an intelligent man with a good sense of humour. When he’s right, he tends to be very right. However, when he’s wrong, he tends to be so wrong it leaves a person scratching their head in disbelief. He has a tendency to sometimes misrepresent the facts. This is true when it comes to weed. For the uninitiated, Maher loves weed. I mean, he really loves weed. He is forever talking about it (see here, here and here), arguing, repeatedly and unapologetically, that it’s a largely harmless drug. As I have shown elsewhere, it’s not. It robs many people of motivation and happiness. Nothing good comes from smoking weed on a

The rise and fall of Tammy Faye

Tammy Faye Bakker was a chirpy, perky televangelist noted for her lavish mascara and her barrel-stave eyelashes. She once conducted an interview on her PTL (Praise the Lord) chat show for which she remains revered among gays. It was in 1985 and she was talking to Steve Pieters, a soft-spoken church pastor with a soup-strainer moustache. He had Aids, a disease that killed Rock Hudson that year and was scything through Reagan’s America. Tammy wanted to know all about Steve’s faith, his health and his orientation. ‘Have you given women a fair try?’, she asked rather naively. The pastor told his story and the interview deepened into an extraordinary confessional.

The night the Queen refused to read my book

‘So it is come at last, the distinguished thing!’ exclaimed Henry James on his deathbed. Such a thought is reflected in funerals – always more powerful than a memorial service or ‘celebration’ – because the person’s body is present. When it comes at last to Elizabeth II on Monday, it will be the most distinguished of all the ceremonies. The Household Division is in charge. It is always and only the Grenadier Guards who make up the bearer party. By then, all serving Guards officers will have stood watch over the coffin for the lying-in-state. The Guards are so called because they must guard the Sovereign in life. Their last,