Christianity

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,

The Queen’s life was anchored by Christianity

King Charles III began his first speech as monarch by recalling the pledge made by his mother on her 21st birthday in 1947. Speaking from Cape Town on the occasion of her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth declared ‘before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family’. She ended by saying: ‘God help me to make good my vow and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.’ We know now that the Queen was given a long life during which the world, as it was when she was

The Archbishop of Canterbury has risen to the occasion

Archbishop Justin Welby has done a good job of relating the Queen’s virtues to her Christian faith. This is no easy task. The writers of the New Testament would have been very surprised by the notion that a monarch could be an exemplary Christian. And any sensible Christian leader is mindful that monarchs should be praised with care, lest religion seem cravenly reverent of tradition and worldly grandeur. She was a model of practical virtue In her life, he said in his official statement, ‘we saw what it means to receive the gift of life we have been given by God and – through patient, humble, selfless service – share

What has become of the 19th-century explosion of religiosity?

Matthew Arnold cannot have been much fun on holiday. Watching waves crash on the pebbles at Dover Beach, he heard only metaphors for the decay of religion. The ‘Sea of Faith’ had once been full, but now its ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar’ filled his ears. Dominic Green thinks he was much too gloomy. He prefers Arnold’s chirpy contemporary Ralph Waldo Emerson, who perceived that faith was not so much ebbing as flowing into new channels. From the time of the 1848 revolutions to the century’s close, railways, industrialised wars and questions raised by geologists and biologists shook people’s faith in Christianity. But the crisis of religion fuelled the expansion of

Why the West still needs the Bible

If you look to our schools and universities, you will not see a serious engagement with the Bible as part of the study of politics, of philosophy, or even of literature and culture more generally, despite the huge influence of Biblical ideas on the development of British, American and European politics – and so also across the Commonwealth and the world. University courses on political philosophy take a fundamentally ahistorical position of focusing on purely secular philosophers, rather than facing the reality of the Bible’s impact on the actual development of modern politics.  From Bristol to Warwick to Glasgow, the works of Hobbes and Rousseau, Mill and Rawls, are compulsory

Letters: Workshy Whitehall has its benefits

In check Sir: Jade McGlynn (‘Conflict of opinion’, 23 April) has a point that there are many reasons for popular support inside Russia for Putin’s ‘special operation’ to take over Ukraine. Whether a country is a democracy or a repressive dictatorship you will always find supporters of a patriotic war. Nonetheless you have to take into account the effects of a repressive state on ordinary people’s motivation to protest, even if they want to do so. Millions in Russia and Belarus are either state employees or dependent on the state in some existential way. If you protest you are locked up or beaten up; in many cases both. Would you

How do we celebrate Easter in the shadow of war?

This week has been Passiontide, which means lots of wonderful plainsong in the choir of Canterbury Cathedral as my predecessors sleep. Holy Week began on Sunday in the shadow of war, suffering, loss and pain. How do we celebrate the promise of everlasting life in such darkness? Good Friday is ‘good’ because on the cross we see the goodness of God in the middle of the mess of our own creation. Jesus refuses to answer his accusers on their terms, to use his own power to overcome by force, or to see others hurt – even those who hurt him. Jesus lays down his life for the sake of others.

An inspirational teacher: Elizabeth Finch, by Julian Barnes, reviewed

‘Whenever you see a character in a novel, let alone a biography or history book, reduced and neatened into three adjectives, always distrust that description.’ So says the protagonist of Julian Barnes’s latest novel, the poised, droll, epigrammatic Elizabeth Finch, who is loosely modelled on his late friend and fellow Booker Prize-winner Anita Brookner. A lecturer delivering an adult education course on Culture and Civilisation, an exercise she considers ‘rigorous fun’, she introduces her students to figures such as Goethe and Epictetus. Her talks, designed to make them question what they think they know about the past, are peppered with little provocations: ‘We should always distinguish between mutual passion and

Kirill, the Patriarch in league with Putin

Until very recently, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, was most famous for being the owner of a phantom wristwatch. It had the magical property of disappearing from sight, visible to onlookers only as a reflection. Don’t believe me? Google ‘Kirill’ and ‘watch’ and you’ll find a photo of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus’ meeting the Russian justice minister. It was taken in 2009, the year Kirill succeeded the late Patriarch Alexy II as spiritual leader of 110 million Russian Orthodox Christians. On his head Kirill is wearing a white koukoulion, the so-called ‘helmet of salvation’, with side flaps like the ears of a

The Greek myths are always with us

Once upon a time there was a collection of stories that everybody loved. They involved brave heroes such as Perseus and Theseus defeating fearful monsters like Medusa and the Minotaur. Sometimes they used ingenious gadgets to achieve their goals, a bit like James Bond with his exploding pen. Sometimes they were helped by women who took a fancy to them. Some, like Icarus, failed. Others succeeded but still came to a sticky end – like Oedipus, who solved the riddle of the Sphinx but also killed his dad and married his mum. The point is that these stories were so old they came from a time before writing. There was

Dostovesky and Putin’s useful idiots

When I was 17 I heard the name Dostovesky, and was enthralled. Just the name felt so glamorously intellectual, so deep. I began to read some of his novels, and my hunch was vindicated. A bit later I delved into his ideas, and my admiration became more nuanced. I partly admired his defiance of the rational humanist arrogance of the West, but I was also wary of his reactionary mystical nationalism, his faith in the anti-liberal Russian soul.  It seems that a lot of religiously minded intellectuals struggle to get past stage one. They are so taken with the flinty glamour of this writer that their critical faculties atrophy. They

Playing until her fingers bled: the dedication of the pianist Maria Yudina

The 20th century was an amazing time for Russian pianists, and the worse things got, politically and militarily, the more great pianists thrived, despite the extreme danger and discomfort in which they lived and in which some of them died. If we think immediately of Richter, the greatest of them all, and Gilels, there are at least 20 more that we could add without exaggeration. One of the most important was without question Maria Yudina, born in 1899, who astonishingly survived until 1970. She was not just a sovereign artist but an eccentric of the kind and degree that only Russia seems able and willing to supply. Reading a biography

Bring back communion wine

The Church of England has always been clever at producing theology to suit itself. If we don’t start protesting, we may never get communion wine back again. Too many risk-averse clergy have discovered how efficient, hygienic and cheap it is just to give us a wafer each. They explain it away by reminding us that ‘Christ is sacramentally and equally present in both the bread and the wine, so if you receive only one, nothing is lacking’. ‘But it’s so unfair,’ I want to hiss at the presiding priest when I see him or her having a sip of wine ‘on behalf of the congregation’. ‘It’s one rule for you,

Letters: Our broken civil service

Beyond the party Sir: Rod Liddle is spot-on in arguing that the attitudes revealed by ‘partygate’ extend to senior civil servants (‘The truth about that No. 10 party’, 15 January). He gets the extent wrong by tarring all public-sector workers with the same brush, which would include all NHS workers, and is not true. What is true is that the attitude has indeed spread in the civil service well beyond the public school and Oxbridge-educated elite. I spent a couple of years seconded to a department of state, trying to make progress on implementing reforms that had been approved by parliament. I failed. I was eventually blackballed for speaking truth

Will the human rights industries finally stand up for Christians?

A Christian-owned bakery harried through the courts for refusing to produce a cake endorsing same-sex marriage and a nurse driven out of her job for wearing a small cross. The two are apparently unconnected but have found themselves in the same news cycle this week. The ‘gay cake case’, as it’s invariably billed, has been trundling along since 2014, when gay rights activist Gareth Lee commissioned Belfast-based Ashers Baking Company to produce a cake featuring the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’, the logo of the organisation QueerSpace, and Bert and Ernie, two Sesame Street characters ‘shipped’ as gay by some fans of the children’s TV series. Ashers, whose owners are Christian,

Divided we stand: Anglicans need to agree to disagree

Two years ago the Church of England decided to delay any public discussion of its deepest division, over homosexuality, until 2022. So this might be the year in which an already troubled institution has a dramatic public meltdown. Or it might be the year in which the Church of England sorts itself out a bit. Yes, really. Stranger miracles have happened. There are grounds for hope, and not just on the gay issue. The Church has a core strength that it could draw on, and a core identity that could stand it in good stead, though one it is weirdly shy to assert. First let’s admit that things haven’t been

Letters: Afghan interpreters deserve better from Britain

Welcome changes Sir: Lloyd Evans’s sympathetic piece on the fate of Afghans once they arrive in the UK made for sobering reading (‘New arrivals’, 18 December). In the Sulha Alliance we are endeavouring to support those Afghans and their families who served with and alongside British forces in Afghanistan. That is not the totality of Afghan migrants, but of the former interpreters and their families it can be truly said ‘they are here because we were there’ — and we owe them. I will not go over the whole sorry saga of the UK’s mistreatment of this group, but we really need a step change in how they are looked

A brief history of the death of God

A few weeks after Friedrich Nietzsche bragged to an admirer that he had completed a ruthless attack on our Lord, he collapsed, had convulsions, shouted like a madman and never recovered his faculties again. It was early 1889. He was 44 years old, his books had just begun to be noticed, and he lived for a decade longer, empty-eyed, silent and entirely unaware of the fame that was about to engulf him. Was his tragic end divine punishment for his sacrilege? My devout Catholic wife begs to differ. Our Lord is not vengeful, she insists. That’s the only thing wrong with him, I reply. Although Darwin’s On the Origin of

Is Christianity about to end in the place it began?

Janine di Giovanni’s book begins in a Paris apartment during the first lockdown. She’s at a friend’s home, which she leaves for the odd shopping trip wearing a homemade mask and rubber kitchen gloves. Covid has made her anxious and she worries that we may lose things about our way of life forever. They need to be written down so we don’t forget. As she thinks about how her faith has comforted her during the pandemic she decides to tell the story of Christians in the Middle East who have experienced troubles of a different kind. She feels that Christianity is vanishing there, and if we don’t make a record