Religion

Letters: save our churches!

Free the C of E Sir: Patrick Kidd’s article on the shortcomings of today’s Church of England maintains the importance of the ‘volunteers in the pews’ who bind the church together (‘Miracle workers’, 18 May). He warns that these people ‘can so easily run away’. This is exactly what happened to the Church of Scotland in 1843 when the hierarchy got things badly wrong. The Great Disruption was caused by a disagreement over patronage: should a patron be the sole arbiter in hiring and firing ministers or did this undermine the spiritual independence of the congregation? The exit of more than 400 ministers from the Kirk’s General Assembly and the formation of

A middle-aged man in crisis: How to Make a Bomb, by Rupert Thomson, reviewed

Philip Notman is going through what looks like a midlife crisis. Travelling home from an academic conference, he feels sick and disoriented to the point where he is barely able to function. Back in London, he can’t quite explain to his wife Anya, or indeed to himself, what’s ailing him. Is it just me, he wonders, or is everything unbearably toxic? Instead of working on his next book during a sabbatical, he sets off on a journey in search of a remedy. Rupert Thomson’s new novel has no full stops. In their place are paragraph breaks, with sentences abandoned on the page, increasing the sense of dislocation: Everything sick, he

When was the last genuine royal tour of Nigeria?

Royal welcomes The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visited Nigeria last week. When was the last genuine royal tour of that country? – The late Queen made a 20-day visit in 1956, four years before Nigeria’s independence. She went for three days in 2003 when she opened the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.– The then Prince Charles visited in 2018, when he joined a Peacebuilding and Interfaith Engagement, laid a wreath at the Commonwealth War Graves memorial in Abuja and attended a talk on poultry-rearing. Faith in politics A Liberal Democrat candidate in Sutton and Cheam has been deselected allegedly because of his Christian faith. How do religious groups tend

Douglas Murray

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

The triumph of Katharine Birbalsingh

There are two questions that need to be asked of any society: what is it that is going wrong; and what is it that’s going right that should be done more? It’s only natural to focus on the first question – not least because it is easier. But it is the second question that should be asked more. Whenever I think of the few things that are going well in Britain, I think of the Michaela Community School in Wembley, London. I have visited the school a couple of times. It sits in one of London’s most deprived communities. Set up under the era of Michael Gove’s free schools scheme,

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

How the Church of England patronises African Christians

17 min listen

In this episode of Holy Smoke, I’m joined by The Spectator’s features editor William Moore, who asks in this week’s issue of the magazine whether the Church of England is ‘apologising for Christianity’. A report by the Oversight Group, set up by the Church Commissioners to make reparations for African slavery, not only wants to see unimaginable sums transferred to ‘community groups’ – its chair, the Bishop of Croydon, thinks a billion pounds would be appropriate – it also deplores the efforts of Christian missionaries to eradicate traditional religious practices. But, as Will’s article points out, those traditional practices included – at their most extreme – idol-worship, twin infanticide and cannibalism. Are

Is the C of E about to say sorry for Christianity?

Is the Church of England going to apologise for Christianity? A report by something called the Oversight Group has declared that the Church should say sorry publicly, not just for profiting from the evils of slavery (through investment in the South Sea Company) but for ‘seeking to destroy diverse African traditional religious belief systems’. And having apologised, it recommends the Church ‘reach beyond theological institutions’ and ‘enable all Africans to discover the varied belief systems and spiritual practices of their forbears and their efficacy’. What would such an apology say about the Ugandan Martyrs executed in the 1880s by King Mwanga II? The Oversight Group is an independent committee, but

Dinosaurs, dogma and the Victorian mind

In March 1860, shortly after The Origin of Species was published, Charles Darwin wrote to Leonard Horner thanking him for some surprising information. ‘How curious about the Bible!’ he exclaimed. Horner had taken aim at the marginal notes that were printed in the standard (and ubiquitous) Authorised, or King James, Version. These began with the date of creation, 4004 BC, as calculated by Archbishop James Ussher in the 17th century. Darwin was astonished. ‘I had fancied that the date was somehow in the Bible,’ he wrote. The disturbing ‘monsters’ dug from the cliffs of Lyme Regis did not sit well with the literal reading of Genesis The fact that Darwin,

Britain’s Jews aren’t safe

The explosion of hatred and extremism prompted by the October 7 massacre was never going to limit itself to the Jewish state. Even as early reports were filtering in, the news that Palestinian terrorists had infiltrated Israel and slaughtered its citizens appeared to kickstart a dynamo of Jew-hatred in the West. Since then, we have had only news reports and anecdotes to go on, but the trends were evident. Now we have the numbers. A report from the Community Security Trust (CST) finds there were more antisemitic incidents in the UK over the past 12 months than in any previous year, with October 7 pinpointed as the most significant factor.

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

The real problem with ChatGPT is that it can never make a joke

I have been reviewing books for nearly four decades – starting in this very magazine – and over the years I have encountered some real stinkers. But this is the first time I can recall being reluctant to pick up the book because of actual physical nausea. Intellectual nausea I’ve had plenty of times. Give me a 900-page book of magical realism and that’s what I’ll get. But this time it metastasised into real queasiness. I’ll explain why. (Well, that is my job.) The odd thing is, Benny the Blue Whale starts amusingly enough. Andy Stanton, a writer of chidren’s books, had been both intrigued and alarmed by the rise

Deus ex machina: the dangers of AI godbots

Something weird is happening in the world of AI. On Jesus-ai.com, you can pose questions to an artificially intelligent Jesus: ‘Ask Jesus AI about any verses in the Bible, law, love, life, truth!’ The app Delphi, named after the Greek oracle, claims to solve your ethical dilemmas. Several bots take on the identity of Krishna to answer your questions about what a good Hindu should do. Meanwhile, a church in Nuremberg recently used ChatGPT in its liturgy – the bot, represented by the avatar of a bearded man, preached that worshippers should not fear death.  Elon Musk put his finger on it: AI is starting to look ‘godlike’. The historian

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

The making of Mecca

Later this year, over two million Muslims will travel to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, for the Hajj, one the five pillars of Islam. Yet the historical basis for the Meccan pilgrimage is far from clear. During Muhammad’s lifetime, Mecca was literally off the map for most of the world. No pre-Islamic source so much as mentions its existence, despite the contemporary interest in the region. A number of Roman historians provide detailed descriptions of western and southern Arabia, yet did not make so much as a single mention of Mecca. On this basis alone we are reasonably safe in concluding that, contrary to Islamic tradition, Mecca was at the beginning of the

The wisdom of Rod Liddle

New York At a chic dinner party for some very beautiful women, your correspondent shocked the attendees by quoting an even greater writer than the greatest Greek writer since Homer – Rod Liddle – and his definition of why royalty matters: because it is ‘anachronistic and undemocratic’. Hear, Hear! A particularly attractive guest, Alissa – on a par with Lily James – took me aside and asked me if I really believed what the greatest writer ever, Rod Liddle, had written and I had just quoted. She also asked whom I had in mind as the greatest Greek writer since Homer, and I answered: ‘Moi.’ I then sat down and

Letters: The real AI threat

Irreligious tolerance Sir: Your editorial ‘Crowning glory’ (6 May) celebrated the religious tolerance in Britain that will permit a multifaith coronation. However, it didn’t acknowledge that in modern Britain nearly half of people have no religious belief. This acts as a buffer, making religious differences of opinion of less importance. Britain is one of the least religious countries in the world. In more strongly religious countries, such tolerance is harder to find. Michael Gorman Guildford, Surrey Admirals on horseback Sir: If Admiral Sir Tony Radakin only had to march at the coronation (Admiral’s notebook, 6 May), he was fortunate. At the 1953 coronation, Lt Cdr Henry Leach (later Admiral of the

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,

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

In defence of the Free Church of Scotland

Recent days have shown an upsurge of interest in a small Presbyterian church (the Free Church of Scotland, colloquially referred to as ‘the Wee Frees’) because one of its members, Kate Forbes, is running to replace Nicola Sturgeon as first minister. As a former Moderator of that Church, an honorary role as an ambassador for the movement, it is fascinating, amusing and not a little frustrating for me to watch the ‘expert’ commentators get it so wrong, so often, when they discuss it.  In the past few days, some have publicly wondered if Forbes believes in dinosaurs; if she will be able to do her job on Sundays; and even