My literary heroes have led me astray

Gstaad   Good manners aside, what I miss nowadays is a new, intelligent, finely acted movie. Never have I seen so much garbage as there is on TV: sci-fi trash, superhero rubbish, dystopian crap and junk about ugly, solipsistic youths revolting against overbearing parents. The director Jimmy Toback blames the subject matter for the lousy content, driven as it is by the need for diversity. I think lack of talent is the culprit. The non-stop use of the F-word is a given in Hollywood productions. Combined with constant violence, it makes for a lousy and unwatchable film. When one thinks back to classic movies such as The Best Years of

A podcast that listens to what anti-vaxxers think rather than lecturing them

Work is our new religion. There are people whose primary job is writing listicles of celebrity gossip, illustrated with gifs from the Fast & Furious franchise, who refer to being a writer as a ‘calling’. If I think about this for too long my brain simply shuts down to protect itself. What we used to do for God we now do for our work. In a secular culture, it seems totally normal — admirable, even — to sacrifice the possibility of having a family, to give up all leisure time, to starve yourself or live on insane, totally made-up diets like intermittent fasting or paleo for the sake of your

Is Boris Johnson allowed to pick the next Archbishop of Canterbury?

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was shirty with me when I asked him whether he was now a practising Roman Catholic, having recently been married to Carrie Symonds at Westminster Cathedral. His answer was ‘I don’t discuss these deep issues. Certainly not with you.’   The question may be ‘deep’, as he says, but it is also – as a senior minister has reminded me – an intensely practical one and relevant to his duties as Prime Minister. Because under the British constitution:  1. The Prime Minister’s appointments secretary has an advisory role in the appointment of all bishops  2. The chair of the commission that nominates an

Pope Francis is losing his culture war

Since I wrote about the Pope’s declaration of war on the Old Rite, something unexpected and beautiful has happened. Many bishops have held the line. Far from all: some have gleefully welcomed the opportunity to extinguish the pretty rite, and intellectual justification has come, predictably, from the Jesuits, who haven’t been sound since The Exorcist. But so many other bishops have judiciously, almost seditiously, chosen to interpret the Pope’s instruction to the letter while ignoring its spirit, and given immediate dispensation to the priests who already say it to continue. Others, I’m told, have written or telephoned Old Rite-saying priests to offer personal comfort and reassurance. This is how you

Leave, convert or perish: The fate of Afghanistan’s minorities

President Biden’s decision to ‘end the war in Afghanistan’ means the complete withdrawal of 3,500 US troops by the 20th anniversary of 9/11. However, what may be domestically popular — particularly among Trump voters — will soon have consequences for the Afghans left unguarded by foreign troops. The Taleban and other jihadist militias are already making significant territorial gains while nuclear Pakistan will be strengthened by the vacuum left by the US military. But it is Afghanistan’s non-Muslims who will really suffer. Extinction is a word normally associated with dinosaurs — but it’s no exaggeration to say some minority religions (including my own) will now face that fate at the

Is this the last chance to save the Church of England?

I am a key limiting factor. That’s a new one for a clergyman of the Church of England. We’ve traded under parson, cleric, priest, minister, padre and even pie-and-liquor, but never before have I heard us described as ‘key limiting factors’. That this phrase was used during the announcement of a new C of E-endorsed scheme — to create 10,000 new lay-led churches in the next ten years — adds future injury to present insult. ‘Lay-led churches release the Church from key limiting factors,’ said Canon John McGinley introducing the initiative. ‘When you don’t need a building and a stipend and long, costly college-based training for every leader of church… then actually

The plot against religious education

Faith is not the declining force that some secularists believe or indeed desire it to be. Even here in the UK, we have our growing and vibrant black-led churches; increasingly present mosques, temples and gurudwaras; and believers arriving from Eastern and Central Europe.  This is why it’s important for religious education to continue to have a special place in the curriculum of our schools. Although RE is not a ‘core subject’, it remains a compulsory one. Successive Education Acts have stipulated that it should be taught in such a way that reflects the mainly Judaeo-Christian traditions of this country — while also covering the teachings and practices of other religions present here. It is worrying, therefore, that

Richard Dawkins is an ally to the oppressed

Richard Dawkins is no longer a humanist. At least, not one that deserves to be honoured as such, according to the American Humanist Association (AHA), which excommunicated him from the Humanist of the Year award last week. The fatwa issued by the AHA, which generously includes ‘critical thinking’ in a list of its own Ten Commitments, accused the evolutionary biologist of ‘demean[ing] marginalized groups’ when he asked his Twitter followers to ‘discuss’ the vilification of critics of transgender theory. Proponents of the new blasphemy codes have seemingly forgotten the decades of humanist work in favour of free speech. More qualified persons can better comment on Dawkins’s implied scepticism of modern

The Church of England’s new religion

This article first appeared in the 20 March edition of The Spectator.The Church of England report that was leaked to Douglas Murray has now been published. You can read the full report here. With a heavy heart I must return once more to the subject of the Church of England. I recognise that is not a subject for everybody, and occasionally someone implies that it should not be a subject for me. But I am concerned about the fate of the national church because as the new religion heaves ever clearer into view, I realise that I prefer the old religion to the new one. I would rather attempts to influence

How Richard Dawkins fell victim to the transgender thought police

Richard Dawkins – the biologist, humanist, and author – is a well-known critic of religious faith. As he once put it, ‘Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.’ Traditional religion may have loosened its grip on society, certainly in the United Kingdom, but new quasi-religious ideologies are taking root in spaces that the churches have vacated. Earlier this month, Dawkins upset the transgender brigade by questioning their core beliefs. He Tweeted, ‘In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black. Some men choose to identify as women,

What Mormons like me really believe

As one of the 200,000 British members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my heart doesn’t leap when I hear about a new documentary made about us. Such films tend not to be flattering. But here’s the puzzle: if our faith is really based on nonsense, why is it growing? Why would people like me convert? If you can bear with me, I’d like to say a bit about who we are — and what we are not. We’re followers of Jesus Christ (i.e. Christians). Our scripture is the Bible. We also believe that the Book of Mormon, another Testament of Jesus Christ, revealed to Joseph Smith

Damian Thompson

The troubling history of Mormonism

The new three-part Netflix series Murder Among the Mormons is attracting big audiences, and deservedly so. Finally someone has made a major documentary about Mark Hofmann, the squeaky-voiced Mormon nerd who was both the most brilliant document-forger in history and a psychopathic murderer. In the early 1980s, the young Hofmann manufactured a series of documents that portrayed its prophet Joseph Smith — the discoverer of the ‘gold plates’ that supposedly described a great Israelite civilisation in America — as a conman up to his ears in the occult. In 1985, panicking that he was about to be discovered, he blew up two Mormons with pipe bombs, was caught by police

‘Spiritual but not religious’: the rise of consumerism in church

I was raised Christian and the more I’ve thought about it, the more curious something about my upbringing seems. My church was constantly denying it was ‘religious’. By any objective social–scientific measures, the community was decidedly religious. Maybe we weren’t that organised (there was no website), but we recited historic creeds, we submitted to the authority of a sacred text and we practised ancient rituals. We identified with the worldwide institutional expression of the body of Christ, yet we still liked to say we weren’t ‘religious’. Throughout my childhood I was reminded in sermon after sermon that we were ‘-Spiritual but not Religious’. One reason for this was a sincere

In America, politics has become a form of religion

When I finally head back to church this weekend, after a year of Covid-avoidance, it is going to feel a little strange. These past 12 months constitute the longest stretch of time I’ve been away since I was born. And I’m not going to lie, part of me liked the sudden plague-long dispensation. I’ve become used to the lazy, empty, gently unfolding Sundays. They’ve grown on me. I could live like this, it occurs to me — as so many others do, all the time. So why go back? When I ask myself what exactly I’ve missed, I realise it isn’t a weekly revelation. I don’t expect to feel something

The new religion of the Church of England

With a heavy heart I must return once more to the subject of the Church of England. I recognise that is not a subject for everybody, and occasionally someone implies that it should not be a subject for me. But I am concerned about the fate of the national church because as the new religion heaves ever clearer into view, I realise that I prefer the old religion to the new one. I would rather attempts to influence the country’s morals were preached from a pulpit than through group stampede on Twitter. And though we haven’t heard much from actual pulpits for more than a year, the church hierarchy has

The curious case of Cornelia Connelly

Visiting Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1980s, I found myself warmly welcomed (I cannot remember why) by a lively group of Catholic feminists. Their heroine was Mother Cornelia Connelly. I was embarrassed not to have heard of her since she did her greatest work near us in Sussex. Hers is quite a story.  In 1831, aged 22, she married Pierce Connelly, an Episcopalian minister, in her native Philadelphia. Both later converted to Catholicism. Pierce wanted to become a priest, which was difficult, what with a wife and five children. The couple eventually signed a perpetual deed of separation so he could be ordained. While still looking after her younger children, Cornelia became

A defence of the Church of England

If you’ve been following the media coverage of the Church of England over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, one question you might have seen is: ‘Where is the C of E?’ Let us offer an answer. We have been burying the dead, comforting the bereaved, feeding the hungry and praying for our nation. We have been doing this not as superheroes, but as human beings living through the same crisis as everyone else: grieving, home-schooling, worrying, getting sick, shielding, isolating, weeping. With that said, we fully understand — and indeed share — the anger and frustration felt by some that the government ordered public worship to be suspended during the first

Is America now a Catholic country?

‘It’s like being in church’, said my teenage son. It was a bit — two bursts of prayer, a religious song, a long sermon, and a general air of community-reverence, inclusive piety. We were watching Biden’s inauguration last week, grateful for a mid-afternoon break from other screens. These are quasi-religious events — I knew that. But this time it seemed more pointedly religious than ever. Let’s get back to the true faith, after a spell of gold-plated idolatry. And, if you knew how to spy the signs, this ceremony reflected the new man’s Roman Catholicism — a Jesuit leading the prayers, a quote from Saint Augustine, songs from an Italian-American

Why I’m keeping my church open in lockdown

On a beautifully sunny Maundy Thursday last year, during the first lockdown, I removed my cassock, slung my satchel over my shoulder and rode my bicycle to Lambeth Palace and back. At the halfway point I paused briefly to slip a letter under the Archbishop of Canterbury’s front door, before heading for home and the sad prospect of a solitary evening mass. In my letter I asked the Archbishop to reconsider his request that we not pray in our churches. Communal worship was still forbidden, but the government clearly considered it lawful for the clergy to continue to go into their churches to pray on behalf of their absent congregations.

Liberals should stop patronising believers

An editorial in the Guardian on Friday suggests that this year may be a good one for liberal Christians, and gives them a little pat on the back.  Liberalism thinks itself the wiser, cooler sibling of religion The suggestion is based on four things: the churches have shown their social relevance during the pandemic; the incoming American president is a liberal Catholic; in his latest book Pope Francis has called for a ‘new humanism’; the leader of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I, has spoken in favour of social justice. It also notes that illiberal Christianity is going strong, citing Poland’s illiberalism on abortion, and Trump’s recent support from evangelicals, but it opts