Letters | 27 June 2019

Appeasement? Sir: Your editorial (‘Plan B’, 22 June) refers to the need for Boris Johnson, as prospective PM, to have ‘warm words for our European allies — even if we end up without a deal’. The use of the word ‘allies’ troubles me. The dictionary defines the word in context: ‘Any time there’s a disagreement or conflict, it helps to have allies: if you don’t, you’re all alone.’ Being ‘alone’ is not the same as being wrong. Britain has been very much ‘alone’ in the past. And while it has sometimes been wrong, it has often been alone and right in its cause. One of the most extraordinary aspects of

Ideas are history

Wallace Stevens called it ‘the necessary angel’. Ted Hughes thought it ‘the most essential bit of machinery we have if we are going to live the lives of human beings’. Coleridge described its role a little more vigorously: ‘The living Power and prime Agent of all human perception… a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM’. The imagination is the subject of Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s latest grand sweep of a book. Not a historian to dwell on individual kings, queens or battles, he has identified the creation of ideas as the driver of history, the imagination as their source and the pool

Lead astray

Is the pope a Catholic? You have to wonder. In the old days, a pope’s remit was modest: infallible, but only in the vanishingly rare cases when he pronounced on matters of faith and morals concerning the whole church. But even at their most bombastic and badly behaved, earlier popes would have hesitated to do what nice Pope Francis has done, which is to approve changes in the liturgy which amount to rewriting the Lord’s Prayer. That bit that says ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ is, for Pope Francis, a bad translation. ‘It speaks of a God who induces temptation,’ he told Italian TV.  ‘I

Barometer | 6 June 2019

Juncker’s perks The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker complained that he doesn’t have an official residence, unlike the ambassadors who frequently entertain him, and has to live in a hotel room. What are the perks of his job? — He receives a salary of €306,655 (£271,000), untaxed in his home country and subject only to a low EU tax. — He gets a residence allowance of €46,000 p.a., equivalent to 15 per cent of his salary. — He is also eligible for a family allowance equivalent to 2 per cent of his salary. The free world Was Donald Trump’s state banquet the most appropriate to boycott? Countries whose leaders have

What terminal cancer taught me about life

“I’m sorry,” said the doctor, “you have large tumours in numerous places. We can’t operate or cure you. You have 18 months to live”. With those words, I burst into tears. In that mundane hospital room, my life changed. The job I love – I worked as boss of a private bank – was gone. My priorities shifted immediately. Nobody on their death bed wishes they had spent more time in the office. When my time comes, I was determined I would not have that regret. I wanted to make the most of however long I had left. Nearly four years on, I am still alive thanks to my wonderful

The wonder of Whitby

The 199 steps up to the ruins of Whitby Abbey are a pilgrimage; they always have been. And any good pilgrimage takes effort. Count Dracula (also acquainted with the north Yorkshire town) cheated — he climbed the steps in the guise of a black hound. These days, with its new £1.6 million museum and visitor centre, our vampire friend would find a ground-floor café and gift shop. Knowing English Heritage, there is probably a bowl of water for dogs, which would have kept the Count happy. Whitby is a surprise, with a history that puts it at the heart of Britain’s spiritual and literary life. It’s also a vibrant fishing

The return of plainchant

‘I’m still warmed up from last night,’ said Sophie Bevan early on a Sunday morning in the practice-room behind the presbytery of St Birinus Catholic Church in the charming village of Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire – a tiny Pugin-esque gem dwarfed by the enormous Anglican abbey up the road. She and the other four members of the Davey Consort (two of them her cousins from the musical Bevan clan) were running through a Renaissance polyphonic mass, with Sophie’s husband, the composer and conductor Ryan Wigglesworth, directing from the practice harpsichord. Bevan had been the soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth at the Festival Hall the previous evening, and tomorrow she and her husband

Why Peter Sellars’s staging of the St John Passion – which I sang in – was deeply flawed

It has been my privilege over the past two weeks to sing in the chorus of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under conductor Simon Rattle and director Peter Sellars in a staged production of J.S. Bach’s St John Passion. The experience has been life changing for some of my colleagues; it has certainly been unique. Dressed in black casual clothing, we spend much of the performance sauntering around the stage making abstract gestures intended to highlight certain words and distill the myriad emotions found in the music. Some find this effective; others find it silly. Sellars’s forte as a director is his ability to communicate to his performers

Why don’t we talk about Van Gogh’s Christian faith?

Vincent Van Gogh has been airbrushed by the secular arts media. I have not yet seen the new exhibition at Tate Britain about his London years, so I can only comment on the publicity I have read and heard. This arts chatter downplays, or even ignores, the central feature of his life at this time: his religious zeal. It gives the impression that he was dedicating himself to art, gearing up to be the archetypal creative genius. In reality he did not take art fully seriously in the mid 1870s: though he worked for an art dealer, his real passion was religion. This is not mentioned in the articles about

The shame of the Parkfield school protesters

An estimated 600 children were withdrawn for the day from a primary school in Birmingham last week. A rather disturbing video has since been circulating on social media, showing scores of Muslim parents with their young children in Birmingham, shouting “shame, shame, shame”. What has caused such a reaction? Parkfield, a primary school in Saltley, teaches a programme called No Outsiders which is designed to encourage children to be “happy and excited about living in a community full of difference and diversity”. It covers issues such as race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or religion. One part of the programme, on LGBT rights, offended some Muslim parents who saw it as a promotion of

Douglas Murray

The false equivalence between ‘Islamophobia’ and anti-Semitism | 8 March 2019

I have been travelling in the Middle East for the last few weeks and slightly regret returning to the maelstrom of ancient animosities and unbridgeable sectarianism that is modern Britain. But in my absence I see that one of the worst tropes of our time has been stalking unhindered across the land. That is, of course, the latest push to make an equivalence between anti-Semitism and the crock term ‘Islamophobia’. It is not just in the UK that this play has been made. In America over recent days people have been able to follow the progress of the new Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar, with her supporters deciding to deflect attention

My suggestions for Justin Welby’s Brexit prayers

Would anyone like to join me in the “Five Days of Prayer” that Archbishop Welby has announced to mark the days that we leave the European Union? (Yes, sure, IF we do. Otherwise I assume there will be five days of rejoicing.) I will be praying on Day One for Welby to be replaced by a less gullible, less virtue signalling, less privileged person. Day Two will be a prayer that the Church of England start dealing with personal morality rather than grandstanding political gestures. Day Three will be the prayers to stop Muslims preaching in CofE churches, until such time as Islamic states allow Christians to proselytise without getting

Melanie McDonagh

Why I find the George Pell verdict hard to believe

Sorry. I just don’t believe it. The conviction of George Pell – still Cardinal Pell – last December, on which reporting restrictions are lifted today, isn’t credible; he’s appealing against it. Fiat Justitia and all that, but the problem with the rerun of this bizarre trial on five counts of child abuse in 1996 is that the implausibilities of the case against the Cardinal are as great as ever – in his first trial, the Catholic News Agency reported the jury was divided 10-2 in Pell’s favour. Here is what Pell was accused of: “The complainant said that he and another choir boy left the liturgical procession at the end of

How agnostics can help save the Church of England

General Synod has repealed the old law that every Anglican church must hold a Sunday service. It’s not really the end of an era, because the law has been flouted for decades: many rural vicars are in charge of a large handful of churches and cannot hold services at all of them every week. It’s a reminder that we have to think creatively about how to keep our parish churches alive. And this is not just the responsibility of Anglican churchgoers. Because we have an established Church, it makes some sense for an agnostic who never, or nearly never, attends worship to feel some connection with his or her local

Victoria Bateman’s naked Brexit stunt isn’t feminist

Dr Victoria Bateman’s naked Brexit stunt should not be seen in terms of modern feminism but in terms of early modern religious performance art, especially that of the Ranters and Quakers. The trauma of the seventeenth century English civil war caused some strange religious groups to emerge, and some of them went in for shocking little stunts, or ‘happenings’, in the hippy-sixties term. Cromwell’s frail Commonwealth got rid of the old established church, and deciding what to put in its place was a bit like Brexit. Lots of Puritans wanted their new orthodoxy set up, but plenty of liberals wanted a more open-ended free for all, a ‘no-deal’ scenario perhaps.

Why the Pope’s visit to Abu Dhabi matters

Today, the Pope celebrated mass in Abu Dhabi and you do know what that means? It’s a mass in the Arabian peninsula, the birthplace of Islam. And for the first time in centuries – whenever the Nestorian church last had its rites there, maybe 1300 years ago, the gospel was said in Arabic there. It was a happy, celebratory affair (way more cheerful, I may say, than the Pope’s mass in Dublin) preceded last night by a more serious affair, the signing of a joint declaration on Human Fraternity by the Pope and the grand imam of al Azhar. It’s the culmination of the Year of Tolerance proclaimed here by

Damian Thompson: my sister on fighting cancer with faith

The photo above is of my sister Carmel and me having tea a few days after our mother’s funeral. She looks cheerful, doesn’t she? That’s because she was: although we both missed our mother intensely, and always will, we had done most of our grieving before she died, as we watched her tortured by Parkinson’s disease and severe dementia. Carmel looks well, too. And she thought she was. Ovarian cancer plays that trick on women. The first symptoms tend to be annoying rather than alarming. A few weeks after this photograph was taken, I was reassuring her that Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common response to bereavement – which it

Justin Welby’s reformation

Justin Welby is working in Thomas Cranmer’s old study in Lambeth Palace, a room that looks as if it hasn’t changed at all since the Book of Common Prayer was written here almost six centuries ago. It feels like a mini-monastic retreat: there is a desk, a crucifix, several Bibles and not much else. The 105th Archbishop of Canterbury studies and prays here, deciding how best to lead a national church whose Sunday services are now attended (according to its own figures) by barely 1 per cent of England’s population. These are new times — and require new tactics. When he was enthroned six years ago, he was seen as

Does Theresa May’s Anglicanism explain her muddled Brexit?

Ever since ‘Brexit’ was first breathed, there have been comparisons with Henry VIII’s break with Rome. At first such comparisons seemed a bit far-fetched, for there are some big differences between the Catholic Church and the EU, and between Protestantism and zeal for Brexit. But now they seem uncannily apt. For it looks as if we are embarking on an almighty compromise, a monster muddle middle-way that will be decades in the making. It was about thirty years after Henry’s break that his daughter Elizabeth started stabilising things. Let’s hope we’re a bit quicker to realise that we must lay aside our purism and channel the Tudor spirit of compromise.

The reinvention of a nation

When Japan hosts the Rugby Union World Cup next year, and still more so the summer Olympics in 2020, all eyes will be on its omotenashi (hospitality), perhaps its technology, certainly its efficiency, but there will be little thought of symbolism. Not so for the 1964 Tokyo games, when the Olympic flame was carried up its last 160 steps by a 19-year-old named Yoshinori Sakai, who had been born, near Hiroshima, on the day the atomic bomb was dropped. ‘Atom Boy’ bore twin messages: that Japan had been a victim of an unbelievable horror; and that it was now reborn as a modern, democratic state. The running theme of Christopher