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

The real reason atheists want to be on Thought for the Day | 13 November 2018

Oh God. Or maybe not. There’s a letter in the Guardian today from assorted unbelievers asserting their right to a place on Radio 4’s God slot, Thought for the Day. ‘It’s time for the BBC to open Thought for the Day to humanists. Religion doesn’t hold a monopoly on ethical worldviews. Humanists… make sense of the world through logic, reason and evidence, and always seek to treat others with warmth, understanding and respect…’ Etc. It’s signed by Sandi Toksvig, Julian Baggini, the philosopher, agony aunt Virginia Ironside and Peter Tatchell. Plus 29 others. Consider folks. Is there a gap in your life that comes from not hearing enough of Sandi

Spelling it out | 25 October 2018

Just in front of me, visiting Spellbound at the Ashmolean last week, was a very rational boy of about seven and his proud mother. ‘I don’t believe in magic, witches or Father Christmas,’ he announced to the girl presiding over Room One. ‘Perhaps you’re spiritual but not religious,’ said the girl. The rational boy gave her the look she deserved. In that first room pride of place is given to a squat little silvered bottle with a hand-written label: ‘Obtained in 1915 from an old lady living in Hove, Sussex. She remarked: “and they do say there be a witch in it, and if you let un out there’ll be

Shining circles and silver spools

Flies buzzing, strange rustling, crunching sounds, and then the most chilling screech you’ll have heard all week. Vultures were feeding off the carcass of a zebra in Kenya, recorded by Chris Watson. He had been up before dawn, on the look-out for a suitable carcass to attract the scavenging vultures. He was lucky to find one and clipped two microphones to the ribcage, running the cable to his recording vehicle 50 yards away. By break of day the vultures had appeared and were taking their breakfast. Watson believes that recording sound at such close quarters ‘really fires our imaginations in a unique way’. He was not the only contributor to

Why is Canada letting Isis fighters off lightly?

What is the difference between the SS and Isis? A big one, it seems, in the eyes of Canada, where this week a federal court refused to review a decision to strip the Canadian citizenship of Helmut Oberlander, a Ukrainian immigrant with alleged ties to a Nazi killing squad in World War II. According to the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), Oberlander served as an interpreter in the Einsatzkommando, mobile death squads that swept through Eastern Europe in the early years of the war, liquidating men, women and children, mostly Jews, but also homosexuals, gypsies and communists. It is estimated that the squad Oberlander allegedly belonged to, Einsatzkommando 10a, killed 23,000 civilians

Melanie McDonagh

The Catholic right will go to any lengths to discredit the Pope

There comes a point in the tsunami of abuse allegations about the Catholic clergy when you have to say, stop it right there. The latest cleric to have been accused of abuse is in fact dead: my friend, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who died last year. A conservative Italian blogger – and by conservative I mean not a particular fan of Pope Francis – Mario Tosatti, and the website LifeSite, have claimed that Francis quashed an investigation by the Cardinal Gerhard Muller, into allegations against Cardinal Cormac in 2013. The allegations are from a British woman who claimed that, back in the 1960s when she was 13 or 14, she was

Why Britain’s Jews look to France with fear

The Jewish New Year begins on Sunday and to mark the festival of Rosh Hashanah, Emmanuel Macron visited the Grand Synagogue in Paris on Tuesday. It was the first time that a president of France has attended and although he didn’t give an address (that would breach the laïcité protocol) Macron’s gesture was appreciated by the chief rabbi of France, Haïm Korsia. “You are like the Wailing Wall,” Korsia told the president. “We confide in you our hopes and our sorrows and although we get no response we know that somebody hears us”. Joël Mergui, the president of the Israelite central consistory of France, was more forthright when he spoke.

Jordan Peterson is too negative about Western morality

Jonathan Sacks’ radio series Morality in the 21st Century is a useful introduction to the subject, with some good contributions from world-renowned experts, but it’s rather one-sided. Almost all of these world-renowned experts (such as Jordan Peterson, Robert Putnam, David Brooks) share his approach. There is not much airing of other views, or questioning of basic assumptions. The series is another blast on the communitarian trumpet. Communitarianism is the view that individualism has gone too far, that secular liberalism has descended into selfishness, that a shared moral code has got lost. It has been a major intellectual movement since the mid 1980s. One of its central metaphors is thinness and

Pope Francis has his work cut out to appease the church’s critics

No one on earth could fulfil the expectations that have been invested in the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland. He is meant to  respond to the crisis of clerical child abuse and institutional self preservation within the global church during his first official address at Dublin Castle in a fashion that appeases the church’s critics in Ireland, who are, frankly, in no mood to be appeased. What he did do in his speech was express once again perfectly decent sentiments of abhorrence at the violation of children by members of the clergy. It won’t, and couldn’t, satisfy those who wanted him to use this occasion to make quite explicit

The Spectator Podcast: China’s new diplomacy

This week, China agreed to consider a trade deal with Britain post-Brexit, but does a closer relationship with China expose Britain to its expansionist ambitions? We also talk to two experts on what exactly a no-deal Britain would look like; and last, why are Britain’s great Catholic schools facing extinction? From cheap clothes to easy investments, it’s no secret that China’s rise has helped the whole world become richer. But at what cost? That’s the question that Asia expert Michael Auslin asks in this week’s cover, as Jeremy Hunt leads Britain into closer ties with China. Michael argues that Chinese trade paves the way for Beijing to strong-arm countries into

Is it wrong to criticise Israel?

The Labour Party’s tangles over anti-Semitism and Zionism raise basic questions about Western values that are routinely ignored. But sometimes we do need to go back to basics.  A central plank of the ideology of the West is pluralism – the belief that a state should allow the co-existence of various ethnicities and religions, and treat all its citizens equally. It is a slippery plank – some countries, including us, have traditions that technically contravene this principle (we have an established Church, for example). Also, there is an element of hypocrisy in almost every country’s avowal of ethnic and cultural pluralism. In reality, most citizens expect these things to be

Keeping the faith | 26 July 2018

For many years I would chat genially with our local Jehovah, Stephen, who came door-to-door every few months or so, always hopeful that one day I would let Jesus into my life. (Will he babysit, I would always ask. Will he pair socks? Will he interrupt me during dinner LIKE YOU?) Then I actually read one of the Watchtower magazines he always left behind and discovered that if your husband is violent and beating you then you need to ask yourself: am I being a sufficiently loving wife? Next time Stephen appeared he was doing his rounds with a teenage girl so I looked her in the eye and said:

Is losing your religion really good for wealth?

According to the Times, a new academic study finds that nations become richer when they become more secular. It contests the traditional idea that a nation gets rich, probably with the help of Protestantism, and then loses interest in religion. Instead, a nation first becomes secular, then becomes rich. There might be some truth in this: the keenest capitalists are often rational individualists who idolise financial success. Enough such people can affect a nation’s economy. But the study, judging from the Times’ report, explains the trend differently. The authors found ‘that a decrease in religious belief was linked to an increase in tolerance for individual rights, including of women and gay

Losing his religion

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is slow, churchy, cerebral, bleak, difficult, tormented and puzzling, which is always a blow. So exhausting when a film’s meaning isn’t laid out clearly and neatly before you. But it is, at least, powerfully puzzling and grippingly puzzling. You may not understand it (completely), but you will come away with the feeling that something was being said, whatever that something may have been. Ethan Hawke stars as the Revd Ernst Toller, leader of First Reformed Church somewhere in upstate New York. The church, which dates from 1767, is built in the Dutch style, and is white and clapboard, pretty as a picture. But right from our

An atheist goes on a Christian pilgrimage. What’s the point?

The young writer Guy Stagg threw in his job a few years ago to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem via Rome – choosing a hazardous medieval route across the Alps. It nearly killed him: at one stage, trying to cross a broken bridge in Switzerland, he ended up partially submerged in the water, held up only by his rucksack. His new book The Crossway grippingly describes his solitary journey. He was a pilgrim, not just a traveller, he insists – despite still being an atheist at the end of it. On this week’s Holy Smoke podcast, Guy explains why that makes sense to him. And I also take the opportunity

The term ‘marriage’ needs to be untangled

Rebecca Steinfeld (37) and Charles Keidan (41) have a moral objection to marriage. They’ve been together since 2010, have two very small children, but haven’t tied the knot. This, they say, is because the law doesn’t offer a knot they’re comfortable tying. ‘Charlie and I see each other as partners already in life, and we want to have the status of being partners in law,’ says Rebecca. They hold (and you may agree or disagree but it’s not a crazy view) that the concept described by the word ‘marriage’ is asymmetrical between the man and the woman, and inextricably tangled with religion and with cultural attitudes this couple (and others)

Justin Welby needs to get off the fence

My opinion of Justin Welby has been rising over the last few years. At first he seemed a text-book public school Evangelical, a sad contrast to the Welsh wizard Williams. But he proved himself good at the job, which is largely about seeming a good egg while evading awkward doctrinal questions. Having read his book Reimagining Britain, my opinion of him has not exactly fallen, but it has ceased to rise. The book doubtless has its virtues. Its discussions of practical matters such as housing and finance are acute and helpful. But Welby’s treatment of the question of Christianity’s relationship to secular culture is a predictable mix of evasion and muddle. He sounds

Jacob Rees-Mogg and the liberal inquisition

Trying to make Christian politicians squirm is a favourite occasional sport among political broadcasters in Westminster. The former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron was, for a season, the preferred quarry as he writhed for the cameras most obligingly under increasingly forensic questioning of his views on gay marriage. More recently, the attention has turned to Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has now endured several rounds of on-air questioning about his Catholic faith. Refreshingly, Rees-Mogg has proven to be both unapologetic and unflappable when quizzed about his faith.  On Tuesday, he appeared on the Daily Politics, where Jo Coburn invited him to praise the many worthy qualities of Ruth Davidson, as a politician and

Will the Church’s division over women clergy re-ignite?

Now that London has a female bishop, you might assume that the whole saga is over: surely the liberals have effectively won? Well, yes and no: because the traditionalist rump that opposes women’s ordination is still officially affirmed as authentically Anglican, and has its own episcopal structure, the liberals’ victories have a hollow feel. Of course liberals have grumbled about this odd situation since its origin in 1992. But charitable rhetoric about co-existence has kept such grumbling in check. Might this now change? You might wonder how this rump has survived, and found new recruits. What is its appeal? It’s hard enough for a vicar to keep a congregation going: