Tomorrow morning about a hundred middle-aged men and eight women will gather in central London to deliberate about homosexuality. Some will be gay themselves, though none openly. The men are the Church of England's bishops, the women are their advisers, and their debate for once is not an exercise in comic self-importance.
On the face of it, they are deciding whether to accept the recommendations of a committee that decided they should talk more about homosexuality. There is a small but determined faction that thinks they should not: the Bible has clearly condemned gay sex and there's an end to it.… Seguir leyendo »
Pope Benedict's resignation has been planned for some time – Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, knew about it before Christmas – but it is still a stunning shock to the outside world. No pope has willingly resigned since Pope Celestine V in 1294. Pope John Paul II hung on for years – he was dying of Parkinson's disease – while the machinery of the Vatican rotted about him.
During the decrepitude of John Paul II, Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was his right-hand man. It may be that his experience then planted in him a wish to leave office while he was still able to discharge his duties.… Seguir leyendo »
The Church of Sweden's decision to make no distinction in its marriage service between straight and gay couples is not as straightforward a triumph for liberal attitudes as it may seem. For one thing, half the church's bishops signed a letter condemning it; but the extraordinary decision-making structure of the Swedish church means they have no special voice in its decisions.
The church is run by an assembly that is elected directly – in theory by all its members. In practice, the turnout is about 10% and the great majority are elected on the tickets of secular political parties. This is great for the political parties, who thus get another way to reward their members with office and a chance to practise getting out the voters.… Seguir leyendo »
Adistrict court judge in southern California has ruled that a teacher who described creationism as "superstitious nonsense" was making a religious statement, which is impermissible in US public schools. On the face of it, this is completely absurd, even for southern California. Creationism is superstitious nonsense, and teachers should be able to say so. But when you look at the background, the case becomes in some respects less absurd, but also more threatening – especially for hardline rationalists such as Richard Dawkins, who would like to dismiss creationism as beneath contempt.
The first thing to say is that Judge James Selna seems, from his 37-page ruling, to be no friend of fundamentalists.… Seguir leyendo »
The return of ideology has taken us all by surprise, because no one expected it all to be about religion. Twenty years ago, when the Berlin Wall fell and it seemed reasonable to suppose that all the big questions about how to organise society had been solved by history, if you had asked what could possibly disrupt this progressive consensus, hardly anyone would have supposed that the answer had anything to do with God.
There may have been a few prescient pessimists who thought Islam would be an important and dangerous disruption on the forward march to the future - perhaps important and dangerous enough to need quelling with a few brisk, punitive expeditions - but even such pessimists could hardly have imagined the fiasco that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned out to be, nor 9/11 attacks and the widespread fear and loathing they have produced.… Seguir leyendo »