On Wednesday afternoon in Birmingham a young Muslim woman found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The doors of St Chad’s Cathedral opened and hundreds of men surged out, their yellow robes flapping in the sunshine. She, in black robes, glanced back, alarmed, and broke into a run.
She had better keep running. Last out was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, agitator-in-chief and hot tip to be the Church’s next leader in Britain. He had just blessed the priests of his diocese, urging them to fight a culture that he said was becoming “aggressively antireligious”.
"The wrong place at the wrong time"? "She had better keep running"? Are they actually implying that these priests are going to physically assault this Muslim woman? Because that's what it sounds like to me. I wonder if these two brave women would dare to imply that Muslims might get violent with Christians? But, of course, you can safely imply that Christians are violent, because they're not, whereas if you suggest that Muslims are violent, you will find out, to your cost, that you are only too right.
The interviewers go on to make some ridiculous comments about homosexuality and 'modernity', after Mr Nichols appears to suggest that homosexuals have no choice about their orientation:
This idea of gay men being born not made is refreshingly modern, especially after he struggles through a tortuous defence of the Church’s position on gay adoption: that if, in extraordinary circumstances, it is better for a child to be in a single-sex household, it would prefer the child to be brought up by a single parent, gay or not, rather than a gay couple.Oh well, as long as it's "refreshingly modern", everything must be okay. And who could possibly object to homosexual adoption? Are Miss Miles and Miss Rumbelow on loan from The Guardian, perhaps?
In the midst of the various snide comments of the interviewers, which, I would imagine, were not put to the interviewee at any point, Mr Nichols makes some good points, especially about Islam. Of course, the interviewers' facetious comments are never far away:
So why, we asked as we met after the service, did he think that Britain had become so antireligious? He thought for a moment and his gentle Liverpudlian accent at first beguiled us to the strength of his opinions. It turns out that it is the Muslims’ fault, because the unease the West has with them gives other faiths a bad name.
“The acts of terrorism have shaken people’s perception of the presence of faiths in this country and around the world and I just wish there was a bit more differentiation in the reflection about the role of faiths in society.”
Some politicians jumbled all faiths into one. “Sometimes the anxieties that are expressed around faith schools are actually to do with Islamic schools. And when you press a politician they say, ‘Well of course we don’t mean Catholic schools and we don’t mean Church of England schools’, but they still hesitate to move away from the umbrella phrase of faith schools.
“Then there are others who relish this opportunity to say, with aggression, religious faith is a corruption of human nature and we would be better off without it.”
The Archbishop thinks that Islamic schools must integrate into the state system. He explains with a provocative thesis on life in Britain today.
“The deep roots of our contemporary secular culture lie in Christianity and there is, in Christianity, an instinctive understanding about the notion of the rights of the human person.
“There is now a clear understanding that politically democracy is the best way of organising the use of power in this society. There is, devolved from Christianity, a notion of justice and courts, of the police and supervision of society, of hospitals and of education.
“All of these things come, if you like, from the root of the Christian heritage of Europe and of this country. But Islam is a newcomer and therefore the whole process of welcoming and integrating and understanding needs to be far more explicit and far more open and far more measured. At the same time, society without its roots will lose some of those qualities.”
Did he believe that Islam threatened those deep roots? “I think it remains to be seen.”
Quite how the notion that Christianity is the basis of British and European culture can be described as "provocative" is unclear. What else was, according to Miles and Rumbelow? The worship of Richard Dawkins, perhaps?
On the other hand, from the Times' "Articles of Faith" blog, written by its religious correspondent Ruth Gledhill (why on Earth was she not interviewing the Archbishop of Birmingham?) I find the excellent news, now about ten days old, that the Archbishop of Canterbury will be taking three months off from his official duties, from June to August. While it would be preferable for this embarrassment to his Church and Country to simply resign and withdraw from public life entirely, the news that we will be spared his idiotic liberal chattering for three months can only be good.