Let him who is without faith cast the first stone

Religion is a difficult subject for me. I hate it - but I'm fascinated by the details of religions - liturgical, scriptural, ceremonial, even ecclesiastical - the whole lot. I feel that all religious belief is childish and weak, and I've never understood why believing you have an Imaginary Friend, and that you can pray or talk to him should make you a happier or better person.  But it's the belief part I don't get: I'm riveted by the detail of the rituals you practice to get in touch with him, and, of course, recognize the genius of the artists, musicians and architects who claim they have been inspired by him and his sacraments, rules and the disputes these have caused. For all my militancy, I'm a sort of pious atheist, as my friend Dr. Jonathan Miller says we should all be.

Love the Sinner

On the other hand, there are a few things to do with religion that I can't get worked up about; and many of these have to do with the contemporary Church of England.  The history of the CofE is, of course, one of the most interesting chapters in the history of church or state; but its current predicament, as it tears itself to pieces over whether it should have women and male homosexual priests or bishops, is hard for me to care about. It seems to me obvious that the answer is yes to women, because they are more than half the population; and yes to gays, because without them there would be very few Anglican clerics.

         Another friend, Jane Kramer, whom I suspect of having views a bit like my own, has written a completely brilliant, compelling piece in the 26 April New Yorker, "A Canterbury Tale: The battle within the Church of England to allow women to be bishops." It's a great read for a Trollope-sympathiser such as me, who loves the messy, concrete detail of the organization of the CofE, the great sweep of history that has to be rehearsed in order to grasp these details, and the wonderfully weird turn of mind of the man who runs the show, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. I met him at dinner at an Oxford college once, a few weeks after his elevation. I then thought that the strangest things about him were that he wanted the job, and that he was wearing a sort of frock. On the other hand, the be-gowned dons didn't look all that dissimilar.

         So I was genuinely surprised when, the week I read Jane's piece, I also was at the press night of a very good new play, "Love the Sinner" by  Drew Pautz, at the National Theatre.   I was surprised by the Antony Powellian coincidence that both the New Yorker piece and the play were about the CofE's troubles, but even that Mr. Pautz, a Canadian associated with the great Robert LePage, should think these a suitable subject for a drama.

         Nonetheless, he's made a very good fist of it indeed. It opens with a locked-in meeting of Anglican clergymen (and woman) somewhere in Africa, grappling with the problem of homosexual priests. As in real life, the attitudes of the Africans are sickeningly unchristian, bigoted and in every possible way disgusting. As the rules say they must meet no person from outside their ranks, they have a very funny scene of keeping their eyes shut as an attractive African waiter, Joseph,  (the marvelous Fiston Barek) brings their coffee. In the next scene we see the group's lay volunteer note-taker, Michael (Jonathan Cullen), in his hotel room with Joseph, in (temporary) post-coital bliss. Michael's married, gay and a religious nut who is destroying his business by imposing his religion on his colleagues. The play works so well because the Church's tensions are embodied in and exemplified by the individual dramas; but designer Anne Fleischle ultra-flexible set helps, too. Matthew Dunster directs a superb cast, with Scott Handy especially good as the Bishop's gofer; and Charlotte Randle as the broody, wronged wife in a doomed marriage. 

         The NT is holding some discussions in late June and early July about "the church's complicated position regarding sexuality" and "the cultural responsibility of the church in a post-colonial world."  Both topics interest me a little. But I'd be more interested in a debate as to whether all the bishops should lose their sets in the House of Lords. (Yes, they sit there by right, and were not kicked out with the Hereditary Peers.) And for what it's worth, I think the so-called "Chief Rabbi" (he is actually head honcho only of the small minority of United Orthodox Jewish Congregations) should go first.



May 25, 2010 2:40 PM | | Comments (2)


Good gracious, Pascal said the same thing long ago, though perhaps more elegantly. Whatever impelled someone with your -- erm -- non-progressive views to read a column such as this?

Id rather believe in God (which I do) and get to the end of life and find out it was all made up than to not believe and find out that ill burn in hell for my sins

Leave a comment


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Plain English published on May 25, 2010 2:40 PM.

Rape as strategy was the previous entry in this blog.

Food (writing) as therapy is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.