History is as multifaceted as truth is many-sided. In ages past it was written by the victors; today it is moulded by Bloggers, Vloggers, Tweeters and Tumblrs. Now we create our own democratic history on YouTube and forge our own relative truths on Facebook: the whole trajectory of social media is toward introspection, subjectivity, relativity and personal knowledge. What we say is honest and sincere, and whatever we believe is true. Continue reading →
In an increasingly unbelieving world of humanism and secularisation, not to mention the jarring dissonance of a sharia-compliant caliphate and all the fuss over women bishops, religion has become a turn-off. God is bothersome: atheism rules the new enlightenment and Dawkins reigns supreme. Mention the Bible or Church, and eyes glaze over. But say “biblical epic”, and something numinous energises the spirit. You might not believe in the irruption of God into the affairs of man, but you will surely be drawn and compelled to all that is theatrically holy. Even Professor Dawkins might admit to being mystically gladdened by the ancient legends of transcendence and omnipotence. Continue reading →
Matthew Arnold – poet, essayist and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools – famously wrote that culture is concerned with knowing “the best that has been said and thought in the world”. This has become the leitmotif of Michael Gove’s educational revolution: if children are not exposed to the classics of literature, music, theatre, dance, film, painting, sculpture – what we terms the “fine arts” – then society is impoverished, civilisation declines and future generations are inculcated with nothing but the banal, mediocre and vulgar.
Out go TS Eliot, Wordsworth, Elgar, Monet and Mozart; in come Carol Ann Duffy, Damien Hirst, Russell Brand and Madonna. Critical thought is abandoned for formulaic answers – who needs epistemology when you’ve got a WH Smith’s revision guide? And academic rigour is replaced with emotional intelligence – what’s the point of straight-A*s if the child has low self-esteem? Continue reading →
On April 23rd 2016 – and probably throughout the entire year – we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. By ‘we’ I mean not only England and the English, or the United Kingdom and the British, but all nations and cultures of the world where Shakespeare is a passion, pastime or of any scholarly interest. And that necessarily embraces the whole of civilisation. As the holder of the Guinness World Record for performing the Complete Works single-handedly non-stop (five days without sleep – never again), I’ll certainly be raising a glass or two to the world’s greatest poet-playwright.
My record still stands after 25 years, and has just been re-published in the 2013 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. I will forever be grateful to those fine English teachers I had at school – Roger Calvert, Daphne Cooper and Jean Tidy – who between the years that spanned my O-levels and A-levels introduced me to Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Antony & Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Measure for Measure and King Lear. From the academic confines of the classroom to the emotional exuberance of the school play, I found my soul simultaneously steeped in dramatic greatness, lyrical beauty and profound wisdom: ineffable, noetic, passive – it was like a religious experience. Every visit I made to Stratford-upon-Avon became a pilgrimage: sometimes wrestling with darkness and devils, and then rejoicing with angels and ministers of grace. Continue reading →
‘Most of us laugh at the woolliness of modern Anglicanism,’ writes Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph, ‘but it is, though somewhat debased, the true heir of (England’s) national history. It offers an authentically Christian approach to life which seeks peace and a common life. This builds trust and good neighbourliness. It is not an accident that, today, most other Christian denominations and other faiths in this country happily shelter under the protection of the Church of England, and fear a secular state.’
Setting aside the welcome latitudinal ecclesiology of a prominent Roman Catholic who is content to talk of his own church as a ‘denomination’ – that is, simply one among many valid expressions of Christianity in an ocean of human difference and diversity – the observation that the Church of England ‘seeks peace and a common life’ is not only historically foundational but acutely missiological. Continue reading →
The time has come to select a new Most Reverend Father in God, by Divine Providence Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan. The CVs have been sifted, references requested, candidates shortlisted, and Google consulted (just in case.. skeletons.. cupboard..).
The betting shops display the usual array of odds, with the favourites presently enthroned in the cathedrals of York, Liverpool, Durham, Norwich and Coventry. You can even get 200/1 on Richard Dawkins succeeding Dr Rowan Williams, of which there’s about as much chance as the Pope beatifying Martin Luther.
It is to the eternal credit of the Church of England that the Reformation was not marked by the imposition of a ‘Year Zero’ in the historical episcopacy. Thomas Cranmer was the last Archbishop of Canterbury to have been appointed by the Pope – the 69th in a line going back to 597 when Augustine of Canterbury became the first Apostle to the English. But Cranmer was also the first Archbishop of Canterbury to be appointed by the King, which was a logical corollary of the Monarch having become ‘the only supreme head on earth of the Church in England’. Continue reading →