How wonderful, in other circumstances, it would have been to wake up on each day leading up to Christmas, to find the front pages, and many more besides, of our newspapers covered with pictures and stories of the Madonna and child.
It was, of course, no accident that the pop and film star whose birth name, in a then Catholic household, was given in honour of Christendom's greatest saint, chose the weekend nearest the Nativity for her latest attempt to re-invent herself and inspire the inevitable massive publicity.
Here is a woman whose career was built on sneering at virginity and chastity - who publicly rejected the faith of Christ - advertised herself in a book dedicated to her own pornography - abused a crucifix in a way advised by the rituals of the black mass - sought deliberately to breed outside wedlock denying the marriage bond and has, within the last year been variously reported as following religions as diverse as Buddhism and Kabbalah - the esoteric Jewish mystical teachings.
Now the Church of Scotland has opened its doors to a public celebration of this theatre of the absurd - not as a penitent but allowing her to write her own vows for the latest marriage and to invite, as a god parent in the baptism, a man whose most recent religious enthusiasms reportedly include Tantric Buddhism - contacting the ultimate by ecstatic sexual rituals.
Sadly, while the press have been paying craven homage to this exciting celebrity event, much more serious things have been afoot. On the very eve of the celebration of the gift of the life that brought salvation, the child in the arms of Mary, the son of God become man, the babe that Herod furiously sought, the commonly elected Parliament of this realm has performed an act of blasphemous contempt to the creator God whom we call Father - and, in most cases, it didn't even make the front page thanks to the Church of Scotland's latest convert, that other Madonna.
Bad enough that we have lived through twenty years of obsession with economics as the great moral determinant. Bad enough that we have watched successive self-serving historical illiterates and moral pygmies destroy the constitution of the land, castrate the Parliament and subject the laws of Britain to foreign power.
Worse by far and incalculable was the work of the House of Commons in the week before the Christmas recess. In a free vote, in a debate only time-tabled at the last minute and on a policy never included in any government manifesto, our elected representatives voted for the creation of human life for the specific purpose of experimentation, cannibalisation and destruction. The sanctity of life had been relegated to any other business and defeated.
Many of those who most loudly protest against smoking beagles or make up tests on animals calmly voted for this. Those who, a few hours before, were twisting their faces in anger and outrage at the prospect of country folk pursuing Brer Fox over hill and dale were enthusiastically trooping through the lobbies to approve the philosophy of the death camp.
Today, the House of Commons proposes, it is the young, the unseen, the unborn who are to be the target of Hitlerite eugenics. How long before these same moral arbiters will seek to pronounce on the worth of our lives - their value to the state, their cost to the state - how and when they should end?
Half a century ago the Nazis, whom this nation moved heaven and earth to defeat and destroy their cruel philosophy, half a century ago the Nazis experimented on Jews to improve the lot of Aryans. Today our society stands on the brink of accepting the experimentation on and destruction of the human life. The Jews, of course, the Nazis claimed were not really human. The Neo-Nazis, the new National Socialists, claim the same about the unborn - not really human.
Curiously enough, though in the light of their history perhaps not so strange, the Germans have been the most immediate and loudest critics of this proposed English wickedness. They understand the philosophical journey that leads from this kind of moral thinking straight to Auschwitz.
The unborn have become the Jews of our time.
For one in the unenviable role of Archbishop of Canterbury, every New Year brings its potential disasters. 2001 is no exception. It will see the establishment of the House of Bishops Working Party on Women in the Episcopate and the Kanuga meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion. Both are fraught with danger.
The Bishops' Working Party has little room for manoeuvre. It will need to satisfy the various pressure groups working for women's consecration sooner or later, and it will gain little sympathy from either side of the debate if it procrastinates unduly. Yet, as events in the United States (and closer to home in the diocese of Worcester [see The Code of the Wooster, p 14]) go to show, when the problem of women bishops has been resolved, then the pansexuality debate begins in earnest.
Our advice to Dr Carey is to get on with it. The sooner the struggle over women in the priesthood and the episcopate is concluded, the sooner the inevitable battle on human sexuality can be squarely faced. But, if there is to be victory on this second front, it will require of the Archbishop and those bishops who wish to resist the pansexual agenda, a degree of generosity to those opposed to women's ordination. A scorched earth policy to end the first campaign would result in a paucity of allies in the next.
Kanuga holds out other fears and difficulties.
Can the Episcopal Church of the United States be persuaded to hold its hand? Despite Jack Spong's famous description of Frank Griswold as cowardly and unprincipled, we doubt it. They are waded in too far; 'to go back were as tedious to as to go o'er'.
Can the Anglican Communion resolve its present difficulties? Only, we think, if it is prepared to down-grade itself yet further. By sacrificing the interchangeability of orders between provinces, it has already ceased to be a communion. By allowing individual dioceses or provinces to flout decisions of the Lambeth Conference, it will have jettisoned its principal organ of inter-provincial authority. It had better face up to the painful but inevitable consequences of those facts; the first of which is that it can no longer expect to negotiate with other Communions as one coherent whole. Ecumenism is a task which will need to begin closer to home. The Communion which so recently embraced 'The Gift of Authority' needs to see that for Anglicans, authority is less of a gift and more of a problem.
It is despite these forebodings or perhaps because of them) that we wish the Archbishop of Canterbury a happy and prosperous New Year
The consecration of John Goddard as Bishop of Burnley (in succession to Martyn Jarrett, now Bishop of Beverley) is one in which the whole orthodox constituency can rejoice. Bishop John is a man of proven ability who has been a doughty fighter throughout. We extend our congratulations to him and our good wishes to Vivienne, his wife.
But there is more. For no one can fail to remark, with the appointments of John Goddard, Martyn Jarrett and Robert Ladds, what a factory of godly and orthodox bishops the diocese of Blackburn has become. Bishop Alan Chesters, too, deserves our thanks and our prayers.
With this edition we are delighted to welcome as our Reviews Editor, Fr Nicholas Turner, whose pastoral and academic experience will bring breadth and depth to an important department of the paper.
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