THE CATHOLIC HERALD DECEMBER 22, 2006
Literary Editor: Stav Sherez Tel: 020 7448 3603 Fax: 020 7256 9728 E-mail: email@example.com
Is the Christian Right taking overthe world?
Spiritual Books Francis Phillips
Born Again: the Christian Right Globalised by Jennifer Butler, Pluto Press £14.99 Among the new certainties of the post-war world of the 1940s and 1950s was the inevitable disappearance of religion –eroded by the Age of Reason and by technology, pluralism, bureaucracy and democracy. Everything but the kitchen sink seemed destined to play a part –no doubt those newfangled washing machines had something to do with it along with the transistor radios blaring out “Roll over Beethoven”, and other rebellious thoughts about a past no longer held sacred. “We’ve come into a new day,” one sociologist told Time magazine in 1965. Another told the Rev Jennifer Butler, the author of Born Again , that sociology was committed to the view that religion is merely a hangover from man’s primitive past and doomed to disappear in an era of science and general enlightenment. She recalls hearing from the ranks of those called to spread the new enlightenment that religion, at best, was a relic of barbarism treasured by the less educated; it would crumble under the weight of the trend towards secularisation. Butler, an ordained minister, who worked as a Presbyterian Representative at the UN for nine years, has seen and heard quite enough wild theories about religion to put them in their place but reminds the reader that there have been a lot of them about in the last half-century. Among them the complete disappearance of religion, no less. She recalls how not just the doubting sociologists but even some theologians during the social revolutions of the 1960s and early 1970s proclaimed “God is dead” – believing westerners no longer found the idea of a radically transcendent God inspiring. And, astonishingly, they thought that this change in attitude could be seen in a positive light. As this illuminated the scene, Baptists and Pentecostals were thought suspect in favour of more rationalised post-Christian versions of religion. In the name of cultural sensitivity, African-American experience might be tolerated, even Islam. But Christianity? It was clearly the work of western colonial oppressors. But yet (and we can almost see the author licking her lips over the next paragraph), a number of significant events in the 1970s and 1980s “revealed that religion had failed to
follow the script that social scientists and cultural elites had written for it… religion re-emerged as a political force in nearly every region”. In 1979 the Ayatollah Khomeini ousted the Shah of Iran. In the 1980s, the Mujahedin defeated the Russians in Afghanistan; during the next decade they were defeated by the Taliban. Hindu fundamentalism provoked political violence in India while Latin American liberation theology challenged repressive governments. A decade later, Pentecostalism began to challenge the hegemony of Catholicism in Latin America. Africa experienced an
John Hinton discovers how conservative believers became a global political force Marking the Hours by Eamon Duffy, Yale University Press £19. 99 Eamon Duffy, professor of the history of Christianity at Cambridge, is both passionate and knowledgeable about the faith of ordinary English people before the Reformation. In this book, a study of the Book of Hours and its readership between the years 1240-1570, he provides a fascinating insight into the devotions of the period. For those who think the Book of Hours was largely an artistic enterprise, designed to feast the eyes of the rich with its jewel-like, illuminated pictures and decorative borders rather than engage with the written word, there is much to learn from these sumptuously illustrated pages. Duffy is interested not so much in the gorgeous artwork as in the marginalia: the family notes, extra ejaculatory prayers, charms, cures, recipes, petitions and financial transactions that found their way into the flyleaves and margins of these books. As he says, the Book of Hours was “beyond all question the most intimate and important book of the late Middle Ages”. As such, its marginalia provides much source material for the “odd but revealing things” that our Catholic forbears thought about and jotted down in private moments; if prayers were on their lips and heart, the rents and the bed-linen often crept into their thoughts. The Hours, or Horae (until the Reformation they were written in Latin), was a kind of breviary for lay people; arranged around the liturgical “hours” of worship, they contained the Gradual and penitential psalms, the Litany of the saints, the Office of the dead and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. Thus they brought the devotions of the laity closer to those of the cloister. Their illustrations, sometimes elaborately beautiful like the Antwerp Hours of the 1490s, sometimes more crudely executed like the Bolton Hours, usually concerned the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of the rosary,
Two different faces of America’s Christian Right: Ronald Reagan and Mel Gibson
by an imagined new world of science, progress and rationality, were fatally punctured, their theories chimerae as true believers shouldered them aside. As indeed they did. The author was there when, for the first time, members of the Christian Right appeared at a United Nations women’s conference in 2000. As Charlotte Bunch, a leader in the women’s movement, began her speech, a crowd of young, white, rather menacing dark-suited men from Mormon and Catholic groups allegedly began streaming through the back doors of the conference centre as if on cue. All wore
In the name of cultural sensitivity AfricanAmerican experience might be tolerated, even Islam. But Christianity?
She wrote this book “because the story of how the Christian Right is globalising has not received the attention it deserves.” In her view, it is building a global, interfaith coalition, advocating policies at the United Nations through government allies, establishing offices around the world, catalysing regional networks and holding international conferences. And she does not underestimate the power of the movement. “It has the support of powerful religious and political leaders… its profamily message in many ways resonates with religious evangelical, Catholic and Muslim communities around the world. The goal of strengthening the family appeals all the more among communities in the developing world because family life struggles to survive the immense poverty, urbanisation, conflict and cultural disintegration wrought in great part by globalisation.” The phenomenon of the Christian Right, Butler claims, is set to challenge progressive social policy on a worldwide scale on issues that include women’s rights, reproductive health, human cloning, children’s rights and Aids. Without sounding any particular warning, she shows some apprehension – but does point out that progressives can at least learn from the Christian Right how important the role of religion is in holding societies together and cherishing the family.
evangelical explosion. The Catholic Solidarity movement in Poland helped overthrow Communism and the Christian Right in the United States was instrumental in electing President Ronald Reagan. Small wonder that Butler observes: “As the reality of world events and the predictions of secularisation increasingly could not be matched up, some critics of the theory pointed out that it had never been based on a body of research findings.” Some of the more pumped-up sociologists, enraptured
campaign buttons bearing the single word, “motherhood”. Clearly, the whole intention was to disrupt the conference. One approached the platform and glared at the speaker. After another session, the women delegates found themselves surrounded by robed monks with long beards. So intimidating were this and other demonstrations that when Butler announced her intention of writing an essay on the origins of the groups, she was asked by some delegates whether she feared for her life.
A page from a medieval book of hours
familiar images which their owners would have incorporated into their prayer lives That they were popular is testified by the numbers of Books of Hours that survive: almost 800 manuscript copies and thousands more printed ones. Caxton brought these within the purchasing power of ordinary people; Duffy states that by the 16th century every prosperous shop owner might have their own copy. Some were personalised, with portraits of their owners kneeling in pious, supplicating attitudes; others had their names woven into the text. He argues convincingly that Holbein’s marvellous drawing of St Thomas More’s family is not just a portrait of a scholarly Renaissance household: it is a gathering of the family for a recitation of the Hours, copies of which are almost certainly being held by five members of the family. Indeed, More took his own cheap copy of the Hours into the Tower with him, writing his own poignant commentaries in the margins. What happened to the Book of Hours at the Reformation, crammed as it is with the evidence of a very Catholic piety? Duffy reproduces several instances where the word Papa (Pope) has been crossed out, as well as the name of St Thomas Becket. One court lady, whose Book of Hours included royal autographs, later deleted the names of Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor when they fell out of favour. After 1535 the Book became illegal and new printed versions removed all references to
the saints, Our Lady, purgatory and prayers for the dead, replacing them with prayers addressed to Christ alone. The author has yet again opened for the reader a window into the medieval world of faith and fervour. And where we moderns can no longer decipher the intricate Latin calligraphy of the Book of Hours, we can at least take delight in the natural world, the foliage, the peacocks and rose petals that often embellished its borders.
The Gospel for Little Children and The Bible for Little Children by Maite Roche. The Rosary and The Way of the Cross by Juliette Levivier, CTS Children’s Books £4.95 each. This series, yet another exciting initiative from the CTS, could be described as a modern Books of Hours for young readers. They contain vibrant and colourful pictures with a simple yet meaningful text, comprehensible for five- to eight-year-olds; younger children will be kept happily absorbed by the illustrations alone. Parents, anxious to keep their offspring from falling off pews, defacing hymn sheets and eating candles, will find these sturdy books a delight and a tool – a jumping-off point for the exploration of faith. They will also stimulate all those solemn and pressing questions, such as “Who made God?” and “If God is invisible and germs are invisible, is God a germ?” which my own children once fired at me. Ideal as Christmas presents from godparents, they will fit into stockings of the larger sort.
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Darwin to DNA
Great Tales from English History: The Battle of the Boyne to DNA by Robert Lacey, Little, Brown £14.99 Dick Turpin was a thug who raped and tortured elderly victims, Neville Chamberlain won the Battle of Britain, while Captain William Bligh’s Bounty had fewer floggings than any other Royal Navy ship of the time. Robert Lacey’s new book may cover the clearer air of the recent past but it illustrates just as well as the previous volumes how much history is written by the spin doctors. Along the way we find that our most cherished pub quiz staples are dubious at best, so that Nelson did not turn a blind eye at Copenhagen, nor did he say “kismet”, while Captain Scott would have lived were it not for the idiotic Oates. Even the supposedly horrendous casualties of the Light Brigade were mere newspaper inaccuracy. And though it covers the well-trodden paths of our history, Great Tales never gets bogged down in the ruthless pursuit of anecdote and trivia at the expense of narrative. Lacey recalls the disaster of Spion Kop and how the Boer War battle inspired the famous Anfield football terrace, only adding as an incidental afterthought that Winston Churchill (a reporter) and Mohandas Ghandi (an ambulance driver) must have been within shouting distance of
A contemporary painting of the mutiny on the Bounty
each other that day. Lacey also avoids the twin perils of national drum-beating and what might be called autoAnglophobia. We can marvel at the 400 soldiers who drowned on the HMS Birkenhead so the women and children might live, or view the captain’s orders as rather selfish in light of his own inability swim. We can certainly be impressed with the great engineering achievement of shipping 250 tonnes of human faeces to the East End every day, yet feel some pity for the hundreds who drowned in the stuff when the Princess Alice sank in Woolwich. And despite the terrible hardship of balding matchstick girls and suicidal feminists, this is the story of progress, from the overthrow of James II, through Dr Johnson, Darwin, the Great Exhibition and finally the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick. This neatly wraps things
up in regards to Cheddar Man, a 9,000-year-old Briton discovered in Somerset. In the same year that Tony Blair was redefining Britain as a young country, a DNA test carried out on 20 local volunteers showed that history teacher Adrian Targett was a direct descendant of Neolithic man. In comparison a Norman pedigree seems no more authentic than a dodgy Romanian passport. This industry may be dominated by tele-storians David Starkey and Simon Schama, but Lacey’s approach to history is far more human, for it is not just about remarkable personalities or social trends, but the eternal struggle for public relations, in which the Turpins of this world get all the breaks while the Captain Blighs are remembered only for their failures. For that is the story of life itself. Ed West
Journey, Spirituality & Daily Life through the Centuries
Interactive CD ROM £15
‘Highly informative with excellent illustrations – an indispensable resource’ Professor Eamon Duffy Magdalene College, Cambridge
‘Shows brilliantly through word and image the importance of pilgrimage’ Professor Derek Brewer Emmanuel College, Cambridge
180 colour images with commentary
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Published 15th January 2007
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