From bishops in the bedroom, Lord protect us

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I HAVE had quite enough of bishops. I am tired of hearing their views on sex; I don't want to know what the Church thinks I, or anybody else, should do in bed; I don't care what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, fornication or masturbation. The phrase "I am a practising Christian" is guaranteed, right now, to make me throw up. Nor do I believe I am alone in this. Last week's feeble attempt to create a moral panic, over the issue of the lowering the age of consent to 16 petered out as MPs voted resoundingly in favour of this modest measure.

Yet a visitor from another planet could easily have got the impression that our legislators were about to sanction compulsory lessons in sodomy for teenagers, rather than a proposal to bring the law on gay sex into line with that for heterosexuals. On Monday, the day of the vote, the Daily Mail devoted most of its front page to a story headlined "Bishops lead gay sex at 16 revolt", revealing that the Archbishop of Canterbury had stated his opposition to the measure during a recent meeting with Tony Blair.

On Radio 4, it was impossible to escape from interviews with bishops, MPs and peers who denounced the proposal from a Christian perspective, insisting that gay relationships should not be regarded as having equal value with heterosexual unions. Who cares what these people think? Few of them are elected, their ideas about sex are comically out of date, and the vast majority of the population takes not the slightest notice of their pronouncements on morality (how many virgin brides have you encountered recently?). The fact that we have an established Church is an anachronism, and one of its malign effects is to give official status to a group of self-selecting busybodies.

How else would they get so much airtime for their antiquated views? Mr Blair, who is a devout Anglican, presumably feels he has to listen to the Archbishop, although I have never been clear how he squares membership of the Church with the presence in his Cabinet of an openly gay minister, Chris Smith. Mr Smith is also a Christian, even though he does not make such a fuss about it as Mr Blair. Yet the Church's position on homosexuality is unequivocal, as we can see from a recent declaration by the Anglican House of Bishops: "Pressures are at work to legitimise any and every lifestyle, irrespective of value and quality between them. These pressures should be resisted. Our Christian faith teaches us that sex is a gift of God for the enriching of lives within the context of marriage."

They wish. For most of us, sex has become a private matter as the State - reluctantly, it has to be said - withdraws from its old role of bedroom enforcer for the bishops. The great social reforms of the 1960s - legalising homosexuality and abortion in 1967; Leo Abse's Bill to make divorce easier, which came into effect two years later - released millions of men and women from the threat of social disgrace and even imprisonment. Three decades on, with its own clergy torn apart over the issue of homosexual priests, the Church is still banging the same old drum, confirming its appetite - which it has in common with other religions - for social control. There's nothing surprising about this, but I am mystified by the willingness of broadcasters and headline writers to take the views of this noisy minority so seriously.

WHAT could be nicer than a garden? Trees, arbours, the drowsy scent of honeysuckle and jasmine, have traditionally provided an escape from the hectic pace of life. "When we have run our passion's heat,/Love hither makes the best retreat" Andrew Marvell observed in his languorous poem "The Garden", written in 1681, powerfully evoking a scene of verdant refuge. This being the case, it requires a particular kind of cack-handedness to turn the question of a new garden in central London into a blazing row, as the Government has done with its proposal to re-landscape Kensington Gardens as a memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales.

Local people are up in arms, and for very good reasons. A memorial garden would inevitably attract huge numbers of visitors to this already congested area of London, and many residents are horrified by the proposal to transform 16 acres into a "modern-classical" garden, whatever that may be. "You can't imagine how annoyed and angry people are," said Robert Buxton, of the newly created Princess Diana Memorial Action Group, last week. "They are already beautiful gardens and much loved by everybody - it seems absurd to spend pounds 10m of public money changing them."

Of course it does, but that is the kind of commonsense view that flies out of the window as soon as someone lowers his or her voice and whispers the magical name, "Diana". No one has yet cited any evidence that the late Princess was especially associated with flowers, other than being photographed with the countless bouquets that royal women are obliged to accept from curtseying infants, but that is not likely to deter the memorial committee chaired by Gordon Brown. The "people" are perceived to want a showy, expensive memorial in the heart of London and Mr Brown, dour Scot though he is, seems set to oblige. Indeed the Chancellor is to be congratulated on an extraordinary feat, uniting residents of Kensington in what I think is the first manifestation of a most unexpected phenomenon: garden rage.

I WISH I'd thought of the phrase "emotional correctness" to describe the tide of sentimentality, bad temper and intolerance which has swamped the country since Diana's death, but I didn't. (I have made a short film about it, which insomniac readers can watch at midnight tonight on Channel 4.) Its most irritating manifestation, from my point of view, is the way the Princess has been appropriated by a debased form of feminism, whose adherents have adopted her as an icon. Dissenters are denounced as sexist, anti-woman and intellectually arrogant, suggesting that attitudes to Diana have become the equivalent for feminists of Lord Tebbit's notorious cricket test. I'm thinking of starting a campaign for rational feminism, open to anyone who believes in equality for women, has a sense of humour and doesn't feel the need to weep uncontrollably about the heartless treatment of royal brides.