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Philip Hensher

Philip Hensher: Forget about a 'cure' for homosexuality

It grows increasingly hard to tell the difference between bishops of the Church of England and Paris Hilton. Bishops used to be thoughtful, retiring people, happy to spread the word of God through bring-and-buy sales, the Mothers' Union and the occasional sermon. Nowadays, some of them have been bitten by the bug of publicity, and they just can't seem to shut up.

One bishop in particular has been an absolute gift to the media on slow days for news. With no story whatsoever in sight, the office intern is instructed to call up Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, and ask him for his opinions on – well, it hardly matters. He will strike a moral pose, and many of us will wonder where on earth he gets it from. He is, frankly, a perfect scream.

In 2000 he said that having children in a marriage was not an "optional extra" and there was "a real lack" if people decided not to have children. Last year, he said Islamic extremism was turning parts of our cities into "no-go areas", and complained about the amplified call to prayer. He has also denounced multiculturalism as "newfangled and insecurely founded" and in 2007 announced he wouldn't be going to the Lambeth Conference, in protest at a gay bishop in America.

In a few months he is retiring, 10 years early, to set up a confederation of fundamentalist churches. In the meantime, he has been going round shedding a few more flaky ponderings like psoriasis. The latest, revealed in a newspaper interview, is on the subject of homosexuality, and it amazes me that Dr Nazir-Ali has taken so long to get round to his African colleagues' favourite subject. Dr Nazir-Ali said: "The Bible's teaching shows that marriage is between a man and a woman. That is the way to express our sexual nature. We welcome homosexuals, we don't want to exclude people, but we want them to repent and be changed."

Yeah, well, I want to be 22 again and have £50m in the bank. But it's not going to happen. Before Dr Nazir-Ali opens his mouth again, someone should explain the nature of homosexuality. Despite many years of trying, nobody has ever successfully demonstrated a "cure" for homosexuality. There is no clinical "cure". There is no possibility of "change" in this area as radical as a complete shift in the sexual object. And religion does not succeed where psychiatry fails. Repentance and prayer have absolutely no effect. There are loving heterosexual relationships involving homosexual people, but where a change of sexual orientation is sought or imposed, unhappiness and deception invariably follow.

Dr Nazir-Ali is a figure more risible than sinister. But I wonder whether he has really thought through the situation he so casually addresses. Since the legalisation of homosexual relationships in this country in 1967, millions of people have been able to love each other openly. The Bishop of Rochester and his kind would reverse the situation, and return us to the time when those millions were unable to live as they would want, bringing happiness not only to themselves but to each other. Instead, people were forced to live lonely lives; to fulfil what sexual urges they dared in clandestine and shameful ways; and, often, to bring deep unhappiness to innocent others by deceiving them into marriages where there was no possibility of love.

It seems incredible to me that anyone at all could seriously express a hope that gay people should "repent and be changed" without thinking through the human implications. It seems particularly unattractive that these hideous opinions should be given an airing with the single purpose of getting the Bishop of Rochester into the newspapers, yet again.

This doesn't amount to a lapse in security

The wife of the new head of M16 has posted family photographs on Facebook, and allowed family and friends to post comments on Sir John Sawers' elevation. Very sweet they are too: Sir John, in a style of swimming trunks not seen in this country since 1984, on a Cornish beach with that incredible, bony pallor which announces a senior civil servant on holiday.

I cannot see the immense lapse in security which these postings are claimed to represent – we have all known what the heads of the secret intelligence services look like for years now, so it hardly seems to matter if we know what they look like in their swimsuits, who they know, and where they go on holiday.

But Lady Sawers' guileless frankness is unexpected. After Alain de Botton's online rant last week against a reviewer, some users of the internet ought to be reminded that it is not, actually, very much like a private correspondence which will be read by the addressee only. It is more like standing in the street, naked, shouting random secrets, forever.

A Jacko ticket just might be worth having

Michael Jackson died, you might have noticed. And his concert promoter, faced with a string of empty dates and a very large number of disappointed ticket-holders, said that "since he loved his fans in life, it is incumbent upon us to treat them with the same reverence and respect after his death". You mean you'll give them their money back? Yes, certainly, Randy Phillips, of AEG, went on to say, as well he might, that being the ticket-holders' legal right.

However, fans will also have the opportunity to receive the tickets that they would have had, had the concerts taken place. "Printed with the special lenticular process", the tickets, it is suggested, are just as valuable to fans as actually going to the concerts.

This is a marvellously bold attempt to rescue something from the financial fall-out from the O2 concerts. It's been widely reported that AEG was facing a huge insurance liability. If a few nutty fans could be persuaded to pay the price of a concert seat for nothing more than the ticket, printed with the special lenticular process, then losses might be kept down to, ooh, just a few million. And who can say they are wrong?

On the Friday after Jackson's death, an auction of Jackson memorabilia went through the roof. A note to an unidentified "Greg" ("Lets hope this is the beginning of a lovy friendship") fetched £11,500. A ticket to a Jackson concert that never took place – that's got to be worth something, surely? And best of all, there's an unlimited supply of tickets to non-existent concerts. So everyone's happy.