David Aaronovitch Column

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The Independent Online
A bad week for the Government; an awful week for the Church of England. First, the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has not been asked to officiate at the confirmation of 14-year-old Prince William tomorrow. And then, the church's new Easter campaign - which was to use the logo of the X-Files, the "cult TV hit" (newspaper talk for very popular television series), plus an adapted slogan, "The Truth Is Here" - has had to be ditched for reasons of copyright. All of which further justifies - does it not? - the growing criticism of England's established church as bumbling, ineffectual and uncertain.

The Prince and Princess of Wales don't care for Carey. They have given the confirming job to the Bishop of London, the bearded Rt Rev Richard Chartres - an opponent of the ordination of women (too many breasts, apparently) - and a believer in the need to rediscover the power of prayer and worship. This is ecclesiastical code for not doing too much to encourage gays or women. There is no record of what Prince William thinks of this choice. Indeed, we have no idea what Prince William believes. He may even be a secret Satanist.

But what extraordinary sin has joined the Waleses together in animosity towards the Archbishop? After all, what God has rent asunder, let no man reunite. Is it because Carey is into tambourines and singing? Because he calls the Queen Mum "dear"? Because he lacks the pallor of the Oxford library, or the manners of High Table?

Poor George. Even his name is against him. Was there, in Snow White, an eighth spiritual dwarf? In line behind Doc, Bashful, Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey and Sneezy, may we find Carey, the compassionate, slightly vague dwarf? Poor George, whose fate is to be praised by William Rees- Mogg as possessing a "personality with a steady rather than a dramatic pulling power", who is (in Rees-Mogg's view) an "Aunt Ethel" Archbishop.

Is it all his fault, or the sorry pass arrived at by the church he leads? It is, after all, a "broad church". But what kind of a rallying call is this? Come on in - everybody is welcome! But how much more attractive is a creed that says, "Come in, you're one of the fortunate few - all the others are going to burn!"

And what can you do with a church where all the most intelligent people spend much of their time disputing its own tenets? Several Bishops believe that the Book of Revelations is "pretty pathological", that the virgin birth is nonsense, that the resurrection is a myth. The more theology gets discussed in the Church of England, the less religious people become.

How can you feel flame in your heart for an institution whose greatest disputes involve columnists from the Daily Telegraph accusing bishops (as one did this week) of being in a "terrible state of inconsistency"? "You have come before this Holy Court charged with the monstrous and unnatural crime of inconsistency. Before the monks set flame to the faggots, have you anything to say?"

When they are not launching ill-fated trendy campaigns, cosying up to gays, re-stringing their acoustic guitars and questioning the faith, they are to be found in territorial disputes that make Barchester Towers look like the Koran. Take Lincoln, where the Bishop won't pray in his own cathedral because of a vicious dispute between a Dean and a Canon. What a mess!

And thank God for it. Thank God that it is so uncertain, inconsistent, mixed and muddled; that it has absorbed the energies and spiritual feelings of the religious among us. That there are no miracles. No shrouds. No milky statues. No smiting. No purges. No fiery crosses. No inquisitions. No flagellation. No dipping Jews or burning heretics. No such thing as heresy. No crusades. No bloody processions. No Church Militant.

Instead we have the Heritage Church. We have the fund for the upkeep of the church spire, Clarry's turn to do the flowers, "that was a lovely service, vicar", Hymn 147, the parish newsletter, prayers for the poor, prayers for the Prince of Wales.

The churches are full in Croatia and the mosques are packed in Tehran.