Richard Ingrams’s Week: We could learn a thing or two from the French

Saturday 31 October 2009 01:00 GMT

A schoolboy who recently joined an anti-Scientology demonstration in London had his name taken by the police when he refused to lower a placard which called Scientology a cult. Luckily the case against him was dropped after the human rights organisation Liberty intervened on his behalf.

It seemed that the police force, senior members of which have been known to speak in support of Scientology, have swallowed the official line that it is not a cult but a religion. Scientologists have cunningly helped to promote this idea by calling themselves a church and even including the cross as part of their logo. Small wonder that the BBC's highest paid presenter, Jonathan Ross, pictured, himself a great admirer of Tom Cruise, has recently expressed the view that there is not much to choose between Scientology and the Church of England.

The French authorities, however, have a rather more robust attitude towards this dangerous pseudo-church. This week a French judge imposed a massive £545,000 fine on the organisation and gave its leader a two-year suspended sentence for using fraudulent medical claims in order to attract young recruits. The judge went on to order publication of her ruling in the international press to ensure that "victims can be warned about the methods of Scientology".

Nothing of the kind is likely to happen in this country where the Scientologists have been lobbying for some time and with some degree of success for the right to claim charitable status, with the hope that, once classified as a religion, they can be protected from abuse by people like myself.

The tawdry truth about drugs

The now-sacked Professor Nutt, who not long ago decreed that taking ecstasy was no more dangerous than riding a horse, has this week issued some further thoughts on the drugs issue. The professor was chairman of the govern ment-sponsored Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs until he was fired yesterday by the Home Secretary for overstepping the line between "scientific advice and policy" by suggesting that tobacco should be classified as a more dangerous drug than cannabis, LSD and ecstasy. "We have to provide more accurate and credible information," Nutt insisted.

It is a worthy aim, though it may not be all that helpful to play down the dangers of all these drugs. There's no point in scaring kids, says Professor Nutt. But, all the same, it might be good for them to be told the sad truth about some of their heroes and role models.

The death of the Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, left, was described as "just a tragic accident" by a family spokesman and the impression was widely given that the 33-year-old singer passed away on the settee as the result of some unfortunate and unspecified genetic defect. This was no doubt a comforting version of events not just for his family and fans but also for the businessmen who market Gately's profitable pop music.

It later transpired that Gately had consumed alcohol and cannabis on the night of his death – a combination which is well known to result in heart attacks, although the coroner found that he had died of natural causes. Regardless of what Professor Nutt may say, it might have been better if young people had been told that instead of being fed a lot of sentimental guff about a saintly young Irishman. As Elton John's civil partner David Furnish put it at the funeral, "I sometimes think that God wants the good, pure souls early. I can't make sense of it any other way."

Sing from the same hymn sheet

It is hard to make out exactly what the Pope has in mind by offering so-called traditionalist Anglicans the chance to defect en bloc to the Catholic church. He seems to think that Anglican congregations are all of one mind, either for or against, when it comes to issues such as gay priests and women bishops, whereas it is quite hard to find two Anglicans who can agree with one another on anything at all.

The Vatican is also offering would-be defecting Anglicans the right to retain their own liturgies. The Pope and his advisers don't seem to be aware that the Church of England long ago did away with its liturgy, dispensing with its Book of Common Prayer and replacing it with drab contemporary rubrics and encouraging vicars to introduce their own – usually banal – prayers into the services whenever they felt the urge.

There is only one thing that the Church of England still retains which is far and away superior to anything the Catholics have got, namely its hymn book. Catholic hymns are a generally dismal and dreary collection, most of the words and music being the work of deservedly forgotten Irishmen.

By contrast, Anglican hymn books, of which there are now quite a few, contain a wonderful selection of new and old hymns with words by famous poets such as George Herbert and tunes by great composers such as Vaughan Williams, pictured, and Gustav Holst.

If the Pope genuinely wants to win over dissident Anglicans, he should issue a decree ordering the burning of all Catholic hymn books and their adoption of the CofE alternative.

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