Sep 10

The Pope in Britain: stuff you might have missed

The coverage of religion in news media is odd. Journalists in mainstream outlets tend to be dismissive of organised religion and frequently cite (clearly accurate) polls showing the decline in the numbers of the faithful and of church worship. Typical example here.

But religious and spiritual ideas – including agnostic and atheist arguments – and the struggles of the institutions which embody them speak to something beyond the daily round of news stories about politics and money. The sexual abuse cases haunting the Catholic church which reveal such astounding corruption of spiritual authority have had the effect of making that church better known throughout the world. Religion retains a capacity to occasionally move public events in surprising ways. When the Cold War was still a fact, who would have guessed that in the late 1980s a Polish Pope, John Paul II, would have been a factor in bringing about the largely peaceful collapse of the communist regimes? Ideas move slowly but powerfully.

Much of the best writing about organised religion isn’t in mainstream media but in magazines which are more user-friendly to ideas. Here are three pieces published in advance of Pope Benedict’s visit this week  and all of which contain rich added value to make you think.
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Aug 10

R W Johnson on South African media law

Illuminating and characteristically trenchant piece in Standpoint magazine from the very knowledgeable R W Johnson about the background to the proposed new media laws in South Africa (first posted about here). Johnson, who lives in South Africa, is precisely the kind of politically incorrect writer at whom these new laws are aimed.

Johnson, an academic-turned-journalist who is incapable of turning a sentence which doesn’t make somebody somewhere indignant, refers to rows that have been going on about his writing about South Africa in the London Review of Books. Coverage here.

In my earlier post about South Africa, I said that South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma was once of a very small number of politicians who had been idiotic enough to sue a cartoonist. I did not know at the time that this select band also includes the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It may not be a coincidence that Turkey’s political class has authoritarian instincts not unlike those of South Africa’s ANC.