Among the idiosyncrasies of British life is the fact that this secularised open society has an established church and a law banning blasphemy against it. This anomaly was back in the headlines this week when a member of Parliament tried to abolish the blasphemy law with an amendment to a bill on crime and immigration. With the issue back on the table, another MP submitted a motion to disestablish the Church of England. By a coincidence some might see as a warning, it was listed as motion #666 — the number of the Beast in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, associated with Nero, the Antichrist and other opponents of Christianity.
Until now, there have been two explanations for the origin of the Giant’s Causeway, that magnificent collection of interlocking rock formations on the County Antrim coast in Northern Ireland. Geology tells us it is made of columns of basalt that formed after intense volcanic activity millions of years ago. Irish folklore tells us that it was a bridge that the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) built to cross over to Scotland to fight another giant. The geologists are right, of course, but the old Irish tale is harmless fun.
To be more precise, a Donald Duck film clip has been removed from a replica of Noah’s Ark in the Netherlands. That came after a local church protested that the film being shown to children visiting the ark strayed too far from the Bible story.
The cautious Vatican reaction to the dialogue appeal from 138 Muslim scholars has prompted one of the signatories to question whether the top Catholic official for relations with Muslims understands Islam. More specifically, Aref Ali Nayed has asked how Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran can say that a serious theological dialogue with Muslims is not possible because they will not discuss the Koran in depth. This debate (discussed in an earlier post here) is dense and highly specialised. But it may be at this level that this unprecedented dialogue could take off or fail to ignite.
An unprecedented call from 138 Muslim scholars for better Christian-Muslim understanding had a Warholesque 15-minutes-of- fame in most media last week. Their letter to world Christian leaders got covered widely in English-speaking media (including by Reuters) and much less so in many European countries, possibly because the news conferences presenting it were in London and Washington. Some reactions from Christian leaders were included in the reporting that day. The following day, the reaction from the Vatican — the main addressee of the letter that represents more than half of Christianity — made for another story (here is our report and the original Vatican Radio report in Italian).