from John Lloyd:

The UK’s paradox of faith

When David Cameron recently proclaimed in the Church Times -- the organ of the Church of England -- that he was a Christian, that his faith helped guide him through life and work and that Britain is a Christian country and should be proud of it, he was met with a wall of disapproval.

When a European leader says he's a Christian and that he lives in a Christian country, he's asking for trouble. The approved political position in Europe is that religion should be commended for its sterling values when it cares for the poor and condemned when it is used as a rationale for terrorism. Otherwise, politicians should steer clear and leave it to the clergy.

European states are not the United States, and thus not “nations under God,” (though only since 1954, when the words were added to the pledge of allegiance). EU states are nations under constitutions that prescribe secularism. They say that all faiths may (peacefully) flourish and that none shall have priority.

Two famed British authors, Terry Pratchett and Philip Pullman, ganged up on Cameron with 50 others in a letter to the Daily Telegraph. They wrote that the prime minister is playing a dangerous and divisive game. He has not accepted that the country is mainly non-religious and he will upset other faiths in a country that has lots of them, not just Christianity, they wrote.

One reason for the Church Times article may be the European Union (EU) parliament elections next month. The anti-EU UK Independence Party, which makes a point of believing in good old British values, is expected to do well. A spin doctor might argue that a judiciously placed article affirming the nation's Christian attachment might do a little good for Cameron.

GUESTVIEW: Who is Jewish enough for Anglo-Jewish schools?

big benThe following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Heather Miller Rubens is a PhD candidate in History of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School.*

By Heather Miller Rubens

On June 11, London’s Jewish Chronicle ran the provocative headline: “Jewish girl’s King David place goes to non-Jew.”  This breaking news is the latest incident in the Anglo-Jewish community’s struggle to establish a means of identifying their own that comports with British law.  Since the British High Court recently declared the Orthodox Jewish matrilineal lineage test in violation of England’s racial discrimination laws, Anglo-Jews have had difficulty determining who counts as Jewish for admissions to Orthodox Jewish schools. (Photo: Big Ben, 9 May 2010/Chris Helgren)

In England, religious schools are permitted to give admissions preference to applicants who share the school’s religious affiliation.  Usually this preference is a matter of mutual agreement between the students and the schools.  Until recently, the Office of the Chief Rabbi (OCR), the designated authority over Orthodox Judaism in England, instructed Orthodox Jewish schools that a child was considered Jewish if he or she was born to a Jewish mother, regardless of his or her level of religious observance.  Failing this, a child could also apply to undergo a conversion that would be recognized by the OCR.  However, in December of 2009 the OCR’s matrilineal test was declared illegal in R v The Governing Body of JFS.

British charities offer no haven for laid-off bankers

How ironic is this? When the financial industry was riding high, many bankers and brokers had no time for charity work. Now that lots of them have been laid off and have the time, Rebekah Curtis reports from London, many can’t find a charity that can use their skills.

It turns out the economic downturn is forcing charities to cut back their own staffs and many can’t find a way to use the skills the laid-off finance wizards are offering. The British international development charity VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) said it received 2,572 enquiries for voluntary work between September and mid-November this year, more than double the 1,233 it received for the same period in 2007, but it could hardly place most of them.

“It’s a shame,” said VSO spokeswoman Catherine Raynor. “People are keen to offer their time and commitment, so it’s never easy to say they’re not right … if you’ve had management experience within your role … rather than very specific financial skills, then we’d love to hear from you.”

Latin Mass “power of silence” raises UK Catholic decibels

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 25 Dec 2005/Alessandro BianchiCardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos was at Westminster Cathedral in London over the weekend to lead one of the highest profile celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church’s old Latin Mass here since the 1960s. The Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales has been lukewarm about the prospect of the old rite being celebrated alongside Mass in English, so the cardinal’s presence was a clear reminder of what the Vatican wants.

Before the Mass on Saturday, Castrillon Hoyos met four journalists (myself included) to explain why Pope Benedict decided last year to promote wider use of the old Latin Mass. He praised the traditional Tridentine rite for its “power of silence,” an element of contemplation he said had disappeared from worship since the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. If his pre-Mass briefing is anything to go by, however, the Latin Mass also has a power to raise the decibel level among Catholics in Britain.

The Colombian-born cardinal, who is head of the pontifical commission Ecclesia Dei for relations with traditionalists, said the new form of the Mass had led to “abuses” that had prompted many to abandon the Church. So, he said, the pope wanted the older form to be offered again in all parishes (not only where a group of parishioners requested it, as originally said).