The most important and controversial topics in world religion, thoroughly dissected by a range of high profile guests. Presented by Damian Thompson.
The plot against the Old Rite
Traditionalist Catholics are still reeling from the Pope's imposition of ferocious new rules limiting the celebration of the old Latin Mass. On Friday, he tore up Summorum Pontificum, Benedict XVI's document rehabilitating the pre-Vatican II ceremonies — and he did so while his predecessor was still alive.
Francis's replacement, Traditionis Custodes, and the letter that accompanies it, relegate Latin Mass Catholics to that of second-class citizens. Their priests must now seek permission from their bishops before using the Old Rite. It's a shocking development, and the subject of today's Holy Smoke podcast, which asks how traditionalists should respond to what amounts to a poison-pen letter from the pontiff.
The tyranny of bad hymns
Christian music lovers of all denominations – Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, whatever – know only too well that they enter their local churches at their peril. In this week's episode I talk to the irrepressible Lois Letts, a wedding and funeral organist for C of E churches in rural Herefordshire, about bad hymns. The funerals are appropriate, since when I first met Lois she wrote obituaries for the Times. Pity the wet vicar who tries to force her to play a bad hymn! We don't mince our words: our discussion is a euphemism-free zone and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And there's a musical coda, a treat in store for those many Holy Smoke listeners who are devoted to the memory of Dame Clara Butt.
The Christian mental health crisis
Is the mental health of Christians beginning to collapse under the strain not just of Covid and its effect on worship but also the bottomless contempt of progressive ideology for religious belief? This week's Holy Smoke is a conversation with theologian Dr Gavin Ashenden about a crisis of morale that is robbing some Christians of the will to live. One former churchgoer told me last week that he'd be perfectly happy not to wake up the next morning – and I knew exactly how he felt. But in conclusion Gavin suggests a way of breaking out of this existential nightmare. So, as they say on the BBC, if you're affected by any of the issues raised in this programme, make sure to listen through to the end.
How Biden's cardinals are trying to shut down free discussion
America's Catholic bishops are furiously divided among themselves this week, after a liberal faction led by the Biden loyalists Cardinals Cupich of Chicago and Wilton Gregory of Washington tried to stop them discussing the question of whether the radically pro-choice president of the United States should be allowed to receive Holy Communion.
As I say in the new episode of Holy Smoke, It looks as if most of the 290 active bishops are ready to enforce such a ban – goaded by Joe Biden's increasingly hardline support for completely unrestricted abortions, and his plans to remove constitutional protection for pro-life public employees.
The controversy is particularly nerve-wracking for the US bishops because they don't know where the Pope stands on this question. Francis is a big fan of the current Argentine President, Alberto Fernandez, who has recently legalised abortion in the country. When the Pope and the President met in Rome this month, the subject apparently didn't even come up.
For more thought on the wider ramifications of this crisis – and it's a big crisis – tune in.
The last legacy of the Soviet Union
Today’s Holy Smoke podcast is about the increasingly brutal bullying and silencing of people – especially Christians – who hold the ‘wrong’ opinions on controversial topics. A culture of censorship is becoming ever more deeply embedded in public institutions not just in Britain but also throughout Europe.
There is a direct link between Europe's increasingly fanatical attempts to police public opinion and the former Soviet bloc. My guest Paul Coleman, executive director of free-speech legal advocates ADF International, explains that when Moscow and its satellites were involved in drawing up international human rights legislation after the Second World War, they insisted that it should include the criminalisation of speech.
One wonders whether Boris Johnson and his ministers are aware of this and, if so, whether they care. As Coleman points out, although European bodies are hunting down heretics with predictable relish, the behaviour of the heavily politicised police forces of post-Brexit Britain is in some respects even worse.
The magical power of charisma – and why the Churches are ignoring it
The subject of this week’s Holy Smoke is charisma, which you might think is one of the most hackneyed and devalued words in the language. But its popularity is no accident. ‘Charisma’ is shorthand for one of the most revolutionary – and useful – concepts in intellectual history.
The word ‘charisma’ is taken from St Paul, who employed it to describe the gifts that descended on the first Christians at Pentecost. Indeed, Paul may have invented the word. But it was the tortured polymath Weber who suggested that the sudden appearance of men and women who can apparently perform miracles, real or metaphorical, has transformed almost every human society.
My guest today is the diplomatic historian Professor John Charmley, whose unflattering biography of Winston Churchill divided opinion when it was published in 1993 – as it was intended to. Professor Charmley is now Pro-Vice Chancellor for academic strategy at St Mary's University, Twickenham, a Catholic university which he wants to root even more firmly in its faith and heritage. He’s certainly not the sort of hand-wringing academic paralysed by colonial guilt. I think you’ll enjoy this episode.