Witchcraft, Christianity and Cardinal Keith O’Brien

Did you hear the one about the Church of England clearly condemning witchcraft?  Me neither.

You may have read about the recent witchcraft case in England.  It was gruesome stuff.  Straight out of a holy book, I mean Hollywood.

Although it received a reasonable amount of media coverage, even the journalist Damian Thompson, a pretty hardline Roman Catholic, noted the paucity of column inches and condemnation devoted to it compared with the “hold the front page, for the next few days” approach generously given to the judicial review into council prayers.

And whereas many people of faith were foaming at the mouth at not being allowed to force their fellow citizens to pray – poor things – I didn’t hear too much from them in the way of condemnation of witchcraft.  Why so?

Is it because the religious have an interest in limiting any discussion which exposes the dangerous consequences of religious/supernatural beliefs?

For all the irresolvable differences amongst religions (and by that I mean the ‘sophisticated’ big brands but also the raw ones such as witchcraft and voodoo), and for all the irresolvable differences amongst denominations and individual believers, religions and the religious all share one common objective.  That is, it is in all their interests that the very concept of religious/supernatural belief is not given too bumpy a ride, and that ideally it is positively respected.

I think that’s only part of the reason.  The other is that the Church of England – the banal, vanilla-flavoured, “we don’t burn people no more” Church of England – has in each of its dioceses a team trained in exorcism and psychiatry.

At this point the distinction between religion and witchcraft, maintained on a good day by one incredibly vulnerable tissue paper, gently starts to blow away and waft towards the heavens.

The Church of England might argue that its exorcism rituals are not violent.  Presumably they would take the form of virtually force-feeding the evil spirit stale cucumber sandwiches and weak, cold tea until the spirit bursts, Mr. Creosote-style.  But that misses the point.

It matters not one jot that the Church of England’s methods might be more humane now than the unrefined methods currently used in Africa and imported as they recently were to our capital city, for the Church accepts in principle that a human being, a child, can be possessed by evil spirits, and so it only differs from “traditional” witchcraft in its methods for removal of those spirits.  This is our established church.  This is the institution that considers itself our moral guardian and that has immense privileges in terms of our constitution and the provision of education to our children.

It is depressingly unsurprising that the Church of England can’t bring itself to condemn exorcism in principle, because that might just prompt a few unwelcome questions about its own doctrines and practices.  Much better to whip up a persecution complex about council prayers, using its trusted allies in the Daily Malice and the Theocraph.


I don’t require much in the way of what you might call a reason to get boozed up.  For example, the following would all work perfectly well:

1. Available booze.

2. Available women (or even unavailable women; I like a challenge).

3. Being warned that my local imam would be angry.

The first two need no further elaboration.

The very notion that I might limit my alcohol intake on the basis of the thoughts of an imam is comical.  If anything it would encourage me to drink more, and maybe even to wear a Mohammed outfit, and maybe even to recite the Koran at the same time.  So my default reaction to religious disapproval of my lawful activities is, “So what?”. There is no point warning me of disapproval if I don’t care about the disapproval or the disapprover.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in Britain (people say that like it’s a good thing) is fond of issuing “warnings” to the government.  Oh for a time when the government of a democracy can react to such warnings – if in fact it must react at all – by saying, “you are entitled to your view, Pointy Head, but your view carries no more weight than that of the next fellow.  Oh, and you look silly, by the way.  And you look and you sound like you need a really good shag.”

A while ago I read a distressed comment on a blog post about council prayers.  The commenter asked forlornly, “What would the Queen Mother have made of all this?”.  Again, this misses the point because it assumes a higher-than-normal degree of importance is or should be afforded to the Queen Mother or to her opinions.

I have to wonder whether anyone else other than that commenter would or should give a regal corgi’s shit what that long-dead, financially incompetent, brown of tooth, gin-soaked mother of a queen would think about anything – except for, possibly, the 3.20 at Doncaster.  Such legitimacy or relevance that she might have possessed was due entirely to her choice of husband (or her husband’s choice of wife) and such legitimacy or relevance that he possessed was due entirely to his exit womb.