Speaking of Faith

edited by John Miller, Canterbury, £20

With hopes of boosting the coffers of the Winchester Cathedral Appeal, various luminaries were invited to discuss faith, public life and a host of contemporary topics in a series of talks.

The politicians were polished, with Douglas Hurd musing on the long, sometimes turbulent relationship between Church and state, and Frank Field being his usual forthright self. The journalists were winningly self-effacing. Jon Snow and John Simpson both talked with humour and modesty about some of their more perilous adventures and, especially with Simpson, one gained an insight into the tension between being a credentialed observer and a compassionate human being in a dreadful situation.

Of all the speakers, no one is quite so captivating as the late PD James. She speaks movingly about how the sounds, sights and smells of Anglicanism pervaded her childhood, and has wise words on the power of religious language. It seems that she was very much a King James Version and Book of Common Prayer kind of person and, while accepting that more accurate translations were available, was not always delighted by the results. She relished the image of God’s “still, small voice” and wasn’t too keen on one possible replacement: “low murmuring sound” was “a vacuum cleaner as far as I’m concerned”.

Highest marks for candour are shared by Mark Tully and Rowan Williams. The former provides one of his typically pithy assessments of Indian history and also finds time to sum up his approach to religious pluralism: by accepting that there are “many different ways to God” he claims to have “solved it in a way which is probably theologically totally untenable, but I do not find any difficulty”. Williams, meanwhile, is winningly frank about the headaches of being an archbishop and concedes that “thinking aloud in public too much” can be a risky habit.

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