Once again, the Catholic Church has managed to have me in stitches today.
Are those guys for real?
Cardinal Carcisio Bertone, the Archbishop of Genoa, was today appointed by the Vatican to debunk the Da Vinci Code. In his official capacity he will be organising a series of public debates focusing on the blurring of fact and fiction in the novel. Bertone told Il Giornale:
"The book is everywhere. There is a very real risk that many people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true...It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies."
You can see his point: the Da Vinci Code has sold more than 18m copies and has been translated into 44 different languages. That's a lot of people who might be taken in. We should probably head over to Waterstones and start building bonfires with this insidious little book right away! Now! Quick, before it causes any more damage! No time to pick up your pitchfork!
Oh wait a minute.
The Bible sells more than 20 million copies each year in the USA alone (in addition to the tens of millions that are given away free). The Gideon Society reckon that worldwide they give away about 60 million copies of the Bible every year. The Bible has been translated into about 2287 languages (your 44 languages and 18m copies not looking so impressive now, eh Dan Brown?).
Billions and billions of copies of this book have been sold over the years, so, I think it's fair to say that the Bible is everywhere. I think it's also fair to say that there is a very real risk that the people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true... in fact I think that this is actively encouraged. Frankly, it astonishes me and worries me that so many people believe these lies....
How many people have died in the name of the Da Vinci Code? From what I can work out, and I haven't read it, the worst thing you can say about it is that it is crap literature. I don't think it's caused any wars - a bit of tourism perhaps, but no massacres or burnings at the stake or anything like that.
At least the Da Vinci Code has the decency to have the word FICTION stamped across the back.
The other thing the Catholic Church did to annoy me today is a little bit more parochial, but is perhaps the more serious issue - the head of the Catholic Church in Britain felt fit to share with the nation some views on the forthcoming UK General Election that he may have been better advised to have kept to himself.
Michael Howard recently made a remark in a reknowned political journal (Cosmopolitan) that he was in favour of reducing the upper limit on abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks, although he wouldn't go as far as reducing it to 12 weeks. This was immediately and predicatably seized upon by the Pro-Life Alliance. Ridiculously, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, also decided to weigh in on the subject:
"It is very important that this debate has been opened into the public arena, both in the lead-up to and after the election. Abortion, for Catholics, is a very key issue, we are totally opposed to it. The policy supported by Mr Howard is one that we would also commend, on the way to a full abandonment of abortion."
There's more. Not content with holding forth on abortion, he decided to share his views on the machinery of government:
"At the moment there are a lot of quangos and bodies that advise governments that this or that is the better way to do things. We live in a very utilitarian society, what is useful is not always what is right for society and sometimes is very wrong."
Hm. Interesting. But how should we vote at the next General Election archbishop?
"As bishops, we are not going to suggest people support one particular party....There has been a notion in the past that Catholics would be more in support of the Labour party because they were working-class people. Now I'm not so sure that will be quite so true today, the Labour party has developed."
Where does he get off? Whilst I understand (although don't share) his convictions about abortion, I firmly believe that he has no business getting involved in politics. All three of the major parties have felt the need to jump in at this point and firmly say that abortion should not be an election issue, but is instead a matter of individual conscience. Quite right. Keep your nose out of politics, Cardinal.
Where would we be if religion was to be the major shaping factor in determining the result of the election for the political leaders of our country?