London, England - Saint Morwenna, who in the 6th century built a church on a cliff with her bare hands, must be turning in her grave. Her beloved Cornwall, the last redoubt of Celtic Christians, is to teach witchcraft and Druidry as part of RE. The county council regards her religion (and that of other Cornish saints such as Piran and Petroc) as no better than paganism.
It makes perfect sense. Fear of being judgmental is so ingrained today that no one dares distinguish between occult and Christian values, the tarot and the Torah, the animist and the imam. Right and wrong present a problem for liberals who spy covert imperialism or racism in every moral judgment. Saying someone has sinned is “disrespecting” them, as Catherine Tate’s Lauren Cooper might say. Speaking of religious values is as dangerous as playing with the pin on a hand-grenade: it could end up with too many Britons blown out of their complacency. No one should dare proclaim that adultery is wrong; greed, bad; or self-sacrifice, good. In doing so, they’d be trampling the rights of those who don’t hold such values.
This mentality is not confined to Cornwall. When the BBC’s The Big Questions asked me to join its panel of religious commentators two years ago, I was taken aback to find it included a Druid. Emma Restall Orr rabbited on inoffensively about mother nature, but I was shocked that her platitudes were given the status of religious belief by the programme makers. Ms Restall Orr exults in her website that the media has stopped seeing Druidism “as a game” and now invites her on serious faith and ethics programmes from ITV’s Ultimate Questions to Radio 4’s The Moral Maze and Sunday Programme.
God, Gaia, whatever: school children are already as familiar with the solstice as with the sacraments. In pockets of Cornwall, children will point out a nun in her habit: “Look, a Druid!” Their parents will merely shrug — one set of belief is as good as another. How long before the end of term is marked by a Black Mass, with only Health and Safety preventing a human sacrifice?
The Cornish may be soft-headed, but Scots are too thin-skinned. The Economist warned last week that independence would reduce Scotland to “Skintland”. The best-selling weekly published a map on its cover that twinned “Edinborrow” with Athens and featured the “Orkward Islands” and the “Loanlands”. Such wit was lost on First Minister Alex Salmond, however: he denounced the “sneering” magazine and claimed it would “rue the day” it insulted his voters.
After generations of jokes about what does the Scotsman wear under his kilt, perhaps the citizens north of the border no longer find the English sense of humour a laughing matter. But if I were Mr Salmond, whose likeness to Shrek has been the source of great amusement in our household for years, I’d refrain from over-reaction. Surely he would not want “Scottish” to become an unfair and prejudiced byword for “humourless” in the way it now is for “stingy”?
Scotland is beautiful but my favourite bit of Britain is Somerset, where, in a ramshackle farmhouse, the enterprising English spirit thrives. In one corner, Julian Temperley, traditionalist cider-maker, faces down the Eurocrats’ regulations that pander to the French by making his own English cider brandy (knocks spots off Calvados). In the other, Alice, his designer daughter, sews fashionable frocks for fans, who include the Duchess of Cambridge. Alas, a shadow is falling over this happy homestead: in its battle against binge drinking, the Government wants to raise the price of cider. Fine for supermarkets, argues Julian, but a price hike would scare away customers for his own lovingly fermented scrumpy. I urge Cameron and Clegg to visit the Temperleys and sample their elixir; one sip, and they will place the whole industry under the protection of English Heritage. And add cider-making to the National Curriculum.