Sacred Tribes; LONDON EXPOSED - Organised Religion May Be on the Decline in This Country but as a Social Force the Capital's Various Sects Still Wield a Great Deal of Influence

By Cash, William | The Evening Standard (London, England), June 20, 2003 | Go to article overview

Sacred Tribes; LONDON EXPOSED - Organised Religion May Be on the Decline in This Country but as a Social Force the Capital's Various Sects Still Wield a Great Deal of Influence


Cash, William, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: WILLIAM CASH

When it comes to worship at the social altar of London's clubs, restaurants and shops, the great, good and gorgeous rarely make any secret of where they pay homage. When it comes to God, however, our celebrities tend to be more circumspect. So when Madonna recently made a [pounds sterling]3.65-million donation to found the London Kabbalah Centre - a trendy religious import from LA - social shock waves were felt throughout the capital. In certain celeb-strewn squares a seemingly unthinkable question is being asked: is Godbothering about to become fashionable again?

It's a measure of just how far religion has declined in Britain that all but the most committed public figure feels uncomfortable owning up to feelings of faith. Remember what happened to the career of BBC sports commentator David Icke when he declared himself 'Son of the Godhead'?

Today, outward expression of religious belief is still considered risky, as ex-boxer Nigel Benn discovered after he voiced his born-again views on the first I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Likewise Iain Duncan Smith - the first Catholic Tory leader - was forced to explain himself when he said he was ready to 'answer to God' for his policies. And when our supposedly fearless Christian PM was asked about his shared religious beliefs with President Bush, Alistair Campbell interjected: 'We don't do God, I'm sorry.'

Later, Blair was heard bleating to his senior advisors: 'You are the most ungodly lot!' Yet behind Establishment doors lurk religious tribes whose circles of power rival any other society mafias. Each tribe has its high priests whom you are just as likely to encounter in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot - such as Father Anthony Sutch, former headmaster of Downside School - as in a Hampstead pub.

Some of these people were born to religion, some of them have achieved it, and some keep their soul-searching very much to themselves.

But all of them, in some shape or form, are in the God, Ashanti or Buddha-bothering business.

Protestants

With the Royal family still in charge of Anglicanism in this country, and Tony Blair describing his New Labour mission as a godly force for good, the upper echelons of protestantism in London are pretty much sewn up. The fact that Jonathan Aitken has now trained to be a minister may not help the C of E's image, but some new out-and-proud Protestants such as singer Daniel Bedingfield and actor David Oyelowo are helping to shift the prissy Cliff Richard image a bit. And Dr Rowan Williams looks like the first Archbishop of Canterbury for years to say anything that the average person might want to hear. The City is well represented by such figures as Ken Costa, vice-chairman of UBS Warburg.

WHO: The Queen, Prince Charles, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown (Church of Scotland), AA Gill, Jonathan Porritt, Kris Akabusi, Jonathan Edwards, Lord and Lady Sainsbury, former Labour minister Frank Field, Dr Francis Collins and Ken Costa.

WHERE: St Paul's Cathedral; Westminster Abbey; St Margaret's, Westminster.

Sacred tr[sup.2]bes Class act: Anglicans have the best churches in London, such as Westminster Abbey (above), and the support of the Prime Minister (above left) and Lord and Lady Sainsbury (left)

Jews

The Jewish community has been emancipated in London longer than the Catholics, after being invited back by Cromwell in 1656. The oldest synagogue in London is Bevis Marks in the City, built in 1701. The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, known as 'The Chief' to Jewish groups, is based at the St John's Wood United Synagogue where family membership costs up to [pounds sterling]1,500 a year.

Not just a religion but a hardwired cultural heritage, Judaism crosses most political and social boundaries. Which is why Jewish fundraising is the most successful in London, with Lord Levy, Tony Blair's special envoy to the Middle East, presiding over Jewish Care, which holds a glittering must-be-seen-at gala dinner each year at one of the Park Lane Hotels. …

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