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Holy Smoke

Podcast Holy Smoke
Podcast Holy Smoke

Holy Smoke

The Spectator
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The most important and controversial topics in world religion, thoroughly dissected by a range of high profile guests. Presented by Damian Thompson.
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The most important and controversial topics in world religion, thoroughly dissected by a range of high profile guests. Presented by Damian Thompson.
More

Available Episodes

5 of 144
  • Genghis Khan and the Pope's summer of madness
    Earlier this week, the Rome correspondent of the Times found himself mugging up on the history of Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire, and this is what he reported:  While the empire brought stability, it was created through the large-scale massacre of anyone who refused to submit to Mongol rule, leading to the death of millions. Mongol troops triggered famine in Iran by destroying ancient irrigation systems and catapulted diseased corpses into towns they besieged, a technique which reportedly introduced the Black Death into Europe.Why were the media suddenly writing about blood-crazed 13th-century warriors? Because, incredibly, Pope Francis – on a strange visit to Mongolia's minuscule Catholic community – had just been rhapsodising about the enlightened tolerance of Khan's Empire, without mentioning that its conquests came at the price of 40 million lives. Judged as a proportion of the global population at the time, that's the biggest slaughter in human history.  This came just days after Francis, talking to young Russian Catholics by video link, told them to glory in Russia's imperial past, singling out the figures of Peter the Great and the Empress Catherine II, both of whom were committed to the destruction of the Ukrainian nation and culture. This is the same pope who nurtures delusions of acting as a peacemaker between Moscow and Kyiv. Good luck with that, your Holiness. Ukrainian Catholics feel utterly betrayed by Francis. Putin, on the other hand, was thrilled by the unhinged papal comments. And there's more. In his flight to Mongolia, Pope Francis was allowed to use Chinese air space. Not coincidentally, he has recently surrendered the appointment of official Chinese Catholic Bishops to the Communist Party. Naturally he thanked Beijing effusively and, after Mass in Ulan Bator, departed from his script to send 'a warm greeting to the noble Chinese people' and urged them to be 'good citizens'.  In this episode of Holy Smoke, I try to make sense of these unnerving developments. Why does the Pope feel so warmly towards dictators past and present – and why is he relentless in sniping at American Catholics who have never crushed anyone under their imperial heels? 
    07/09/2023
    20:33
  • The future of churchgoing in the West: why Protestants should worry and Catholics should panic
    King Charles III is the first British monarch to inherit a post-Christian kingdom. Less than half of his subjects identify themselves as Christian, and only about one in 20 adults in the UK go to church on Sundays. Since 1980 church attendance has more than halved – and that's broadly the situation in most of Western Europe.  In the traditionally God-fearing United States, in contrast, roughly 20 per cent of people are practising Christians. But there, too, the statistics now point to a steady decline in religious belief; the figures are worrying for American Protestants and catastrophic for American Catholics.  My guest on this episode of Holy Smoke is Ryan Burge, an associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University who posts twice-weekly reports on the state of US religion on his Graphs About Religion website. He's also a pastor in one of the least doctrinally conservative Baptist denominations, the American Baptist Church. As you'll hear, he identifies with the enormous number of Americans – probably a clear majority of the population – who feel alienated by an increasingly sectarian 'progressive' atheism and, on the other, by the dogmatic views of many Evangelical and Catholic leaders on the subjects of homosexuality and abortion.  At every stage in our conversation, Ryan produces statistics that socially conservative Christians would rather not think about. Indeed, we know they haven't been paying attention to them because the pro-life movement was so obviously unprepared for the current backlash against the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade even among churchgoing Republicans.  You may not agree with Ryan Burge's opinions, but it's hard to envisage a future for Western Christianity unless believers confront the huge body of research on which they're based. 
    18/08/2023
    33:06
  • Is 2023 Pope Francis's 'Year Zero'?
    Conservative Catholic critics of Pope Francis are referring to 2023 as his 'Year Zero' – a time of revolutionary upheaval initiated by an 86-year-old pontiff who feels liberated by the death of his predecessor Benedict XVI on New Year's Eve.  Events are moving fast. This October, the world's bishops will gather for a synod in which left-wing lay activists have been given an advisory vote by the Pope and permission to discuss ultra-sensitive topics such as women's ordination and blessings for same-sex couples.  It's true that Francis has rejected attempts by the ultra-progressive (and ultra-empty) German church to pursue a liberal Protestant agenda without reference to Rome. That's not surprising: one largely unreported feature of this pontificate is an extreme concentration of power in the papal office. Any alterations to Church teaching and pastoral practice will be initiated by Francis alone – and he has a distinctive modus operandi. Rather than proposing specific changes, he rarely misses an opportunity to undermine the historic guardians of orthodoxy. Now he has taken a dramatic and irreversible step. In the past, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now renamed the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, has had the job of protecting the Church from heresy and other theological misjudgements. But at the beginning of July the Pope handed control of this doctrinal watchdog to his Argentinian protégé Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Victor Manuel Fernandez. And he did so with the instruction that Fernandez should shift its emphasis from rooting out error to more creative endeavours.  Fernandez needed no encouragement. Even before taking office, he has mothballed a ban on same-sex blessings that was issued as recently as 2021 and was assumed to have Francis's full support. In an interview marking his appointment, Fernandez said that 'if a blessing is given in such a way that it does not cause that confusion [i.e., does not appear to be a gay wedding], it will have to be analysed and confirmed.' What on earth does that mean? You can see why Fernandez's appointment has alarmed conservative Catholics more than anything else Francis has done, and that includes his notoriously savage restrictions on the celebration of the Latin Mass. The Pope himself describes it as a 'turning point'.  In this week's Holy Smoke I discuss the possible consequences with the moral theologian Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith. He shares my view that an earthquake has hit the Catholic Church – but he also asks: given the indifference of so many Catholics to matters of doctrine, have they even noticed? 
    25/07/2023
    33:19
  • Escaping the atheist hell of North Korea
    For 75 years, the most anti-Christian regime in modern history has thrown its citizens into prison camps if they are suspected of the slightest dissent. Ten per cent of people live in modern slavery; perhaps 200,000 are behind bars. I'm talking about North Korea, of course – a regime even more abhorrent than Stalinist Russia, but which attracts suspiciously little attention from Western governments and churches unless they feel threatened by its nuclear arsenal.  My guest in this episode of Holy Smoke is Timothy Cho, a Christian human rights activist who escaped from North Korea. Even as a child, he was sentenced to forced labour for the crime of watching a James Bond film. In school he was subjected to hysterical anti-Christian propaganda, but found his faith when he was thrown into a Chinese jail. (North Korean refugees are routinely rounded up by Beijing, which then returns them to the Kim family's giant prison camp.)  Listen to his extraordinary testimony, and then ask yourself: why are Western governments so relaxed about the human rights abuses of this diabolical regime?
    07/07/2023
    15:19
  • Inside the world's most vicious liturgy wars
    In the ancient Syro-Malabar Church of south India, clergy who try to change the liturgy do so at their peril. At St Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam last December, a long-standing dispute over whether the priest should face the people led to scenes in which protestors attacked clergy in the middle of the service, sending the sacred vessels crashing to the ground. As a result, the cathedral was closed – and remains so, six months later. This liturgy war is a hideous embarrassment for the Vatican, because the Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest Eastern Church in Communion with Rome. Traditionally dated back to St Thomas the Apostle's mission to India, it has four millions members worldwide. Members are known for their missionary zeal – the Syro-Malabars are one of the few thriving Catholic communities in Britain – but also passions that in the last few years have spilled over into violence, allegations of corruption and hunger strikes. At the root of the dispute is an attempt by Rome to impose a uniform liturgy on congregations that bitterly disagree about whether the priest should face East or West during the Holy Qurbana, the Syro-Malabar name for the Mass. Bishops have been burned in effigy.  My guest in this episode of Holy Smoke is Luke Coppen, senior correspondent of the Pillar and one the few journalists outside India who has been following the escalation of the Christian world's most spectacular liturgy war. If you thought the Vatican's attempt to crush the Latin Mass was a nasty business, just wait until you hear what Luke has to say about the situation in India, which the Pope seems powerless to control.
    23/06/2023
    23:14

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The most important and controversial topics in world religion, thoroughly dissected by a range of high profile guests. Presented by Damian Thompson.
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