During a key scene in Philip Pulman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, the son of Mary, Christ, opens up to a prostitute about the differences between him and his twin brother Jesus:
'More than anything, he does things out of passion, and I do them out of calculation. I can see further than he can; I can see the consequences of things he doesn't think twice about. But he acts with the whole of himself at every moment, and I'm always holding something back out of caution, or prudence, or because I want to watch and record rather than participate.'
I read this immediately after finishing Cole Moreton's Is God Still an Englishman? and it struck me that Cole's writing displays something like the dual personality which Pulman's fascinating little novel explores. The Englishman book follows Cole's previous work, My Father was a Hero, in being a stimulating mix of the confessional and the investigative. Both passionate and prudent, Moreton the journalist who wears his heart on his sleeve. Moreton the investigator who cannot help keep returning to the one subject which most fascinates and illuminates him: himself, his own life, as a lens through which to see the rest of the world.
And this works well. Is God Still an Englishman? weaves together The Jesus Story with the Cole Story with the story of the English Church (the Anglican one, mostly) in a most engaging way. Well, I found it engaging because as I read Cole's Story I am reminded of my own story too. Cole and I have made similar journeys - towards and then away from charismatic evangelical Anglicanism - always stopping off each August Bank Holiday at Greenbelt along the way.
So Cole's opening and closing chapters tell a story which I am familiar with. A very moving story of a young woman, very active and much loved in Greenbelt circles, who sadly died of cancer a few years back. The loss felt by her many friends and the story of her loving husband's journey into a new beginning. Ali's strong faith in her eternal future contrasting Cole's pained unbelief. And me, recalling an odd but wondrous evening whilst on my M62 walk when I joined my hosts Andy and Michelle in a pub outside Hull where they were reunited with a group of close friends from church/Greenbelt who had come together for an act of memorial to that same woman Ali, who I recalled vaguely from my Greenbelt involvement but learned so much about as they praised and celebrated her life that night.
Events like losing someone so good, so young, concentrate the mind. So Cole had my attention as he took me with him through, well, our story. I laughed with Cole (master of cheeky prose), I was touched by his self-appraisals and challenged by his apparisals of a dying parish system. But most of all I found myself agreeing with the hope to be found in the new sort of spirit found in our response to Hillsborough, in the funeral services of Diana and Jade Goody, in the new paganism celebrating the English countryside in joyous ritual and in the joys of multicultural exploration.