Comments: Monday morning reports

The disproportion between the Archbishop's remarks and the ensuing outrage is reminiscent of that between the Pope's remarks in Regensburg and the storm that followed. Instant communication and globalization has made it very difficult for public figures to speak their minds with freedom. The disproportion in response in this case is a sign of some basic disorder -- connected with the fraught Islamo-Christian relations of age of the War on Terror. It also seems to me a replay of British hysteria about Romanism in the nineteenth century.

One of the columnists writes: "In a contest between the principles of modern democracy and doctrines of faith, democracy and the rule of secular law must always win. And that is the solution to the problem with which all of the great faiths that survive in freedom have made their peace." I don't think we can or should turn the clock back on this. Concordats, Established Churches, Communitarian notions of legal culture, are relics of the past, not forerunners of the future. One might be loth to relinquish them while they hold, but one would not go to the stake for them!

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Monday, 11 February 2008 at 9:16am GMT

Janet Daley’s piece is very good!
It exposes Rowan’s real crime, as she sees it:
“He has laid bare the question that should never have been asked if the prevailing fuzzy compromise between established church and state was to remain tenable: how can a revealed religion officially accept that its position is subservient to secular law? Answer: it can't - not without surrendering its understanding of absolute truth.”
It is an interesting piece, one wonders who has the right to pose this question in the “democracy” she admires, and one suspects journalists might be among those to whom she grants this boon.
In a statement even she agrees is perverse in the context of the article she says: “perversely, I would argue that the dilemma that Dr Williams thought he was addressing was a genuine one and that it goes to the heart of this matter.”
My view is that after the temptation to kick him has subsided – the real debate might be very interesting – indeed it is already beginning to be so. Reading Janet Daley’s piece might go somewhere to answering Hugh of Lincoln’s question as to why liberals are interested in having the debate while conservatives are not.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 11 February 2008 at 9:19am GMT

I find myself in the very rare position of thinking Janet Daley's article very good. So too does Johann Hari make some very good points. The gay issue is very closely related to the issues +Rowan raises in relation to sharia. Namely, how can one make room for a certain type of religious sensibility i.e. one that feels it cannot come to terms with the prevailing 'liberalism' of 21st century Britain. So the desire to allow areas in which the Church - or other religious institutions - can exercise an 'opt-out' in order to exercise a more traditional order that ultimately ends up legitimising discrimination. We saw this argument perfectly put in the debate on gay adoption in relation to the Roman Catholic child care agencies. It is a deeply conservative agenda and perhaps it is no suprise this comes from the lips of +Rowan who is a far more complex an intellect than that of a 'liberal'. Do not forget that a number of his former university pupils are involved in the theology of Radical Orthodoxy which denies the possibility of an autonomous secular ground on which 'liberalism' can ground itself and that all culture, society, and thought must be under the sway of the 'theological'. (How closely this can been seen to fit something like 'sharia') Whilst one cannot damn +Rowan for what some of his pupils write nevertheless perhaps we can see evidence of what he might have been teaching them in +Rowan's lecture at the Courts of Justice.

Posted by AlaninLondon at Monday, 11 February 2008 at 1:17pm GMT

Johann Hari's piece sees the options as (1) multiculturalism, (2) Tebbitry, and (3) allowing each individual to do as s/he wants provided it does not harm others. He is correct that (1) is a nonsense, since it is essentially an amoral criterion. It is so little thought-out that it has not even got to the stage of wondering whether a given culture is beneficial - as though that were a side-issue. Mindless egalitarianism. (2) is equally fundamentalist in its own way: it is precisely those who have grown up in a culture and become used to it who need to be more self-aware and more self-critical. Such separatism has been the cause of many wars. (3) promotes the individual at the expense of community, producing fragmentation. He therefore needs to distinguish between (3A) everyone doing what they *want* and (3B) everyone doing what they *believe to be right*. After all, if one simply *wants* things, one's horizons are no broader than oneself and one's own self-centred wants, which produces a separatism/tribalism even more extreme than Tebbitry.

Posted by Christopher Shell at Monday, 11 February 2008 at 1:25pm GMT

Looking for the journalism-compatible crux of it, I think this is it:

"Do not forget that a number of his former university pupils are involved in the theology of Radical Orthodoxy which denies the possibility of an autonomous secular ground on which 'liberalism' can ground itself and that all culture, society, and thought must be under the sway of the 'theological'. (How closely this can been seen to fit something like 'sharia')2 AlaninLondon

Williams's theology is not identical to Radical Orthodoxy, but it is not far off. It is how a nominally liberal position (regarding a rejection of universal objective truth) turns itself into something very conservative and almost ghetto based. That is why the latest journalistic rant of Ruth Gledhill (against his liberalism and the liberal elite) is just that.

The task, as ever, is to understand something well but also attempt to explain it to the non-specialist. If Rowan Williams cannot do this, he should employ theologians with teaching qualifications who can, and their material should also be put out on the Internet.

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 11 February 2008 at 3:02pm GMT

I agree that the pieces Janet Daley & Johann Hari are first rate. We Yanks having separation of church & state built into our system (at least in theory & largely because so many of the ancestors of the founders came to the colonies to escape the C of E) have trouble with the idea of special laws for different religious groups (although we have always allowed for special considerations -- pacifists being allowed alternative service options rather than serving in the army, for example). But the notion of special privileges for specific groups (religious or otherwise) grinds hard against the idea of equal standing under the law. Perhaps the ABC really does loathe the idea, which would be a pity (but help explain his discrimination against the Bishop of New Hampshire).

Posted by Prior Aelred at Monday, 11 February 2008 at 4:04pm GMT

I suggest people read Matthew Grimley's book Citizenship, Community and the church of England. This has been a debate that has gone on essentialy since John Neville Figgis-who has clearly influenced the Abps thinking--as has Figgis's "disciple" the Abps friend the late David Nicholls.Re the reaction to the Abps speech--it shows the great dislike many English people have of intellectuals!

Posted by Perry Butler at Monday, 11 February 2008 at 4:55pm GMT

C. Hitchens has his say on "Slate". Good final paragraph:

Posted by Lapinbizarre at Monday, 11 February 2008 at 7:07pm GMT

There are so many comments to be made.

There is the cluster around mistaken paradigms and idolatry e.g. believing that "the state", "the church", "the monarch", "the messiah" are to completely resolve all the problems of this planet and to make the "perfect complete" manifestation.

For heavens sake, sentient beings have free will and you can guarantee that when too many souls think like a blind herd, some will recognise and shift perspective so they don't get dragged along with the masses. That's why diversity and evolution are inevitable.

Those who try to have perfection actually end up fighting for repression and tyranny. It is the intolerance of difference, the inability to cope with sharing, the fear of not controlling all the resources in all aspects of the ecosystems of life that lead to xenophobia, greed and corruption. Violence and accusations are simply methods.

Gandhi "There is enough for everyone's needs but not for everyone's greed".

Ezekiel 34:17-20 "“ ‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? “ ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep."

Phillipans 4:5-7 "Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds..."

Posted by Cheryl Va. Clough at Monday, 11 February 2008 at 7:40pm GMT

This lecture is relevant to the discussion:

"If the pluralist account is to be preferred, it is a mistake to suppose that a healthy or just society can be sustained where there is a systematic attempt to restrict religious belonging or identity to the private sphere. The faith community – like other self-regulating communities – has to be seen as a partner in the negotiations of public life; otherwise, the most important motivations for moral action in the public sphere will be obliged to conceal themselves; and religious identity, pursued and cultivated behind locked doors, can be distorted by its lack of access to the air and the criticism of public debate."

"When the diverse first-level communities of the pluralist theory accept the arbitration of the state, they do so because they recognise the need for someone to address the necessary agenda which no one of them can manage – and indeed which no one of them has any obvious right to manage. The 'lawful' state is not one in which sovereign authority delegates downwards but one in which the component overlapping but distinct 'first-level' communities and associations that make up the state are assured that their interests are both recognised and effectively brokered, so that none of these communities is threatened in its pursuit of social good by others."

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Wednesday, 13 February 2008 at 11:25am GMT
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