Thursday, February 07, 2008

Can we have a new one, please?

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeee's back! Yes, the Bearded Wonder has struck again. Fresh from vexing me last month, the Archbishop has branched out and vexed everybody:

But Dr Williams said an approach to law which simply said "there's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts - I think that's a bit of a danger".

"There's a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law."

Dr Williams added: "What we don't want either, is I think, a stand-off, where the law squares up to people's religious consciences."

"We don't either want a situation where, because there's no way of legally monitoring what communities do... people do what they like in private in such a way that that becomes another way of intensifying oppression inside a community."

Funnily enough, this is just what he said last month:
This should be done by “stigmatising and punishing extreme behaviours” that have the effect of silencing argument.
His solution: to silence argument directly.

For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.

He says Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".

Wrong in so many ways:
  1. To whom would a Sharia court apply? Could it's decisions be challenged in a higher court? If a Moslem and a Christian have a commercial dispute, to which court would you go? If a Moslem apostasies, would the judgment apply to him/her? Would this be retrospective? Could agreement be revoked? Would the whole arrangement not be subject to challenge in accordance with the Refah Partisi v. Turkey (2003) ,either at the ECHR itself or through a lower court in the UK ( under the Human Rights Act (1998))? The whole matter is legal nonsence, and muddying the waters with idiotic reference to the Beth Din arbitration process shows a serious lack of acquaintance with Jewish law as well as British law.
  2. It is not "unavoidable". Few things are unavoidable if one is serious about avoiding them. To say something is unavoidable is the argument of a lazy man.
  3. Speaking of lazy arguments, it is a gift to the "when you've seen one Abrahamic religion, you've seen them all" lobby.
  4. It is an example of "vicarious offense" [hah- see what I did there?] Once again, someone who is not a Moslem is pleased to share with us what Moslems do or do not want. They are quite capable of speaking for themselves, and do not require ventriloquists, however well-intentioned.
  5. It has just made the lot of "moderate" Moslems much harder. Why should they speak up against extremism when no-one else will? Extremists seem to trade as being a more "authentic" version of their faith - why play into their hands?
In any case, let's have the next Archbishop democratically chosen by the Laity. That way, when (s)he screws up, and everyone has a moan, we'll have no-one to blame but ourselves. In that regard, I like York and Rochester, with a preference for York: Go Sentamu! I think Lent is going to last a long time this year if this is what we have to put up with.

What I've found interesting is the groundswell of rage that this has generated: the bloke on BBC Radio 4's "PM" program said "it would be impossible to understate the strength of feeling on this issue". Britons are angry.

Archbishop Cranmer thinks it's time for Rowan to consider his position.
Superb post by the political umpire, who ends by calling for disestablishment of the Church. I'm inclined to agree, but want to think about it properly when I'm less cross.

Certainly the Church requires further Reform. That is "unavoidable".

Final, random, thought: "Sharia" would be a lovely name for a girl.


Political Umpire said...

Thanks for your kind remarks. I haven't noticed the Ayatollah of Canterbury admitting his error, only coming across as slightly puzzled why everyone got annoyed with him. Shows, if nothing else, he is woefully inadequate when it comes to the political side of his job ...

Political Scientist said...

Hello Political Umpire,

I think he'd be happier in a university environment, but I'm not sure he should be instructing the young - clear prose is not the mans forte...

>Shows, if nothing else, he is woefully inadequate when it comes to the political side of his job ...

Amen :)

pj said...

Bah. disestablish with extreme prejudice, the catholics are claiming they've won and have more 'active' members anyway.

Political Scientist said...

Hello PJ, good to hear from you
(You haven't posted for a while -hope all is well?)

“catholics are claiming they've won and have more 'active' members anyway.”

Now then, now then, now then, we'll have no surrender to the Romans on this blog :)
English RC's spent the late '80s crowing about the "Conversion of England", but a boost in there numbers recently owes more to Poles than persuasion. Frankly, the attractiveness of the escape route o'er the Tiber would be lessened by having some half-decent leaders in the English church. [And many of those who leave aren’t terribly theologically serious – Anne Widdecombe is an exemplar of this]

I have mixed feeling about disestablishment - I always used to think (i) it would be very good for the church, and (ii) it would be very bad for the country.

This, admittedly, is more antidisestablishmentarianism [1] than support for Establishment. I'm a bit skeptical of the assumption that we can, or should, try and turn the Nation into some sort of paradise for the people living here now - if only on the Burkean grounds that some of our heritage should be preserved out of respect for the dead and for the unborn, not got rid of merely because it is convenient for the living.

Also, as with any vast constitutional project - getting rid of the Monarchy, introducing proportional representation, Swiss style plebiscites triggered by petition - it would entail a vast amount of legislation, and WILL introduce unintended consequences that no-one has thought about.

However, as I've got older, I think (i) gets more true and (ii) gets less true. The early Church had no formal organization, and the Reformation led to an end of the sovereignty of the Bishop of Rome. The scriptures speak of GOD raising up leaders in our midst , and we already have a King [Acts 17:7] and Great High Priest [Hebrews 4:14]: what need have we of an established church?
In any case, governments can’t run telephone companies, car companies or – as we are about to find out – Northern Rock, so why should they be able to run a church? In fact, based on the quality of the Bishops, they clearly can’t. No other church (I think) in the Anglican Communion is established, and all are more healthy than England. The Church in the US is seriously disestablished, and it hasn't done them any harm - quite the reverse, in fact.

Regarding (ii), I've come to realise that all legislation has unintended consequences, and if parliament were to spend 5 years wrangling with this issue, they would have less time to pass damaging legislation and leave the rest of us to get on with out lives.

The things I'm most angry with ++Rowan are (i) of all the things he could of talked about - the lot of Christians in China, Iraq, Saudi Arabia or the Sudan, the failure of the Church in the countryside, bishops who have "poverty advisers" on thirty grand a year and who fly to meetings on climate change, the cancer of Creationism and "Intelligent" Design that is both false and alienating to anyone with the most cursory scientific education - he talks about introducing Shari'a. I mean, where did that come from?
(ii) As Political Umpire says, he's puzzled - puzzled! - that people are a bit upset!
(iii) His press office and the Suffragan Bishop of bloody Hulme are TELLING LIES about what he said, and claiming that everyone else is far to simple to understand the deliberation's of the mighty. The image he cultivates of The Last of the Great Intellectuals deliberately confuses obscurity with profundity.

Oh what the Hell, disestablish us - at least then we'll sink or swim on our own, and end the ridiculous situation of PM's picking Church leaders.

[1] How I love that word.

pj said...

Heh, old Rowan pushes your buttons doesn't he!

Actually I agree that the really annoying thing about this whole debacle is the duplicitous pretence that he didn't say anything objectionable and controversial, and that anyone who says so has some sinister ulterior motive and/or is unable to parse such elegant and sophisticated prose.

I think the numerous claifications and apologetics needed rather give the lie to that. As an atheist cultural Anglican I always regarded Rowan Williams as an inoffensive Father Christmas/Getafix figure, but this whole affair paints him in a rather more sinister light.

As to disestablishment, while I don't think that (ii) is the case, I wonder whether (i) holds - I'm not sure disestablishment is likely to benefit the CofE, but I can't see that it will be significantly disadvantaged either - the media and establishment will continue to listen to the voice of the Archbishops just as they do to Cardinals and Chief Rabbis. I think the Anglican Church's hold on the country stems from a vague and residual familiarity and fondness rather its established status.

Political Scientist said...

"Heh, old Rowan pushes your buttons doesn't he!"

Indeed, he gets right up my nose.

"an inoffensive Father Christmas/Getafix figure"

[giggles] yeah, which in a sense is the trouble: the archbishop is the leader of the Church of England, so Establishment means he is expected to be a Chief Druid for all the English Nation: atheists, cultural Christians, agnostics, believing Christians, Marxists, Jedi knights, hippies and so forth. This role is inconsistent with being the leader of the English Christians, a much smaller subset of the above.

I agree that disestablishment certainly can't do any harm to the Church: everything will be much as it was before. As you note, most of the CoE's status (such as it has) owes to custom and tradition rather than specific legal privilege.

However, I think it would be good for the Church because:
(i) all state-owned/run enterprises are top heavy, creating a client class (be it civil servants, apparatchiks, or suffragan bishops...), too many premises (be they factories or churches), and a focus on non-core activities(in the case of the Church, a frankly pagan obsession with the environment and Millenium Development Goals). An end to state ownership/management would not necessarily entail a bonfire of these vanities, but it might well encourage it.

(ii) On inductive grounds: although I'm not familiar with a recent example of a nation that de-established its church [The French Revolution, or for that matter the anti-clerical purges at the end of the nineteen century, are too historically distant for a reasonable comparison] but in nations where there is a de facto or de jure separation of church and state (US, China, India), Christianity couldn't be healthier; in nations with an established church (England, Sweden) the Faith has a number of serious problems.

I'm not a great fan of Rod Liddle (too much of a professional contrarian for me) but he nails it with his depiction of the ++Rowan as a "posh John Prescott in a black dress".