Sunday, February 10, 2008

Interrupting the Distraction: the Archbishop of Canterbury and Broadcast Media

First off, if you would like to know what the Archbishop of Canterbury said last week in relation to Sharia law and British law, please - I beg of you - read it yourself. Too many have proven themselves too quick to believe the farfetched or scandalous and denounce the Archbishop in light of that, rather than actually engaging with what he has said. Moreover, the broadcast media - not least the (otherwise) eminently balanced and thoughtful BBC4 - have not been entirely clear or fair in their presentation of the Archbishop's remarks.

In addition, showing the seriousness of the matter and the anguished conscience of the nation, the Sun posted two prostitutes page 3 girls outside of Lambeth Palace calling for the Archbishop's resignation. Who says the tabloids aren't serious journalism?

Just as oddly, Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone has chided Archbishop Williams for saying such a thing when relations between Christians and Muslims were not on particularly strong ground. My question is, 'as opposed to when during the last 1350 years?'

But strangest of all, I think - and again, most odd that it was broadcast on BBC4, closer to a paragon of careful and thoughtful engagement than nearly any other contemporary media outlet - was the report on this morning's Broadcasting House, a weekly radio newsmagazine on the media. (You can listen again, at least for now, on the programme's homepage.) At one point the presenter Paddy O'Connell said 'Realistically, how much time is the modern media willing to devote to complex, challenging, and contentious religious argument?'

I would think that the answer to this question would be: enough time to understand the argument and accurately depict its significance for the listening public.

He went on to interview a former press secretary for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, as well as an Anglican vicar who formerly worked as an ad exec, but now is curate at St. Bride's, Fleet Street. The latter of the two said 'Where he's got it wrong, I think, is that he's fallen victim to the required pithiness of the media, the sort of 24-7 soundbite culture. in that he attempted to summarise something very complex in a very short and pithy way and in doing so I think has fallen victim to a brevity that required a greater fullness.' There were some good remarks later on in the interview, but it seems to me that the gist of the beginning of the interview was this: the media and its audience cannot be expected to take the time and mental effort to understand something complex or nuanced, and so it was the archbishop's own fault that he was misunderstood.

It seems to me an appalling lack of any kind of introspection to say that when someone else is damaged by one's own shortcomings it is entirely their problem for failing to take such into account. The problem is not our short attention span or our unwillingness to expend a little energy understanding a complex argument and issue; the problem is not the media's seeming inability to inform in proper depth and give people any genuine insight into their world (as opposed to trivia, bullet-point factoids and water-cooler conversation starters); no, the problem is someone trying to think aloud publicly and present a nuanced and complex perspective.

To the extent that this is a reasonable characterisation of what has happened, then let us be clear what it is: blaming the victim. And that is pathological.

For some sensible writing in the blogosphere on the furore surrounding the archbishop's remarks, Maggi Dawn is a good place to start, and she links to others.

Photo courtesy of The Archbishop of Canterbury's website.

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Blogger Christopher said...

I was wondering how it that was playing out over there.
Here is my analysis (http://luthermatrix19.blogspot.com/2008/02/rowan-williams-and-sharia-law.html). I don't think the Sun really has the grounding to lecture RW about religious things... who knows.

Sunday, February 10, 2008 5:39:00 PM  
Blogger Aeneas said...

Instead of acting as a spokesman and promoter of Islam, the Archbishop should concern himself with speaking up for oppressed Christians in the Islamic world.

Please paste the following urls into your browser. They represent three parts of a film about the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

If anything the Archbishop should be speaking out against Shari'a law in the strongest possible terms.

Sunday, February 10, 2008 6:13:00 PM  
Blogger anton said...

I don't know what they teach you in Cambridge these days, but the truth is that Christianity and Islam have been enemies for the past 1400 years. If it weren't for the effort of our ancestors such as Charles Martel, Jan Sobieski etc. you probably would not even be around to defend your dopey Archbishop!

If there's one fact about Islam that every non-Muslim should know, and needs to be publicised far and wide, it is that the Islamic system of ethics and morality is totally different from all other religions.

Despite all the talk of 'Abrahamic faiths', Islam is utterly alien to the Judeo-Christian heritage.

The moral systems of all major religions, apart from Islam, are centred on the ethic of reciprocity - the Golden Rule 'Do not do to another what would be hurtful to you'.

But there is no Golden Rule in Islam. Reciprocity only applies between 'brothers' (fellow Muslim males) and does not extend to women and non-Muslims.

Instead, the Muslim ethical system is centred on the personality of the Cult leader himself - the sadistic, psychopathic pervert and charlatan Mohammed.

Muslims revere Mohammed as uswa hasana , a model for all time.

Whatever Muhammad did is what Muslims must do. There is no better pattern for life than the example of Muhammad, al-insan al-kamil, the Best of Men, to be emulated by all Muslims.

Mohammed was a murderer, torturer, robber, warlord, mutilator, rapist, liar and pedophile.

So does this help to explain what's happening in the 'enriched' cities of Western Europe?

Do your homework laddie!

Sunday, February 10, 2008 7:07:00 PM  
Blogger Giovanni said...

Unluckily it seem that in the effort to be ecumenical and "modern" it seems that to Mr. Williams and the liberal churchmen within christianity in all its denominations we have to deny Christ.

In fact Mr. Williams wants to be or seem "tolerant" to a religion which had paved its way in bloodshed, military expansion, opression and tax discrimination that's Islam and a sound knowlege of history should be taken into account before starting the "religion of peace" mumbo jumbo.

And if you come and speak to me on the "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5v39" it seems to me that Anglicanism fits in Jesus' words "'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers." Mark 11:15-17"

While religious institutions have their internal laws to regulate iself and curb abuses, such as the input of canon law in Latin christianity before the Protestant schism. However certain legal systems where the human is totally and unconditionally degraded and dehumanised especially in the case of sharia law it is the duty of a civilised state to intervene and dictate a legal system which assures legal equality to all its citizens.

Sunday, February 10, 2008 11:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Hi Chris -
Thanks for your link - and I meant to leave a comment on your post on 'fundamentalist unitarianism', but my computer got the best of me. All in good time.

Aeneas -
Of course the archbishop was notacting as a spokesman, nor promoter of Islam. That should be obvious. But thanks also for the links, which I shall follow up in time. Certainly the plight of other Christians around the world ought to concern us, no doubt. And the cost of living as a Christian, a witness to the living God, is quite higher elsewhere than here.

Anton and Giovanni - and also Aeneas:
I would recommend that you read not only the archbishop's speech but also my post before leaving comments here. As it is, you only reinforce what I said in the post, to your embarrassment. It would seem that Christians might be called to more.

Monday, February 11, 2008 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger anton said...

Since you (and the ABC) are obviously so much more erudite than us, perhaps you would care to elaborate in simple language exactly what the ADC was trying (and failed abysmally) to convey (and whilst you are at it you could also clarify your own post!)

God help the Anglican Church!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 3:57:00 PM  
Blogger Giovanni said...

Ah yeah Jason ... as dhimmis... the fate of dummies.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 8:26:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I obviously have no idea who you are, and so have no idea whether I'm more 'erudite' than you.

I can say that you have mischaracterised (at least) Christianity, the archbishop, and his message and have been insulting and dismissive in the bargain.

My post focussed on the media coverage of the archbishop, which at first was subpar. (It has since improved.) More than that, it seemed that it betrayed our society's impatience with complexity and subtle thought. That's a problem, because reality can be complex and subtle. Too much of the initial responses to the ABC's speech relied on mischaracterisation of what he said and seemed not to actually be familiar with the content of the speech.

As I've posted elsewhere on GS, you can go here for a brief, simple summary of what the archbishop said.

And, yes, God help the Anglican Church. Part of what the gospel tells us is that we can do nothing apart from God - or, more specifically, we can do nothing apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ, apart from the working of the Holy Spirit. If your final remark was an offer to pray for us: please do. And I'll do the same for you


Wednesday, February 13, 2008 9:36:00 AM  

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