Monday, February 11, 2008

Not Quite Distractionfest Again, Yet: A Few More Bits and Bobs on the Archbishop

A few worthwhile links, for those with the interest and stamina not merely to read the Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks - you have read them, right? Today's address in Synod, too? - but who would like some more perspective and information.

First, if you've read the archbishop's speech and would like some further clarification, Mike Higton is up to the job. An acquaintance who teaches at the University of Exeter, Mike is author of 'Difficult Gospel', an introduction to the thought of Rowan Williams, and edited Williams' most recent collection of essays. If one wants to understand the archbishop better, and the man himself is otherwise occupied, Mike is probably the person to whom you should turn. Mike has provided, via his blog, a multi-layered summary and interpretation of just what the archbishop said. It should not take the place of reading the thing itself, naturally, but may prove quite helpful in clarifying bits of what you have read.

He has also written an interesting reflection on how the very upheaval associated with Williams' remarks may actually serve the very ends he was recommending. That is, it may have actually spurred, alongside the thoughtless bashing and ludicrous accusations, some genuine thought on the matter; not all agreeing with what Williams proposes, of course, but he would never imagine that that would (or should) be the case. Harder to assess, Higton recognises, is the extent to which the misunderstandings associated with it may have also contributed to further islamophobia. Read it all here. Also worth noting, at the very end, are his tongue-in-cheek suggestions of 'easy narratives' for reporters, all of which I have (depressingly) heard or read in one guise or another over the last few days.

To return to one of yesterday's questions: how much time should the media be expected to spend on this stuff? Perhaps enough to grasp and report fairly the facts of the matter. I take it, after all, that that is the standard - at least of the quality press and the BBC - upheld in other complex and potentially obscure matters such as Middle Eastern politics and the ongoing crisis in the banking industry owing to subprime lending. I trust you to get it right in those cases. Why stop there?

And, lest I be seen as simply and only acting as an apologist for what the archbishop said, have a look at a critic who has actually read the speech, Simon Barrow at ekklesia.co.uk. I'm not sure that Barrow entirely grasps the way that Williams is trying to complicate the - allegedly - unitary sphere of secular power, and the inadequate ways it deals with people's membership in various groups; or, perhaps just as likely, I haven't appreciated the gist of his criticism and should have another look. But this sort of contribution seems likely to help advance the argument at any rate, and is worth a look.

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Blogger Simon Barrow said...

Hi Jason: I do appreciate the questions ++Rowan is raising, and I am immensely sympathetic to his overall theological direction, but I think his ecclesiology has become too functionalist (establishment-oriented) since he arrived at Canterbury; and regarding public policy, I think he makes the fundamental mistake of thinking that the only way to take religion and religious minority traditions seriously in the face of secularity is by giving them recognition through special treatment and/or exemptions in law, governance and statutory public service (from which they are taking both money and contracts on an ever-wider basis). I start from a different place, which is that the unravelling of the Christendom settlement, whereby the church is privileged by governing authority in exchange for blessing, is inevitable in a more plural society - and necessary for the spiritual health of a church committed to witness in its social formation and action, rather than control through social advantage. Regarding religions per se, particularly minorities, the way forward is to strengthen their capacity and freedom in civic life and civil society, not to create 'no go areas' for them through exceptionalism within common law, equalities legislation and so on.

Thanks for your blog, which I enjoy. Best wishes, S.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 7:11:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Hi Simon,
Thanks very much for dropping by GS and clarifying this, I quite appreciate it.

I daren't enter into the debate you're having with him about ecclesiology; I'm not sure i have time (today at least) to bring myself up to speed on what has been a longer conversation than the issues surrounding the speech.

That said, I will say that one thing I appreciate about England is that by maintaining establishment (in some truncated sense, at least) it has managed not to succumb to the usual myth that Americans believe, v-v that one's standing as a developed nation is in direct proportion to the extent that one looks like the US. Both America's settlement and England's (and Scotland's and Wales') settlement are imperfect, and both are not without their difficulties. But most in America seem to believe that theirs is the only real way, and Great Britain is a counterexample. Me, I'm not sure that establishment, in and of itself, is an unalloyed bad; although certainly it can be something close to it, it need not be.

(From what you say, we agree on the nature and importance of the witness of the church, I'm still not entirely convinced that establishment or disestablishment are essential to our fulfilling or failing to fulfill our witness.)

I take it that the ABC, although he was using 'religious' examples, was making a larger point about contemporary society, namely that - although he is quite clear to reinforce the universality of liberties and rights that the Enlightenment (and later) liberal tradition guarantees to all citizens of the UK - groups and communities are involved in the formation of citizens in morally serious ways which exceed the 'minimum' of the secular state. (I see no reason why, for example, a trade union might not be considered analogously to this.) It seems to me historically that one effect of the rise of the modern state is the creation of individuals, the notion that the fundamental nature of things is that we are each individual with an unmediated connection with the State. Any other association is thus simply voluntary - or in contemporary parlance, a 'preference' - and seemingly trivialised as a result. There is thus a corrosive effect on these other institutions, with the ironic upshot that it also weakens the nation-state.

What I take to ++Rowan to be saying - or at least, not to put words in his mouth, what I mean to say - is that this individual/state paradigm ought to be complexified, although not done away with totally. What might it mean to take seriously religious and other reasonings and formation in society? I'm not sure what this would look like; it would not look like anything we've seen heretofore, anyway, and certainly nothing like the performances of sharia law under, say, the Taliban. I'm not sure that this would simply be establishing different laws for religious minority groups as you suggest; I wouldn't want it to be, anyway.

But might there be a way that the law, that the State, can recognise the multiple, communal identities ('religious' and otherwise) that its citizens have and take that seriously, while also maintaining a baseline of liberties and rights? Trying to determine how to do that seems an important question.

Well, I find I've rambled on more than I anticipated. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment; please feel free to respond again.

Best wishes,

Wednesday, February 13, 2008 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Crimson Rambler said...

THANK YOU for the quality of this discussion and for your most excellent links...including the one to Mike Higton's essay.

Thursday, February 14, 2008 8:56:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Here is a rather literary take on things, kinda funny.

Friday, February 15, 2008 9:14:00 PM  

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