Sunday 10 February 2008

Not You Again

If there is one person who can raise further the good standing and longevity and quality of discourse of Archbishop Rowan Williams it is his predecessor. The media is reporting him as saying Sharia Law would be a disaster for Britain. What an idiot, what a plonker, what a class act ignoramus is this man - a predecessor who loves to kick a man when he is down and put his foot in it at the same time. Shut up George Carey, really shut up. Who the hell cares what you think.

Sorry - have I become irrational? I wonder why he has that effect?

We knew something was up this morning when we arrived to find a handout for everyone from the Bishop of Lincoln. This paper is rather better thought through, and handles how to criticise far better. This is what he wrote:

Sharia law:

Message from the Bishop of Lincoln

Dear Friends,

The last few days have been difficult for Christians in this country and for the Church of England in particular. Some members of our Churches have been angered by the Archbishop’s views, some welcome them as a thoughtful contribution to debate, whilst I imagine the majority are bewildered both by his lecture and the storm of controversy it has engendered.

What is to be done?

First of all, we need to celebrate the fact that we have an Archbishop who is still prepared to treat people in this country as adults. The issues he was discussing in his lecture are complex and vitally important. They could be presented in a simplistic way, and often are. But the tabloids must not intimidate us into trivialising matters which deserve more studied attention. Of course, there are those who are themselves intimidated by the Archbishop’s intellect and their default position is to lampoon him rather than actually engage with his argument and respond appropriately and intelligently. Was he na├»ve not to realise that this would be the case? Perhaps, but let us be proud and grateful that the leader of our Church at this time is a good, Godly and gifted man who can see further and delve deeper than most leaders in our society seem able to do.

As for my own position, I want to question his fundamental premise that because our legal system currently accommodates the consciences of Christians and Jews it must automatically accommodate aspects of Sharia Law and, by implication, a myriad of other faith-based codes as well. The Judeao-Christian tradition has legitimated and helped to fashion the fundamentals of our legal system, and accommodating itself to a range of Jewish and Christian conscientiously held principles is not likely to destabilise it. But I remain to be convinced that this would be so if elements of Sharia Law were to be accommodated into the framework of the British legal system.

However, I have to admit that this is the first time I have really felt the need to think hard about this issue and I am grateful to the Archbishop for that. The way he has done it may have stirred up a hornet’s nest but the outcry suggests that it was not a nest which could be left undisturbed for much longer.

Meanwhile, we continue to reach out to people of all faiths and none as we wrestle with issues of inclusiveness and social cohesion. For me, multi-culturalism has little to commend it, and I favour a more cosmopolitan approach to cultural diversity. This can enable different cultural characteristics and lifestyles to mutually enrich one another, whilst people of different backgrounds remains committed to the fundamental legal and constitutional frameworks which bind us together in a free and fair democracy.

This approach sits well with a theology of interdependence which should characterise relationships between human beings all made in the image of God. It is a complicated vision to pursue at a time when so many seek for single and straightforward solutions which can be captured in a screaming headline. Thank God we have an Archbishop who calls us to reason together rather than rant at each other - and to love God with all our mind as well as with all our heart, soul and strength.

Chatting with a chap after the service we rather liked his "cosmopolitan" word. It was our view too, that there is one law not opt-out parallels.

This evening

I went out and joined some others for an informal illustrated lecture on Ecclesiastes when I was asked by two to explain the difference between multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. I said pushed to a purer understanding, multiculturalism is when there are parallel lives in communities or even ghettoes for different groups, so they do not mix, and law would operate in parallel. Cosmopolitanism, as used by the Bishop of Lincoln, is where people have their diversity but there is one secular law and there is mixing of the different cultures. They said thank you and interesting because they had thought it was the other way around.

Interesting, isn't it, because John Saxbee's paper that we all received and many will have read was itself not well understood. It interests me that you can read something and misunderstand it to the opposite of what it says. Of course I misunderstand as well, in areas that are outside my competence. Elena had asked me to advise her on a statistics exercise she was doing at the University of Reading, and I had to say that in order to write something that is simpler for a non-specialist to read you have to first understand it yourself (and I do not and so could not help). On reading her work today I have not a clue what it is on about. I see in it something similar to what I have read on Tuberous Sclerosis and its research, but I struggled to read those papers (I wonder if I could try again and they make more sense after Elena's paper). Elena knows that I think she has not communicated this to the non-specialist, and the problem with much that Rowan Williams writes is that he does not communicate it either. Plus, the lecture is the worst form of delivery available for complexity.

It was when I broke down and broke down the difference between Marx and Weber into what I considered the simplest possible terms - Marx says all culture derives from the interests of existing economic activity and its owners, including religion, whereas Weber says ideas can have an independent life that affect behaviour and therefore the outcome of what some businesses do - that I realised it is highly doubtful that Sociology can be taught at AS and A levels. Many enrolled students simply have not yet developed the abstract understanding, use of language and study skills to understand basic contrasting concepts. This was a second year A2 class, never mind AS, that did not understand me.

Thus we have Ruth Gledhill talking simplicities about liberals and the liberal elite. It is all so easy to write and all part of the general distortion that passes for information. It is journalese that stirs the pot but misdescribes and analyses nothing.

This is quite creative. It is by Andrew Goddard of Fulcrum and Anvil relating the speech about limited parallel jurisdictions and identity - spaces and limitations - with the whole business of the Covenant and the Anglican Communion. I don't agree with him. If the tentative appendix and its systematic process does lead to the exclusion of a Church from the Communion, and even if it leaves a Church in non-Covenant Communion limbo, then the Covenant is clearly more unitary and absolute than is the suggestion from Rowan Williams about multicultural law in the UK. Why not indeed produce parallel Anglicanisms?

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