Thursday, February 14, 2008

From here to eternity

Perhaps that must be what it feels like this past week for the Archbishop of Canterbury, especially now that this remarks have torn through the veneer of religious reporting to mainstream reporting. Christopher Hitchens now weighs in on Rowan Williams ideas of recognizing sharia law in Great Britain in an essay at Slate entitled, "The Hell with the Archbishop of Canterbury." We remember last year when Hitch ran into Rowan Williams at a Georgetown establishment at lunch time. Now he writes:

Look at how casually this sheep-faced English cleric throws away the work of centuries of civilization:

[A]n 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.

In the midst of this dismal verbiage and euphemism, the plain statement—"There's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said"—still stands out like a diamond in a dunghill. It stands out precisely because it is said simply, and because its essential grandeur is intelligible to everybody. Its principles ought to be just as intelligible and accessible to those who don't yet speak English, in just the same way as the great Lord Mansfield once ruled that, wherever someone might have been born, and whatever he had been through, he could not be subject to slavery once he had set foot on English soil. Simple enough? For the women who are the principal prey of the sharia system, it is often only when they are shipped or flown to Britain that their true miseries begin. This modern disgrace is deepened and extended by a fatuous cleric who, presiding over an increasingly emaciated and schismatic and irrelevant church, nonetheless maintains that any faith is better than none at all.

Of course, Hitch continues to be one of those who - like Charles Ryder - may find out one day, much to his horror of course, that all his own pontificating against Christianity is because he is a believer in spite of himself. But certainly, Rowan Williams actions this past week does not make a conversion any more likely.

You can read the rest of the Hitch essay here.

Then we have Simon Barrow in the UK taking another view, but one equally thought-provoking. Simon writes:

"Personally, I find it rather offensive that the head of my Church is telling me that to be a Christian is to require opt-outs from fairness and justice, when the message of the Gospel would seem to many of us to point in exactly the opposite direction. But that objection, and the feelings of anger that the non-religious may equally feel, miss the point. The Archbishop is contending, as a matter of liberality and pluralism, that special treatment is required for religion.

Where does this argument come from? The backdrop is that an Anglican settlement (rooted in the authorisation and subjection of an Established Church to the Crown) is beginning to give way to a more diverse ‘multi-faith’ one in the minds of those who wish to defend their position, but who are running out of excuses in a plural society."

He then opines that:

Institutional Christianity has been on the wane in terms of numbers, money, power and influence for some time. Arguably a slow, incremental process of disestablishment has been taking place since the Reform Acts in the nineteenth century. Meanwhile, other religious communities (notably Muslim and Black Christian ones in urban areas) have been growing, but against a background of racism, suspicion and inequality in the wider culture.

So you have an Established Church that feels it has reached a point where its self-preservation is on the line and other churches and faith leaders who feel (rightly or wrongly) that they would be vulnerable if the position of the Church of England was irreparably damaged. This creates the conditions for a potential wider alliance of ‘the religious’ within the secular realm. Ironically, such an alliance may be reinforced by the visceral, partial and intemperate attacks launched upon religion as such (an unhelpful abstraction, at best) by those denounced by their targets as ‘media atheists’. The danger is that reactionary solutions emerge from the clash and convergence of mutually reinforcing ‘victim narratives’.

It is that "separatist" view that alarms us this morning, pass the bagel tray. It's the view that we are not mainstreamed into our free society, but segregated by our religion (and often ethnic) identities. In an effort to influence society, we in affect become less capable of influence. Interesting view about "victim narratives," which has certainly been the strategy of choice in the Episcopal Church Troubles.


Anonymous said...

There once was a time when there were multiple laws in England (and elsewhere) - one for the underclasses, one for the uppers and a separate one for the royals - even the means of execution differed - subjecting all,in theory and generally in practice, was a considerable step forward. I believe the ABC does not have sufficient grounding in this history or cavalierly dismissed it for some regrettable reason.

Unknown said...

Yes, I think I am American because my so-called "underclass" English ancestors were shipped out to Virginia from England in the 17th century. It was, of course, better than what England used to do to the underclass and so the prisons were overflowing. Later, after that Great Upset between Virginia and England, the British shipped them off to Australia instead.

How could he have forgotten that?