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Church and so on

There has been much fuss while I was (ironically enough) in Rome about the Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks on Islam and Sharia law in the UK. The Archbishop's own website tries without success to clarify. The key problem is that his argument is fundamentally incomprehensible. liadnan has a very good take-down of Williams' remarks from the legal perspective. I'm going to take a brief look at the political side of it.

But before I do that I'm going to step aside - about 400 miles to the west - and react to Belgian Waffle's comments on press coverage of Tony Blair's conversion to Catholicism, echoing to an extent stellanova's comments from some time ago (see also Ken MacLeod). There is indeed a bit of weirdness in English views on Catholicism - though I think BW is over-sensitive in reaction to the phrase "cradle Catholic" - the reason we don't use it in Ireland is because most of us are, unlike in England where there are quite a lot of converts who tend to be fairly visible. But this ties into a deeper weirdness (he said, in a completely unprejudiced way) in English views of religion in general.

One of the big elements of culture shock for me when I first lived in England (two months working on an archaeological site in 1985, when I was 18) was to encounter people who actually took the Church of England seriously. Brought up on BBC news reports and sit-coms (and the 1982 Barchester mini-series), plus of course my Catholic education which informed me that the Reformation happened because of Luther's poor relationship with his father, it had never occurred to me that the Church of England was anything other than a much-mocked hangover of Henry VIII's infidelity.

Five years being educated at the second oldest college in Cambridge gave me a more rounded appreciation of the Anglican tradition. (The new Dean of the college, who started at the same time as we did and married me and Anne seven years later, had just been appointed as the immediate successor to one Rowan Williams.) Yet there's always this undercurrent of not quite knowing what the Church is for. "I don't know what I am, so I suppose I'm C of E" was the standard response to my Northern Irish enquiries about people's denominational identities.

And what I detect with Rowan Williams' statements is a failure to engage with the problem that Anglicanism has with itself. Of course, this is because the media cannot boil down his complex concepts into short sound-bites; but it is actually his job to do that for them, and if he does not make the message simple enough to understand, then perhaps it is not actually worth bothering to try. I'm not a huge fan of the current Pope, but at least his response to the Stupid Storm of eighteen months ago was to apologise; Rowan Williams' clarification is, sadly, as impenetrable as his original statements.



( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 11th, 2008 07:35 pm (UTC)
I despair of Rowan Williams (I keep misthinking him as Rowan Atkinson). What the Anglican community needs in its present crisis is clarity and scarcely a word the man says is comprehensible. The Sharia law thing is just the latest. His attempts to deal with the crisis over homophobia have been utterly pathetic. I'm sure he is a deeply honest and thoughtful man but he's a disaster as a primate.
Feb. 12th, 2008 05:01 pm (UTC)
The fudging over homosexuality is deliberate; he was quite capable of speaking clearly on it before his elevation. It's most depressing, but at least I can see what he's trying to achieve, even though I think he's misguided. I can't even see what he thought he was going to achieve by fudging on Sharia. I can guarantee, though, that he isn't going to issue any meaningful clarification now that the Primate of the Southern Cone has waded in. Bizarre as it may seem, this has now become part of the homosexuality issue, which means no further progress is going to be possible until the dust has settled after Lambeth '08 and whatever ends up happening in the San Joaquin litigation, by which time interest will have faded anyway. By the same token, and although I'm no great fan of his, I think it would be disastrous for the liberal sections of the Communion if he were to resign before Lambeth and the San Joaquin mess are behind us and some decision has been reached on the blighted Covenant idea. I don't like the way he's handled any of that, and I hate having to acknowledge factions and politics in the church at all, but the fact is the wind has swung in favour of the liberals in the last couple of weeks, and anything that happens to destabilise the course of the Communion now can only play into the hands of the homophobes.
Feb. 11th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
Actually - having lived in the UK for almost 4 years i don't think I ever encountered anyone who took the C of E seriously - Methodists, baptists, prebeterians yes, CofE no. I met people who attended service and were attentive christians but even they seemed to have a reticence about taking CofE seriously

However I knew and know many people here in Ireland who take CofI seriously.

Catholics in the UK seemed to take the whole thing more seriously than Catholics in Ireland.
Feb. 11th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)
I've been in the UK full time since 1993 and haven't encountered anyone who took the C of E seriously either. I once had a co-worker who took her self-righteousness, smugness and anti-Catholicism seriously, but I don't think it extended to the C of E as such.
Feb. 11th, 2008 08:27 pm (UTC)
It is an offense against our national dignity to take ourselves or any of our beloved institutions seriously.
Woe betide any Johnny Foreigner who disparages them, though.
Feb. 11th, 2008 08:50 pm (UTC)
Er, do Johnny Foreigners include the Irish?

(I suspect not!)
Feb. 11th, 2008 09:04 pm (UTC)
I think that depends on the situation.
Feb. 11th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC)
Especially the Irish
Feb. 11th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
Being English, I'm going to answer that question with mordant flippancy and misdirection.

I might have a serious point, but I'd rather die than admit it to a papist.
Feb. 11th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)
I circulated between all available versions of Catholicism during my Oxford days - fervent, po-faced Flipino converts with very bad folk choirs, a chaplaincy run by an married ex-Anglican priest who'd switched because he couldn't handle women priests, a hilariously conservative Oratory with Latin masses and a tweedy Waugh-like congregation - and ended up going to Anglican services, which I liked for the BCP and the choral music.

I was also mildly taken aback by media constructions of Catholicism re the Blair Conversion Affair, which seemed to draw on all the age-old prejudices about Catholics being remote-controlled by the doctrine of papal infallibility. I suppose it was a conflation of anti-Catholic paranoia (Catholicism presumably looking ever more doctrinaire and dogmatic in the face of the liberalism of Rowan Williams) and mistrust in Blair himself.
Feb. 11th, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
He is an educated and articulate man. I cannot believe that the impenetrability is accidental. I stick to my initial assumption that this exercise was a stalking horse for a larger argument on religious conscience and he just made an ill-judged selection of a neon pink stalking horse with flashing lights and sparklers in its ears.

If I hadn't been angered by his R4 interview, which was my first brush with the mess, his 'I'm sorry if you were offended ...' not-apology would have done it. I HATE those I'm-sorry-but-it's-your-own-fault apologies with a passion.
Feb. 12th, 2008 12:10 pm (UTC)
While the English certainly are weird, for many values of weird, I can't for the moment think of a single nation which is *not* weird in respect of the place of organised religion in its political culture.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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