Andrew Goddard–Reflections on the Archbishop's interview and lecture

The response to the Archbishop tell us much more about our society, media, politicians and (even more sadly) our church than it does about him and what he said. His main failing ”“ and the costs of it are now enormous – amounts to an almost lethal combination of naivety in relation to the soundbite that would be taken from interview and opacity in relation to the lecture. The response is marked by prejudice (including against him ”“ the names of those calling for his resignation are no surprise to those who have followed certain conservative evangelical reactions to him since his appointment, despite the fact that his central argument is one with which they should have much sympathy), ignorance and misrepresentation. And yet, when such a storm results one has to ask why it has happened and its spiritual significance. The Archbishop has clearly touched a very raw nerve as did the Bishop of Rochester a few weeks ago. Interestingly, both of them made a very similar tactical error in relation to how to raise important issues through the media. The comment of the Archbishop of Canterbury in his interview referring to Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali’s article could now be applied to his own references to sharia ”“ “I think the phrase, because it echoed of the Northern Irish situation ”“ places where the police couldn’t go ”“ that was what it triggered in many peoples’ minds. I don’t think that was at all what was intended”. As with that earlier article from a different perspective, this latest incident is perhaps initially most revealing in relation to our attitudes to Islam.

However, like the lecture, the revelation perhaps also goes deeper. What we have witnessed in the last few days is not only the inability of our secular society (especially in and through the media) to think seriously about an important issue. We have also been shown our inability to understand the importance of religious commitments and communities in and for our public life. Deeper still we have had demonstrated our refusal to consider that we need God even for the apparently simple task of understanding ourselves as a society and discerning how we can live together in our diversity of cultures and faiths. Rather than acknowledging this failure to comprehend and seeking to listen, to understand, to dialogue and to learn, our response ”“ from the Prime Minister down – has been one of immediate distortion, disbelief, dismissal and disdain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. It therefore looks like our common off-the-shelf understandings of ourselves are indeed ”˜not adequate to deal with the realities of complex societies’. In fact, what the reactions of the last few days have clearly revealed is that our public life and our ability to communicate and reason together as a society faces much more widespread, deep-rooted, pressing and serious challenges than the narrow question of how best to respond to sharia law. It is these challenges, starkly revealed by the ill-informed hysteria of recent days, that, along with the issues the Archbishop’s lecture has so accurately highlighted, we urgently need to address through reasoned and civil public discussion.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Archbishop of Canterbury, England / UK, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

7 comments on “Andrew Goddard–Reflections on the Archbishop's interview and lecture

  1. Terry Tee says:

    I was struck by this in Goddard’s piece:
    It would be a pity if the immense advances in the recognition of human rights led, because of a misconception about legal universality, to a situation where a person was defined primarily as the possessor of a set of abstract liberties and the law’s function was accordingly seen as nothing but the securing of those liberties irrespective of the custom and conscience of those groups which concretely compose a plural modern society.
    This, it seems to me, is the nub of the argument. I agree with those on this site who doubt the ability of Islam to work within the parameters of liberal democracy. However, Christians on this site have also been sceptical about the state. But do we have any other mechanism for negotiating conflicting interests? For example, as commentators on this site have pointed out, we rely on government to allow Christian health care professionals to opt out of providing abortion.

    Over the weekend my thinking has swung from anger at RW to thinking that at least he has raised an important issue. And, to be honest, I cannot see any substitute for a liberal democratic state which would create room for the consciences of its citizens to be adequately protected. And here we come to an important point: nowhere in the Muslim world is there such a state. (Turkey is officially a secular state.) This I think accounts for part of the fury in the reaction to RW: we wonder whether it amounts to a betrayal of liberal democratic principles, by giving to a group which would prefer to see the dissolution of the very system which guarantees their freedom.

    Lastly: RW’s dense, prolix style seems to be infectious. Andrew Goddard sometimes needs reading three times to get what he means.

  2. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    Dr Goddard does take the particular to the general and I sympathise with some of the hand-wringing.
    However issues of how women and children are dealt with, what weight is given to the evidence of women and their rights and the rights of their children are concrete and examples of where permitting other laws than the laws of England to apply can and does [where it happens illegally] create hardship, discrimination and injustice. This is the issue. I do not see any scope for discussing dealing with divorce, matrimony, children or even inheritance outside the hard-won protections of our laws. If anything I see religious minorities needing those protections, now more than ever.

  3. pendennis88 says:

    Well, indeed, the question of how to accomodate individual conscience and religious belief within a secular legal framework is an important one. Nevertheless, I think Andrew Goddard’s own discussion of both the naivete and opacity of the Archbishop’s lecture, to which I would couple an inconsistency of thought explained more in Ms. Phillips’ discussion, and a failure to address sharia law as applied rather than the academic notion of it (or any support for considering the latter), show a failure to think things through rather than, as some of his supporters seem to suggest, some form of brilliance which ordinary mortal understanding is unworthy to challenge. And the troubling things with those failures in particular are not only that these issues are not central to the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury (which I would pose as to lead the church, not to engage a centuries-old legal debate by injecting sharia into it), but that if there was one thing we should be able to expect from the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is to think things through. That he has not done, to devastating effect, particularly for Christians in parts of the world where sharia is not interpreted by Oxonians. So I appreciate Goddard’s article, and its concern that we not lose sight of the issues Williams raised. But such concern does little to diminish or resolve the serious damage Williams has done.

    I’ve no doubt that the Archbishop could bull through things and need not resign. That would be very American of him. But at what cost to the church? At what cost of respect for the office? A great deal, I think.

  4. Dale Rye says:

    Andrew Goddard has a [url=]follow-up article[/url] in which he applies Abp. Williams’ analysis of the conflict between uniformity and toleration, legal compulsion and conscience, to the situation in the Anglican Communion. We can see this thinking at work in the [url=]Presidential Address[/url] today at the English General Synod, delivered after a standing ovation, incidentally.

  5. C. Wingate says:

    It’s interesting looking at Goddard’s second article as it relates to English national identity. I have observed that Labour governments– and especially that of Tony Blair– have been aggressive in dismantling English institutions where the latter obstructed the government’s aims. It is my belief that Rowan Williams was seated as Cantuar precisely because the government believed that, because of his personal views on key issues, he could be counted on to defang church resistance, if not safely steer it in the approved direction. By my recollection, nearly everyone who didn’t know him personally thought he would do so. Well, now we have these Moslem ghettoes, and it seems to me that people are very afraid of them precisely because they resist integration. And along comes Cantuar and says, well, at least we need to integrate them into the law the way we already do for other minorities (rather pointedly including the national church as one of those minorities), and the reaction is incredibly negative. The government reaction is at least not hysterical, but I cannot see them making a concession to a group that is very much opposed to their program. But I think part of the loud backlash comes from the public fear that the government won’t protect its people from a far more drastic loss of national character.

  6. Harvey says:

    A system of laws is in place in Christian countries as well as Islamic. If you are in an Islamic country but are not Muslim then you are to obey their laws or at least be aware of their laws. If you are Islamic and wish to live in a a country whose laws and/or religion are considered to be founded on Christian principles then you must not place yourselves against them or seek for their replacement or downfall. If you place yourselves in this position then you do have the option so well-spoken by the premier of Australia – You can always leave!!

  7. Unsubscribe says:

    We can all be very grateful to Andrew Goddard for offering this useful clarification of the Archbishop’s lecture.

    For myself, I have been struggling not only to understand the points that the Archbishop was making, but also to understand why they were so very difficult to grasp; because when I thought I understood them, I found myself imagining that the same points could have been made very much clearer.

    As an exercise, I copied the Archbishop’s lecture into an MS Word document and analyzed it sentence by sentence: those that were denying something, I coloured red. Those that were explaining a problematic point of view, I coloured orange. Those that were citing other people’s opinions, I coloured yellow. Those that were putting forward a progam of analysis, or a clearly established position, I coloured green. It is an exercise I recommend to all who wish to understand the Archbishop’s mode of expression.

    I am tempted to think that if the Archbishop had availed himself of the concepts “tradition”, “authority” and “conscience”, he could have delivered a much clearer and more effective lecture, without sacrificing any of the points that ([i]per[/i] Goddard) he seemed to be wanting to, if not actually make, at least not adumbrate against.