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. 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 ‘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

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