Friday, December 29, 2006

An emollient priest

Criticising Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury is difficult; it's like squeezing a handful of porridge.

When asked whether he thought creationism should be taught, he replied:

"I don't think it should, actually. No, no. And that's different from saying – different from discussing, teaching about what creation means. For that matter, it's not even the same as saying that Darwinism is – is the only thing that ought to be taught. My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it."
So you shouldn't teach creationism, but you should teach "what creation means", which assumes a creation and is therefore creationist.

Darwinism isn't the only thing that should be taught but, apart from creationism, what are the alternatives?

And then there is that final sentence... creationism is, of course, synonymous with the doctrine of creation. We can rework this sentence as follows:
My worry is [that] the doctrine of creation can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it.
It is almost demeaning to try to mine meaning from waffle of this, almost epic, proportion. It must be emphasised that this is not subtlety, it is waffle. There are no shades of meaning here, just an inability to move to the conclusions of ones own opinions in an honest and open way.

This morning, Williams was a guest editor on Radio 4's Today programme:
He asked the programme's producers to look at issues around the morality of possessing Trident missiles, credit and finance for the very poor, the phenomena of 'invisible homelessness', the environment, the contribution of Christian values in public life, Christianity in the Middel East[sic] and the challenges to a happy and balanced childhood posed by the modern world. He also asked the presenters to choose sound and music which helped them slow down, as an antidote to the hectic pace of modern life.
On Trident missiles, the Archbish. had this to say:
I’ve never been convinced that the threat of using a nuclear weapon is totally different from the actual use – you imagine what would be involved in the mass slaughter of the innocent, you plan for what would be involved in the mass slaughter of the innocent: I think there are moral problems with that
On the face of it, this was a thoughtful thing to say; planning for the use of nuclear weapons involves a descent into imaginative depths of great horror. On closer inspection, though, it is less impressive. In a world where a number of countries have nuclear weapons, a failure to plan for their use, even on the part of those who do not possess them, would be a moral outrage.

But this explanation is not intended to withstand scrutiny, it is camouflage. What we remember about this passage is not the subsequent gloss, but rather the initial equivalence between those who use nuclear weapons and those who seek to avoid their use through deterrence. To make that, entirely unwarranted, equivalence and then equivocate in a way designed to throw a veil over its weaknesses is the act of a moral degenerate.

Speaking of veils, we were treated to the following exchange between Ed Stourton (ES), the presenter and Williams (ABC):
ES ... the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Rochester; both of them on the question of the veil have said that they think it’s inappropriate in this country, that it’s not part of the Christian culture here

ABC It’s clearly not part of the Christian culture here

ES They’ve said it’s actually in conflict with it in some way or suggested that.

ABC Well I don’t know, I’ve not sensed any great disagreement about this between myself and my colleagues; I think they’re flagging up a concern about what I'm tempted to call a rather ‘empty-headed’ multiculturalism which doesn’t know where to put itself, which has no centre to it. I'm saying that I think a Christian-based, historically Christian society can cope with that and needn’t panic with the visible signs of other faith commitments.

ES I don’t want to create disagreement where there isn’t one, but you have said something different, haven’t you, because you’ve said that we should all be free to wear religious symbols whether it’s a cross or a niqab, and they’ve said that there are some things, in some circumstances when you shouldn’t do.

ABC I haven’t heard my colleagues say there ought to be legislation against niqabs …

ES No, but that’s not quite the same thing is it? yhey’ve (sic) merely said that the

ABC There are contexts and I’ve said this where I think a niqab may not be appropriate and the school teaching one is a very difficult one and I think you have to judge it on common sense and the interests of the children involved.

ES So there are some circumstances where …

ABC … there are circumstances where you might say, yes, negotiate, negotiate,

ES But, just to be clear about this, you think there are circumstances where the veil might not be appropriate for someone to wear?

ABC I think that in the instance that was discussed a few months ago with the niqab in primary school, there was an argument to be had and I don’t know the details of what happened in that particular school, but you would need to establish that the interests of children were not affected by someone else’s liberty to wear the niqab.
Clear? By "there was an argument to be had", Williams must mean that the answer to the very plainly stated final question in that exchange is "yes". But he cannot bring himself to give an honest answer, withdrawing instead into the equivocations of an intellectual coward.

On the Iraq War:
It has, yes; I said before the war began that I had grave reservations about the morality of it, and as I’ve said recently, I haven’t really been convinced that that case was fully made, and that’s not to impugn the actual notice of people making those decisions – I’m wholly prepared to believe that those who made the decisions made them in good faith, but I think those decisions were flawed and I think the moral and the practical flaws have emerged as time’s gone on. I’m painfully and [aware?] they’ve put our own troops increasingly at risk in ways that I find deeply disturbing, as someone with friends in the military as many people must have, family members.
I highlighted one statement in bold. What does it mean? In what ways has the government put troops increasingly at risk? What is it about those ways that are disturbing? This is drivel.

Williams then hinted he might take a more active part in anti-war activities:
I can’t easily balance for myself the pros and cons of thinking, well, putting yourself at the head of a popular movement and resisting and that might be effective or that just becomes words, that just becomes noise. I said what I believed I needed to say; I shall need to think quite a long time about whether I ought to have said more or less for that matter
Everything this man says is, in fact, just noise. It's a sort of sanctimonious form of white noise, droning constantly, meaning nothing. There is nothing to fear, or favour, in his words because they are too muddled and confused.

But there is a great deal of capital to be made by the Stop the War fascistic alliance from the more prominent involvement of so eminent an Anglican priest. I suppose Williams is trying to be emollient when he speaks; he does, after all, lead such a broad church that it seems in danger of splitting across the middle. Trying to be all things to all men comes with the territory, doomed as it is as a strategy.

But in this matter of war, the options are not so simple. If he is not careful, The Archbishop will find himself seated next to the former Imperial Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

At least their robes will match.

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