Has Archbishop Williams lost the plot?

8 02 2008

Or has he simply failed to choose his words carefully? The ABC reports:

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams says the adoption of certain aspects of Sharia (Islamic) law in the UK seems unavoidable.Dr Williams says Britain has to face up to the fact that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system.

He argues Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.

Dr Williams says Muslims should not have to choose between cultural loyalty or state loyalty.

“An 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,” he said.

“There’s a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do.”

There has been considerable reaction to the Archbishop’s comments, as you can well imagine. Read the rest of this entry »

Rowan Williams, you do not have the right not to be offended

4 02 2008

You can read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s apologia for blasphemy laws here, liberally peppered as it is with the “anti-Semitism” shut-up.

It’s all very well to raise the spectre of anti-Semitism, as if that ends the discussion. But are legal sanctions really the best way to address bigotry towards religious minorities? Like as not they will only end up making martyrs of the bigots, as transpired in the case of the anti-vilification case against Catch the Fire Ministries in Australia several years ago. (As an interesting aside, Catch the Fire’s legal team attempted to invoke Australia’s own blasphemy law in that case, arguing that it only protected Christians, not Muslims.)

It is one thing to call, as Williams does, for an “argumentative democracy” and to take issue with . . .

a coarsening of the style of public debate and a lack of imagination about the experience and self-perception of others, especially those from diverse ethnic and cultural contexts, the arrogant assumption of the absolute ‘naturalness’ of one’s own position – none of this makes for an intelligent public discourse or for anything like actual debate, as opposed to plain assertion.

I couldn’t agree more, but in a liberal democracy the state should not be in the business of enforcing civility. If you’re so (rightly) committed to argumentative democracy, Dr Williams, then I suggest you put your money where your mouth is and argue for the civility we all desire, as ought to be your right and freedom.

Not much else to add: on this mater you can see also The Australian Atheist and Butterflies and Wheels and Ninglun. I think Williams makes an eloquent distinction, regarding one’s dealings with people of faith or of other faiths, between critique and abuse; it’s just that he makes a poor case for having the state enforce that distinction with legal sanctions against the latter.

Kohn-descending: The Spirit of Things on secularism

16 12 2007

It strikes me that the most strident reaction to the recent work of atheism’s “Big Four” (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens) has come from so-called moderate or liberal theists. For example, Terry Eagleton produced a scathing critique of The God Delusion soon after its release, in the blog Stanley Fish writes for the New York Times he disparagingly refers to Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens as “The Three Atheists,” and earlier this year Archbishop Rowan Williams himself got stuck into Dawkins. Sean has already posted on Tom Frame’s attack on secularism in <i>The Australian</i>.

Closer to home, ABC Radio National’s Religion Report and Rachael Kohn of The Ark and The Spirit of Things have been quite hostile to atheism. Kohn demonstrates this admirably on a recent episode of The Spirit of Things, “Secular Alternative?,” which in spite of its title–yes, Rachael, “secular” and “atheist” have different meanings–turns out to be another vehicle for Kohn to bag (her strawman definition of) atheism, either directly or via those she interviews. Read the rest of this entry »