Sunday, February 10, 2008

today : Go The Bish!

Whenever I hear Rowan Williams, I like him more and more. I don't share his religious beliefs at all. He has a splendid beard, of the kind that wise spiritual leaders should be forced to wear. But also, whatever he says he seems to be operating at about three levels deeper than any other public thinker around at the moment. Any comments I've heard him say are clearly well thought out and highly aware of the true complexity of things. He also clearly takes his role very seriously - and has seemed to have restored some standing to it. People take the Archbish as worth listening to, rather than treating him as a fusty and irrelevant figure, like those judges who ask "Just who are these...erm...Radioheads?"

Which is how he gets himself into trouble. But this is surely the point of a spiritual leader - to be a public philosopher and thinker who stands outside the simplistic vagaries of 'electability' and the PR machine that feeds the feral beasts of the media. This week he did us all a favour, by accidentally unleashing a vicious torrent of Islamophobia from pretty much everyone, therefore showing the press, politicians and even some Muslims to be complicit in running a rabidly xenophobic agenda. The fact that the press and polticians rushed to misunderstand his words, falling over themselves to attack him, also shone a light on the pitifully low level of discourse amongst precisly those who constantly pronounce the need for public debate.

What really upsets them (media and politicians) is the fact that Williams constantly shatters the nice illusion that the Church of England is a genteel and dessicated gentleman's club that is all about tea and custard creams. It may have been under Hume and Carey, but peskily, he keeps on acknowledging that the established church is a political organisation and that good religion is a reflective, forward thinking and sometimes controversial. They don't like other people, especially intellectual, thoughtful and decent people entering the discourse by expressing an opinion.

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