Rowan Williams: Thinking Naively, Rigidly And Uncreatively About Europe

Rowan Williams - Archbishop of Canterbury - EU Referendum - European Union - Brexit

Et tu, Archiepiscopus?

Another day brings more disingenuous, pseudo-Christian piffle over at Reimagining Europe, this time from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams (and his ghost/speechwriter Philip Waters).

Waters/Williams write, in a transcribed lecture humorously entitled “Thinking Creatively About Europe”:

Europe also has its Muslim and Jewish legacies. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are a family quarrel rather than a clash of civilisations. We need to remember that Medieval Catholic theology was crucially informed by influx from the Muslim and Jewish peripheries.

The mix of legacies means that Europe has had a history of at best conversation and at worst confrontation about authority: who should we listen to, who should we obey? In debate over the rights of state and church the insight persists that there are two schemes of reference, the political and the spiritual: they overlap but they are not the same. It is not necessary to go into detail about the differences between Eastern and Western Europe, or between Catholic and Protestant: the  above generalisations hold equally for all of them. To take one example, John Calvin’s ideas on the  relationship between realms of power are more like those of Thomas Aquinas than they are like those of Martin Luther.

One of the problems we face today is the idea of the clash of civilisations, and the suggestion that one of those civilisations is Western democracy. This idea forgets the ineractions throughout history which have created that very Western democracy. Without an understanding of history, the idea of the superiority of Western democracy seems to be self-evident.

‘Over There’ dwell peoples who do not know the self-evident benefits of democracy; and the reason usually given is that they are religious. One of the effects of modernity is strangely enough to drive people to radicalism. ISIS is an example of how the introduction of Western values in the form of confrontation leads to simplification of a heritage, in this case Islamic. There is no place for approaching any modern problems from a standpoint of triumphalism. What we can say is that a series of providential insights have been given within Europe which are to be shared with other parts of the world.

Wait for it…

All this is relevant for a consideration of Britain and Europe. There is no way we can talk about British values which are opposed to European or indeed wider values. My fear is that if Britain steps back from Europe it will be stepping back from its own heritage. In Britain we have not done too badly in sharing with and learning from others. In talking in isolationist terms we run the risk of nailing our colours to a myth.

In other words: religion, religion, religion, religion…political union!, with absolutely no attempt to draw any link of necessity between the two.

Whoever said anything about “step[ping] back from Europe”, as Williams disingenuously attempts to characterise the anti-EU stance? On the contrary, Brexit is an opportunity for Britain to re-engage with a world which has moved on since the post-war days of giant regional blocs facing off against one another, as any thinking Brexiteer will tell you. And yet the former Archbishop of Canterbury seems intent on defeating a straw man argument, that of the stereotypical isolationist little Englander who wants to pull up the drawbridge, cease all cooperation with our neighbours and turn the clock back to 1955.

This says a lot about Rowan Williams, but nothing good. It shows that on this most existential of questions he is fundamentally intellectually uncurious. Rather than seeking to understand why so many of his countrymen want to leave a dysfunctional and failing political union, he retreats into the comfort zone occupied by so many of his brethren in the centre-left, middle class clerisy, in which pro-EU types are enlightened and progressive while eurosceptics are somehow backward and reactionary.

We see it again when Williams claims that “we have not done too badly in sharing with and learning from others”. Well, who in blazes ever suggested otherwise? Our quarrel with the European Union is not that it encourages sharing and learning. Our quarrel is that the EU is a One Size Doesn’t Fit All embryonic supra-national government of Europe, unreplicated in any other corner of the globe, which seeks to gradually usurp the traditional powers and competencies of its member states in order to form an ever-closer union whose ultimate destination can only be a United States of Europe.

I don’t like to speak of a former Archbishop of Canterbury in uncharitable terms, but at this point it is genuinely difficult to tell whether he is being ignorant or deliberately deceptive – whether he genuinely doesn’t understand that the EU is not just about friendship and biscuits and apple pie, or whether he knows full well but is pretending that the EU is just “sharing and learning” in order to hoodwink others.

It is particularly concerning that Rowan Williams – an accomplished man with a fine mind – succumbs to the same woolly misconception as many of his peers. The misconception is not only that the explicitly political, integrationist construct known as the EU is a humble and unambitious organisation set up merely to foster “sharing and learning”, but that sharing, learning and close neighbourly cooperation are somehow impossible outside the auspices of an ever-tightening political union. Never mind that countries outside of Europe cooperate closely on all manner of issues every single day without feeling the need to dissolve themselves into a single political entity – Rowan Williams, like so many of his peers, is absolutely determined to project his false, naive vision of the humble old EU onto an organisation with altogether more far-reaching ambitions.

Yet when it comes to the history and future trajectory of the EU, there is no excuse for ignorance, especially not from one as well-connected to the establishment as a former Archbishop of Canterbury. Assuming he is operating through ignorance rather than malevolence, Rowan Williams has still had every opportunity to learn and comprehend the history of the movement for political union in Europe which has led to the contemporary EU. Magdalene College Oxford, where Williams now serves as Master, probably has quite a decent library. He might consider checking out a few books on the subject if the facts still elude him.

With less than a month to go, it is truly concerning that so many prominent Christian leaders are openly agitating for a Remain vote in the EU referendum when there is yet to be produced a clear, intellectually grounded Christian case for Remain – in other words, anything based on something more than warm leftist feelings and fuzzy ecumenism.

With recent high-profile interventions on austerity and social policy, the church has a record of unapologetic political activism – rather too naive and left-wing for this blog’s taste, but generally coming from a place of good intentions. Even when it has been wrong, the church has been able to plausibly claim to have the best interests of the poor and the voiceless in mind. Not so now, not with the EU question.

By failing to take a stand against remote and unwanted supranational government, the bishops – whether they declare it openly or not – are coming down firmly on the side of Europe’s elites, and not the people. They are complicit in supporting the continued imposition, largely by stealth, of a 1950s model of unaccountable, supranational government leading inexorably to ever-closer political union – a model which has already brought untold economic suffering to southern Europe and a migration crisis across the entire continent, and which promises only further unrest as the decisions taken by unelected European leaders diverge ever more widely from the interests of ordinary people.

The pro-EU bishops are certainly entitled to their position. But it is a very strange choice, coming down so fervently against the side of democracy. And a choice which many of them may struggle to explain in the near future.


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Top Image: Telegraph

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When The Established Church Goes To War With Half The Country

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What to do when the established church makes no attempt to hide its hatred for conservatives?

Those who watch Gogglebox are no doubt familiar with the Reverend Kate Bottley, whose ambassadorship for the Church of England probably reaches many millions more people than most bishops.

Should we be concerned, then, that one of the established church’s most high profile characters holds a seething contempt and hatred for one of our country’s two main political parties?

Archbishop Cranmer lays down the charge, based on Bottley’s recent on-air admission that “I hate it when I agree with a Tory”:

She wasn’t wearing her dog collar this week, but she doesn’t need to: the whole country knows (and so do Channel 4 editors and producers) that she is a Church of England vicar and a minister of the Word. And she is very well liked and respected: there is no hint of moral or doctrinal delinquency, but national admiration for her personal spirituality and great teaching capacity. She is a manifestly gifted, active communicator who is dedicated to serving her parish.

But ministry isn’t simply service, for that is the whole of Christian life. Her task as a vicar is distinctively liturgical, catechetical and pastoral, principally for the needs of the whole Christian community, including Tories. As an ordained priest, she is both servant and shepherd among the people to whom she has been sent, and that includes Tories. Her task is to proclaim the Word of the Lord and to watch for signs of God’s new creation, including in Tories. Her vocation is to teach, admonish, feed and provide for her flock, which includes Tories.

The majority of England is instinctively conservative: it appears to be a natural disposition; an affinity with the natural order; part of the psyche of essential Englishness. The Rev’d Kate Bottley is by no means obliged to approve of that: indeed, she is free to repudiate its consoling power and turn her religious fervour to more meaningful transcendent bonds. But you’d think there might be some sensitivity to the political-philosophical implications for mission praxis. Why should those Tories who attend her church bother to listen to her tell the story of God’s love, if all the time she is pinching her nose at their spiritual halitosis? Why should all those Tories who watch Gogglebox even consider walking with her in the way of Christ, hoping to be nurtured and encouraged in their faith? Why should they gather round the Lord’s Table if their vicar deems them to be unworthy or unable to resist the evil philosophies of men?

Bottley is far from an isolated case. Seething anti-Tory sentiment clearly exists much higher up in the church hierarchy, too, judging by the Bishop of Manchester’s decision to play host to Jeremy Corbyn and a left-wing rally coinciding with the Conservative Party conference taking place in the city.

Long gone, it seems, are the days when the Church of England was commonly known as the Tory party at prayer. And with church personalities using their pulpits to inveigh against right-wing policies and pontificate on the supposed dangers of Brexit, the time has come to urgently look again at the privileged position which the partisan established church holds in our constitution.


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The Bishop And The Brexit Debate


Apparently, Brexit constitutes a “nightmare scenario” for the Bishop of Guildford. No surprise, coming from an established church with such a dubious record on democracy

Should bishops in the Church of England (or indeed the leaders of any other religious denomination) be free to speak their minds on the subject of Brexit and in advising their flocks how to vote in the coming EU referendum?

Of course they should. To suggest otherwise would be an unconscionable encroachment on religious liberty – the only exception being the intolerable Lords Spiritual whose anachronistic and unwelcome presence in the House of Lords makes Britain, like Iran, a technical theocracy.

But while non-political bishops have every right to express an opinion on Brexit, so we have the right to criticise their thinking on the subject, which tends to be woolly at best, and arrogant with a twist of elitism at worst.

King of the woolly thinkers is the Bishop of Guildford, who shared this recent gem on Twitter:

Adrian Hilton of Archbishop Cranmer dissects the Bishop of Guildford’s europhile ramblings over at Reimagining Europe:

So we read that the Brexit “nightmare” would be “very sad” because it would mark a return to “competing nationalisms” and “very dangerous times”. The EU has been “integral in delivering seven decades of peace and economic security”.We must resist the “widespread rise of populism” because “we are European” and “have nothing to fear or to lose if we remain so”. The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, wants a ‘Third Way’, but that isn’t on the ballot paper. And the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, aims directly for the Tories, but this isn’t a general election. As you see, it’s all impeccable political neutrality with rigorous episcopal impartiality.

The laity and other clergy will, of course, make up their own minds, but what manner of neutrality is it when CofE comms tells the media that the institution is neither for remaining nor leaving, while many in the House of Bishops preach the Gospel of Remain? Would a bishop ever tweet that his (or her) “nightmare” would be to wake up to a Corbyn premiership? What guilt does the prospect of voting for the Bishops’ (it probably is plural) Brexit “nightmare scenario” inculcate in the spiritually-discerning democratic intellect of the laity and subordinate clergy?

And here is the crux:

Some say we’d be poorer; others that the cost of holidays would rise; still others that our power stations would go dark and terrorism would increase. There is equal expert opinion to the contrary in every case, and it’s hardly four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse stuff, is it? The matter of whether our national destiny is to be bound in perpetuity to an anti-democratic United States of Europe which is creeping, ratchet-like, toward continent-wide assimilation and uniformity cannot simply be distilled to short-term economic interests or security scaremongering.

I can understand Bishop Andrew’s desire to sustain a political union which is ostensibly based on sound Christian principles such as subsidiarity and solidarity. But, as Philip Booth has shown, the EU is antithetical to the very concept of localism, notwithstanding the letter of Maastricht. And I feel sure that the Greeks, Spanish, Italians and Portuguese might balk at assertions that the EU project is any longer concerned with fraternal solidarity, mutuality and social harmony.

This isn’t an organic social contract for diversity, liberty and limited state power, but a fabricated mechanism for the enforcement of national assimilation. When you’re locked – seemingly irrevocably – into a model of “economic governance” which hinders growth, destroys jobs, increases poverty, and leads mothers to abandon their children on the streets and fathers to commit suicide, I have to put to Bishop Andrew that his Brexit “nightmare scenario” would be welcomed by millions of Greeks as a dream of Grexit bliss.

The bishops’ willingness to swallow pro-EU talking points and then arrogantly sound off in public about how the EU has “kept the peace” and “delivered prosperity” is not just intellectually lazy. I would charge that it is a failure in their duty of pastoral care to all Christians in their flock, to accuse those who want Britain to leave the EU of trying to bring about a “nightmare scenario”.

Since when did believing in national democracy and sovereignty based at the level of a commonly understood demos represent a “nightmare” for the Church of England? Since when did the concept of self-determination (as opposed to slavishly following a pre-determined path toward unwanted European political integration set in motion decades ago) become unwelcome? And why is the Church willing to wring its hands and worry about human rights abuses and dictatorship abroad, but turn a blind eye when the rights of its own fellow citizens to determine the course of their own future is suppressed by Brussels?

At its root, the pro-European instincts of many bishops seem to rest in a desperate, stubborn insistence in seeing the world – and the European Union – as they would like it to be, rather than how it actually is. As Hilton suggests, the idea of the bad aspects of nationalism being eroded and replaced by shared European values of a vaguely left-wing bent of “subsidiarity and solidarity” is all well and good. But there is no European demos, and the relentless march toward further integration in the absence of a shared feeling of European-ness above national identity will only compound the simmering resentment.

The Church of England would clearly love nothing so much as to operate in a world where the nation state was consigned to the history books, and where we are primarily governed at a European level – no doubt as a stepping stone toward one world government. And they are entitled to that worldview, premature and perverse though it is.

But the Church and her bishops should at least show some embarrassment and contrition at the fact that by casting any concern for democracy aside and throwing their lot in with the European Union, they are helping to impose an elitist vision of a politically united Europe which more people vehemently oppose than have been scared and bullied by the Remain campaign into meekly supporting.

It is not the job of any Christian (least of all me) to judge another’s adherence to and practising of their faith, and so I will pass no comment on whether Andrew Watson’s gnawing fear that the British people might vote for self-government makes him a bad Christian.

But I will say without hesitation or apology that it does make him a bad citizen, a weak example of a community leader and an emblem of everything that is wrong with the established church’s continued role in the political life of our country.


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Bottom Image: Abbreviated cartoon by Dave Walker

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The Daily Smackdown: Cynical Bishops Exploit Terrorism For Publicity

BBC Religion Television

Who will condemn the bishops for exploiting our fear of terrorism in their grubby bid to preserve taxpayer funding of the BBC’s religious output?

The Church of England is very upset that the BBC is considering cutting the amount of taxpayer money it spends on (predominantly) Christian television output.

From the Telegraph:

A spokeswoman confirmed that the BBC was planning to “look at ways we can reduce costs” as it faced “huge financial challenges” but added that cuts would come from across the corporation.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, the Church of England’s lead spokesman on media issues, said the move could threaten something which was “fundamental to our public life”.

“It seems to me that religion has already taken a hit,” he said.

“It has already been reduced certainly in terms of its scope as an independent part of the BBC, at a time when we already need – as everyone acknowledges – more religious literacy in the nation.”

Nothing unusual there. The Church of England is a well oiled lobbying machine, and any private organisation lucky enough to have a bloc of 26 unelected representatives sitting in parliament to influence our laws in their favour would be foolish not to make good use of them. Thus it is no surprise that the unelected theocrats of our state church have been hard at work speaking out against the BBC’s planned actions.

But the fact that the Church of England’s behaviour is understandable does not make it any less reprehensible. Firstly, because it makes a total mockery of the idea of the BBC as an independent broadcaster. Nobody seriously believes that an organisation whose budget is nearly totally dependent on taxpayer money can be truly independent, but the fact that the Lords Spiritual are now actually speaking in parliament about the internal decisions and strategy of the BBC makes any pretence of the BBC’s impartiality or the government’s non-involvement utterly ridiculous.

Worse than this, though, is the flimsy rationale now offered by the bishops as a pathetic excuse for more taxpayer funded religious programming:

Bishops have warned the BBC it risks turnings its back on efforts to tackle extremism and aid integration by slashing spending on religious programming.

[..] The first female cleric in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, remarked that the decision had presumably been taken “to reduce the possibility of offending people with too much God stuff over the holiday”.

It is good to see the newly enobled Rachel Treweek, my Lord Bishop of Gloucester, is wasting no time in rolling up her sleeves and interfering in our national democracy as generations of theocrats have done before her. She will be making the home team very proud. But unfortunately, she and her fellow Lords Spiritual are talking nonsense.

The argument that cutting the amount of taxpayer money devoted to religious television and radio programming on the state broadcaster is somehow a threat to anti-extremism efforts is as ridiculous as it is unfounded.

More moderate Christianity on TV will not result in less Islamic extremism on the margins of British society. And pontificating, busybody bishops who abuse their parliamentary platform to suggest otherwise should provide evidence for the supposed link, or else retract the claim and admit that they are simply exploiting serious issues of national security in a cheap ploy to gain more taxpayer-funded airtime.

The real issue is not so much the pull factor of extremism as the push factor of the alienation of too many young Muslims from British society. It’s the fact that we have living among us too many self-segregated societies comprised of people who hold the same passports as us, but look upon us – and the enlightenment values of reason, education, liberty and democracy to which we try to adhere – as alien and unwelcome. By failing to inculcate a strong and inclusive sense of Britishness, out of craven fear of causing offence, we provide the Islamist recruiters with easy fodder.

Do my Lord Bishops of Gloucester and Norwich (flowery titles for a bygone age) seriously believe that the kind of alienated youths and their families who are now quietly slipping away to ISIS in Syria or seeking out radicalising materials online are the same type of people who tune in to BBC Two at six o’clock in the evening, ready to be reached out to and placated with a documentary about public spirited imams, rabbis and priests working together to open a new community centre? What nonsense.

The people most in need of the BBC’s moderate religious programming and generally liberal worldview are those whose eyes are glued to YouTube videos of anti-American 9/11 conspiracy theories or seditious social media conversations on their smartphone screens. More government intervention – be it through Prevent or the BBC – is not going to make meaningful inroads to these people. The only lasting solution must come from the bottom up, a revitalisation of patriotism and pride in Britain, and the promotion of a common British identity which transcends racial divides (rather than revelling in a multicultural dystopia which sees groups living side by side but separately in parallel, alienated lives.

Do the Lord Bishops have anything meaningful to say about that? No, they do not – perhaps with the exception of the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres.

This is in no way intended as an attack on religion, or on the Church of England (so long as it stays within its own boundaries and stops trying to play an undue role in our public life). I grew up watching Songs of Praise on a Sunday, and have happy memories of doing so. But it is not right for general taxpayers of an increasingly secular country to continue funding religious programming using a model that invites some appointed bureaucrat or another to choose which religions or denominations are to be favoured above others.

Perhaps the Lords Spiritual begin to grasp this. Perhaps they are grasping at these increasingly ludicrous excuses for their continued influence because deep down, they realise that they have no place in the government of a twenty-first century democracy.

But if these are the death throes of theocracy in Britain, they are still very offensive indeed. Claiming that the BBC should continue to spend taxpayer money on religious output favouring the established church because failing to do so will unleash more extremism – and note how the bishops cannot bring themselves to utter the name of the religion from which that extremism currently emanates – is cynical and manipulative, playing on the fears of British people just to win more free promotion.

I have never expected much from the Church of England’s upper hierarchy, or their antidemocratic parliamentary delegation. But this is low, even by their rock-bottom standards.

First female bishop to sit in House of Lords

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Church Of England Parliamentary Team Revel In Their Antidemocratic Role

Church of England - Church and State - Parliament - Lords Spiritual - Cartoon - 2

The Church of England’s Parliamentary Team have taken to joking on Twitter about the various ways in which they subvert British democracy. But there’s nothing funny about these modern-day theocrats

Imagine if a private sector firm had twenty six seats in the upper house of the British Parliament and possessed the ability to debate bills, lobby government ministers and even vote on Acts of Parliament – all without receiving a single vote from anyone in the United Kingdom. That organisation would be counting its undeserved blessings, and doing its best to keep a low profile and avoid drawing attention to their wildly over-privileged position.

If the RMT possessed nearly thirty votes in Parliament and used them to thwart key transport bills or trade union legislation, there would rightly be an uproar. If Tesco had their own parliamentary caucus who voted against minimum wage increases and greater employee protection rights, people would march on Westminster with burning torches to evict the voice of the Evil Corporations. And yet when the Church of England enjoys the exact same privilege – twenty six Lords Spiritual who sit in the House of Lords and exert influence over our democracy in the name of the established church – there is a deafening silence.

Well not quite. The one group of people making any kind of noise about this state of affairs are the Church of England’s own Parliamentary Team, who thought that it would be in great taste to post this cartoon on their official Twitter feed today:

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