Current affairs abound in dichotomies, real and imagined. The past few days have taught me that right this news-second there are two people in this great nation of ours: those who are in an almighty froth over Rowan Williams’ recent speech, and those who have actually read it.
… The secular lawyer needs to know where the potential conflict is real, legally and religiously serious, and where it is grounded in either nuisance or ignorance. There can be no blank cheques given to unexamined scruples….
…it is not enough to say that citizenship as an abstract form of equal access and equal accountability is either the basis or the entirety of social identity and personal motivation. Where this has been enforced, it has proved a weak vehicle for the life of a society and has often brought violent injustice in its wake (think of the various attempts to reduce citizenship to rational equality in the France of the 1790â€™s or the China of the 1970â€™s)….
…the important springs of moral vision in a society will be in those areas which a systematic abstract universalism regards as â€˜privateâ€™ â€“ in religion above all, but also in custom and habit. The role of â€˜secularâ€™ law is not the dissolution of these things in the name of universalism but the monitoring of such affiliations to prevent the creation of mutually isolated communities in which human liberties are seen in incompatible ways and individual persons are subjected to restraints or injustices for which there is no public redress.
Of course, forming any vehement, bombastic opinion based on mere soundbites such as the above—taken as they might be of out the context of an eight-page speech—would be pernicious and lazy, and I don’t expect you to do that at all; rather, I hope you’ll keep an open mind until such time as you actually check through what he said. Williams probably expected people to act in the same responsible way too, I imagine. He’s also terribly bad at soundbites, as the length of the above quotes suggest; this failing in particular may yet be his downfall.
Anyway, reading a somewhat dry legalese speech, delivered in a style which sometimes veers close to a Private Eye impression of the man himself, is no doubt far down on your list. I understand that: you’re busy; I’m busy; we all lead busy lives. I wouldn’t have read it myself, were it not for me being unable to conscience writing this post without doing so. But here’s a tip: until you get round to an evening with Rowan, don’t join a Facebook group with a title containing two punctuation mistakes. It might give people the wrong idea.