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The Archbishop Misplaces His Modesty

I love a good row in the British press. The headlines are so amusing. My recent favorite: HAS THE ARCHBISHOP GONE BONKERS?

You see, the mild-mannered Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, unexpectedly found himself the cause of an enormous brouhaha. In a talk delivered at the Royal Courts of Justice on February 7, the symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican communion claimed that the introduction of elements of shari’a law in England was “unavoidable.” The archbishop suggested that this was not a bad thing, as it could promote “social cohesion and creativity.”

From the furious reaction, it is apparent that the British people—or most of them—would rather stick with British law, thank you very much. In addition to questioning his sanity, the press accused Williams of being a traitor and decried his “craven counsel of despair.”

I read his remarks in their entirety to make sure he wasn’t taken out of context. It was a tedious piece of work. Part of one sentence will give you the feel for it: “[T]here is a risk of assuming that ‘mainstream’ jurisprudence should routinely and unquestioningly bypass the variety of ways in which actions are as a matter of fact understood by agents in the light of the diverse sorts of communal belonging they are involved in.” A fine bit of socio-babble.

But disguised beneath the gobbledygook is an even worse idea (as is often the case): that British law is an undue imposition on immigrants or those who have “diverse sorts of communal belonging.”

The archbishop (along with the rest of the chattering class of Western society) is suffering from what G.K. Chesterton described as misplaced modesty. “Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition,” he said, and “has settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself but undoubting about the truth.”

The archbishop is very modest in his convictions regarding Christianity, especially its moral precepts, so it is quite unsurprising that he is modest about the merits of a little thing like equal protection under the law.

Thankfully, another London archbishop spoke up. “I don’t believe in a multicultural society,” said Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, (Roman Catholic) Archbishop of Westminster, in an interview with The Telegraph.

When people come into this country they have to obey the laws of the land. . . . Of course you can keep the variety of traditions, but when you enter this country there are common values which are part of its heritage, which should be embraced by everybody. . . . You need the clarification of what we’ve inherited in this country, which is the Judeo-Christian heritage and the values that have flown from that, and they’re the only values that cement society in this country—democracy, the dignity of the person, care for the poor, justice.


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