Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Continuing the debate with Gracchi on the Archbishop of Canterbury

My ongoing debate with Gracchi about whether the Archbishop should resign continues. Gracchi has posted again making two points.

1. He identifies what he sees as an inconsistency in my making both these two points:

1) The Archbishop isn't really raising interesting issues. He didn't raise the issue of curbs on speech that offends the religious or the introduction of some elements of Sharia - he just gave them establishment credibility. As such, we shouldn't be grateful for his raising the issue and can, in an undiluted fashion, criticise him for lending the Church of England's institutional weight to the wrong side.

2) Gracchi likes the Archbishop because he has the qualities of a university professor (interesting opinions on 1920s French neo-scholastic art theory, for example). If that is the case he should go back to the university.

I don't think there is any kind of contradiction there. The fact is that the issues the Archbishop raises using his position as Archbishop aren't interesting. Both the obvious examples were already well raised and I can't think of an interesting contribution he has made except to make the debate far more muddled and poisonous. He is an industrial plant discharging into the lake that is the British political debate. Killing both clarity and good humour. His position doesn't allow him to promote debate on French 1920s neo-scholastic art theory. No one would listen, even to an Archbishop, on such an issue. If he leaves the post of Archbishop he will, in all likelihood, go back to academic life. Then Gracchi can have what he wants.

Gracchi's second point is essentially that he disagrees with the Archbishop's analysis but thinks there is nothing that should upset people in it. The only way Gracchi can do this is to present an extremely sanitised version of the Archbishop's speech that removes the clear and explicit attack on equality before the law and the exceptionally forgiving attitude towards Sharia. In doing so he has lost about two thirds of the Archbishop's speech.

If Gracchi is going to argue that there is nothing for people to really get upset about in what Williams said then he needs to address my analysis as to why they are justified in feeling angry. To leap too quickly to the idea that the public are irrational is very condescending.

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