Theological economics

What might be some of the most basic faith-derived or faith-related values that we might want to put into our present crisis and its challenges? And I’ll simply suggest three. First – keeping promises. On the whole, religious people believe in a divine agent, power or presence that is faithful, consistent, dependable, truthful. As we seek to live a life that is in harmony with that divine reality, then faithfulness and trustworthiness are utterly fundamental to how we approach our sense of the good life. The further away you are from the people you’re contracting with, the harder it is to keep a lively and vivid and self-critical sense of the necessity of keeping promises.
Second, the sense of living in a world that does not belong to you and is not simply under your control. It is a gift to be stewarded and creatively and justly used. And going with that, of course, the sense that your own will and your own desires don’t necessarily define what’s good for anybody or anything. …in Leviticus we’re told very firmly that the land is, so to speak, lent to you. You don’t own land as a thing; you control the profits of the land over certain limited periods, because the land belongs to the Lord. The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it, and that, I think, is again the fundamental principle.
And the third religiously derived and related principle, is the belief that ultimately, what is good for me and what is good for you are not detached, separate, non-connecting things. Finally, my life and your life belong together. My flourishing and your flourishing belong together. …We as Christians talk about the image of God, and Jews also. But however we put it, there is that sense that humanity is, in some sense, one. As a Christian, that would go still further, to the imagery of the body of Christ, in the sense that the suffering of one becomes the suffering of all, and the wealth or welfare of one becomes the wealth or welfare of all.

Archbishop Rowan offers some principles

A fundamental lack of conviction

The idea that any action, however extreme or disruptive or even murderous, is justified if it averts failure or defeat for a particular belief or a particular religious group is not really consistent with the conviction that our failure does not mean God’s failure. Indeed, it reveals a fundamental lack of conviction in the eternity and sufficiency of the object of faith.

Religious violence suggests an underlying religious insecurity. When different communities have the same sort of conviction of the absolute truth of their perspective, there is certainly an intellectual and spiritual challenge to be met; but the logic of this belief ought to make it plain that there can be no justification for the sort of violent contest in which any means, however inhuman, can be justified by appeal to the need to ‘protect God’s interests’. Even to express it in those terms is to show how absurd it is. The eternal God cannot need ‘protection’ by the tactics of human violence. This point is captured in the words of Jesus before the Roman governor: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fightâ€? (John 19.36).

Archbishop of Canterbury – Response to ‘A Common Word between Us’

One local church alone is no Church

If it is true that, as Tertullian said, ‘one Christian is no Christian’, then by the same token we should be able to say, ‘one bishop is no bishop’, and so ‘one local church alone is no church ‘. A bishop is not an individual who ‘represents’ the local church as if he is empowered to speak for its local identity like a politician for his constituency. The bishop is above all the person who sustains and nourishes within the local church an awareness of its dependency on the apostolic mission, on the gift from beyond its boundaries, of the Church established by the Risen Lord – and he does this, of course, primarily and irreducibly as the celebrant of the ‘Catholic oblation’. Hence, again from the earliest days, the clustering of local churches and their bishops around metropolitan sees which represented the channels through which the Gospel came to be shared; and hence the insistence (an insistence that might almost be called fierce in many instances) that bishops received ordination from their neighbours in the metropolia under the leadership of the local primate – and hence too the seriousness of communicating episcopal election by letter to the region and the severity of the sanction of removing a bishop’s name from the formal intercession list.

Primacy needs to be seen as a sign of the continuing reality of active tradition—that is, the sharing of the gift—as the foundation of each local church. So it should be exercised in the service of the further sharing of the gift; this is why it is problematic if a local church so interprets the gift it has received that it cannot fully share it beyond its own cultural home territory… reminding the local assembly and its chief pastor that it must not lose its recognisability or receivability to other communities – across the globe and throughout history.

Archbishop Rowan Williams Rome, Constantinople, and Canterbury: Mother Churches?

Churches fail to mobilise public opinion

Some 18 different groups – mostly of Catholic and evangelical inspiration, mostly small outfits – have united to oppose the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in a campaign called Passion for Life. But it has failed to make much impact in the media. The pro-abortion and pro-embryo research lobbies are far more powerful, far better organized, and use sophisticated, well-funded PR techniques to get their message across.

But the pro-Life movement also has to ask itself where it is going wrong. More than 50 percent of people oppose the creation of hybrids, two-thirds of the population want there to be fewer abortions, and there is deep unease about “saviour siblingsâ€?. Fewer than 10 percent of the British population go to church, so this is not, despite appearances, a disagreement between religious people and secularists – despite these being the voices most often heard in the debate. Yet the pro-Life movement is seen as an essentially religious lobby, for whom embryos have souls and for whom abortion is above all about sin. The fact that the pro-Life movement has been unable to capitalize on the widespread unease at the further erosion of respect for human life should cause it to reflect not just on its aims and strategies, but on its inability to connect with wider public opinion.

Austen Ivereigh Emancipate the Embryo

Passion for Life – MPs vote ‘Yes’ to animal/human mixed embryos, ‘Yes’ to Saviour (or spare part) siblings, ‘Yes’ to end of Fatherhood and ‘No’ to tighter abortion laws

What the Archbishop actually said

My Archbishop was given the title Civil and Religious law in England: A Religious Perspective.

But my Archbishop did not say that ‘some aspects of Sharia law “seem unavoidable”‘, as is widely reported.

He said that

a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters, so that ‘power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents’ (Ayelet Shachar Multicultural Jurisdictions: Cultural Differences and Women’s Rights (2001) p. 122) – seems unavoidable.

and this introduces into our thinking about law what some would see as a ‘market’ element, a competition for loyalty.

But if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it seems unavoidable.

An element of competition between jurisdictions, or a ‘market’ of jurisdictions, for certain carefully specified matters – THIS seems unavoidable’.

It seems unavoidable given that what we want is ‘a pattern of relations…in which overlapping affiliations work for a common good’.

It is only unavoidable if we want the common good, mind.

What did the Archbishop actually say?

The Archbishop made no proposals for sharia in either the lecture or the interview, and certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law.

In other words, the reporting of this lecture was untruthful. Lambeth does understatement, I do understatement. Do you really need me to say ‘They lied’?

So what did he really say?

In his lecture, the Archbishop sought carefully to explore the limits of a unitary and secular legal system in the presence of an increasingly plural (including religiously plural) society and to see how such a unitary system might be able to accommodate religious claims. Behind this is the underlying principle that Christians cannot claim exceptions from a secular unitary system on religious grounds (for instance in situations where Christian doctors might not be compelled to perform abortions), if they are not willing to consider how a unitary system can accommodate other religious consciences. In doing so the Archbishop was not suggesting the introduction of parallel legal jurisdictions, but exploring ways in which reasonable accommodation might be made within existing arrangements for religious conscience.

What did the Archbishop actually say?

The media is hostile here in the UK, to the Christian faith, but also simply to ideas. The Archbishop was invited by jurists to give a lecture, in the High Court, to the relationship of law and communities. The press headline was ‘Archbishop says Sharia ‘inevitable”. This is what you can expect from our press. They consider the Church easy meat, as indeed it is as long as we have no basic ecclesiology. It would be a pity if Christians around the world were unable to read our headlines of our media without any critical hermeneutic. When see the media stoning a Christian, you conclude that he must have done something wrong? Did you learn nothing from Regensburg?

My Archbishop said that more formal recognition of the range of jurisdictions is ‘unavoidable’. There is a range of jurisdictions, so for example, two participants to a dispute are sometimes able to choose which tribunal they wish their (civil) case to be examined under. This is takes place now, has always taken place and is very basic to English common law. The only strange thing is that governments have been in denial about this in recent decades. This is part of a decay of civil society that is consequent on understanding our relationships to each other only in terms of rights (and never responsibilities) and understanding governments as service-providers and ourselves as consumers of their products. The result of this is that we believe that governments are to do everything and we are to do nothing: over the long term this makes for totalitarianism – and it is no less totalitarian because we are complicit in it.

The Archbishop believes it is ‘unavoidable’ that this denial, of civil society, by governments and people, should come to an end. He is right that it should come to an end, and I hope he is right that its end is ‘unavoidable’. But if this sort of intelligent, and Christian, contribution to the public square is so vehemently jeered off by the media (BBC is no different from the Murdoch press in this) a smaller, stupider public square in which no one dare say anything intelligent (never mind anything Christian) is the only ‘unavoidable’ thing here. Like any Christian, an Archbishop can take a lot of flack from opponents of the Church, and it is his priestly calling to do so. But when you, a member of the Church, stand in judgment on him and so leave him to face this fury on his own – who will be there for you, when you are the one picked on?

Secularity is good

The Archbishop of Canterbury gave a speech entitled Civil and Religious Law in England: a religious perspective

In contrast to what is sometimes assumed, we do not simply have a standoff between two rival legal systems when we discuss Islamic and British law…

If the law of the land takes no account of what might be for certain agents a proper rationale for behaviour – for protest against certain unforeseen professional requirements, for instance, which would compromise religious discipline or belief – it fails in a significant way to communicate with someone involved in the legal process and so fails in one of its purposes.

There is a recognition that our social identities are not constituted by one exclusive set of relations or mode of belonging – even if one of those sets is regarded as relating to the most fundamental and non-negotiable level of reality, as established by a ‘covenant’ between the divine and the human (as in Jewish and Christian thinking; once again, we are not talking about an exclusively Muslim problem). The danger arises not only when there is an assumption on the religious side that membership of the community (belonging to the umma or the Church or whatever) is the only significant category, so that participation in other kinds of socio-political arrangement is a kind of betrayal. It also occurs when secular government assumes a monopoly in terms of defining public and political identity. There is a position – not at all unfamiliar in contemporary discussion – which says that to be a citizen is essentially and simply to be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state, in such a way that any other relations, commitments or protocols of behaviour belong exclusively to the realm of the private and of individual choice.

Anthony Bradney offers some examples of legal rulings which have disregarded the account offered by religious believers of the motives for their own decisions, on the grounds that the court alone is competent to assess the coherence or even sincerity of their claims. And when courts attempt to do this on the grounds of what is ‘generally acceptable’ behaviour in a society, they are open, Bradney claims, to the accusation of undermining the principle of liberal pluralism by denying someone the right to speak in their own voice.

The Archbishop is asking a single question, to two audiences – liberal secularists and British Muslims.

Can the State be truly secular? Can it provide the open stage for a variety of ways of life in one national community? Can the State avoid turning secularity into an ideological secularism that denies real pluralism? It denies real pluralism when it blanks out all our motivations, determining that they are merely private, interior to the individual, and may have no public expression. Our motivations relate to traditions of thought, religious and other. Is the State determined to make us all ‘citizens’, on the French pattern? Is the State able to allow any community to provide its own forms of arbitration? If not then, then we will have the courts ruling on every industrial dispute for example, because there can be no local forms of arbitration between employers and unions. We will have the courts deciding on divorces because the State cannot tolerate any panels, not instituted by law, by which couples could attempt their own reconciliations or settlements.

The same question, put to the Muslim community, might take this form:

Can the Muslim community support the secular public square? Can it concede that it shares the public square with non-Muslims? Can the Muslim community obey the whole law of the land, and allow, support even promote civil society? Civil society is a society made up of communities that promote many different, ‘non-islamic’, ways of life. Is Islam able to find within itself the resources to say that ‘islam’ must mean submission to the law of this country and thus to civil society, made up as it is of other religious traditions?

Citizenship in a secular society should not necessitate the abandoning of religious discipline, any more than religious discipline should deprive one of access to liberties secured by the law of the land.

If we give up talking of truth power has the last word

In our own country, it seems to be assumed by many that if we could only get the relation between ‘faith communities’ right, social harmony would inevitably follow. And conversely, any expression of a belief that one’s own religious loyalty is absolute, any statement of the belief that I, as a Christian or a Muslim or a Buddhist or whatever, am speaking the truth, is regarded as threatening and unacceptable. Surely the problem lies with this contest over the truth; surely, if religious people would stop speaking about truth and acknowledge that they were only expressing opinions and conditional loyalties, we should be spared the risk of continuing social conflict and even violence.

But what this hopeful fantasy conceals is an assumption that talking about truth is always less important than talking about social harmony; and, since social harmony doesn’t seem to have any universal self-evident definition, it is bound to be defined by those who happen to hold power at any given time – which, uncomfortably, implies that power itself is more important than truth. To be concerned about truth is at least to recognise that there are things about humanity and the world that cannot be destroyed by oppression and injustice, that no power can dismantle. The cost of giving up talking of truth is high: it means admitting that power has the last word. And ever since Plato’s Republic political thinkers have sought to avoid this conclusion, because it means that there is no significance at all in the witness of someone who stands against the powers that prevail at any given time; somehow, political philosophy needs to give an account of suffering for the sake of conscience, and without a notion of truth that is more than simply a list of the various things people prefer to believe, no such account can be given.

Archbishop of Canterbury Lecture given at the Building Bridges Conference in Singapore

The erosion of something once taken for granted

Slippage can occur between thinking compassionately about exceptional cases and losing the sense of a normative position.

This is not an argument for unalterable prohibitions in law against abortion in every circumstance – or against divorce or civil partnerships; there is room for disagreement over appropriate legal provision in all these areas. But it is an argument for keeping our eyes open – far more than we have done – for the unintended consequences, the erosion of something once taken for granted which occurs when we do not keep in focus the fundamental convictions about humanity that inform not only our responses to crisis but our routine relationships with each other. Precisely because we don’t bring these convictions to light all that often, they can shift or weaken without our noticing. It’s not a good habit for societies to get into; this debate, and the history of what has happened in the wake of the 1967 (Abortion) Act, should remind us of some of the potential cost of such a habit in other areas.

Rowan Williams on Abortion’s other consequences

The Church poses a challenge – Williams

The presence of the Church, not as a clamorous interest group but as a community confident of its rootedness in something beyond the merely political, expresses a vision of human dignity and mutual human obligation which, because of its indifference to popular success or official legitimation, poses to every other community a special sort of challenge. ‘Civil society’ is the recognized shorthand description for all those varieties of human association that rest on willing co-operation for the sake of social goods that belong to the whole group, not just to any individual or faction, and which are not created or wholly controlled by state authority. As such, their very existence presupposes persons who are able to take responsibility for themselves and to trust one another in this enterprise. The presence of the Christian community puts to civil society the question of where we look for the foundation of such confidence about responsibility and trustworthiness: does this set of assumptions about humanity rest on a fragile human agreement, on the decision of human beings to behave as if they were responsible, or on something deeper and less contingent, something to which any and every human society is finally answerable?

Archbishop Rowan Williams Faith Communities in a Civil Society