The Archbishop & Sharia: two more contributions

by Richard on February 11, 2008

Our friend Dave Warnock

In so many ways in our society we need to move up the level of debate, increase the degree to which intelligence is used and respected, improve our determination to understanding others. Sadly the key things this issue has highlighted is that the press have very little interest in this, even more sadly many Christians are following the lead of the press.

And it was only a matter of time before Wood stuck his splendid oar in, showing us the results of his patented headline translator. Here’s one:


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }


J 02.11.08 at 5:21 pm

Wood’s right - a lot of public figures are angry, and refuse to condescend to Williams’ stupidity. The speech is an easy read, and contains a few gems:

“just a few days ago, it was reported that a ‘forced marriage’ involving a young woman with learning difficulties had been ’sanctioned under sharia law’ – the kind of story that, in its assumption that we all ‘really’ know what is involved in the practice of sharia, powerfully reinforces the image of – at best – a pre-modern system in which human rights have no role”

No Rowan, the story doesn’t assume we know anything. It reports on a forced marriage, evidently justified under Sharia law, at least in the opinion of those doing the forcing. Obviously, they could be wrong - even the Saudis have outlawed the practice. But it’s pretty safe to say human rights have no role in a legal/moral framework that permits forced marriages.

“Or we might think of the rather more serious cluster of questions around forced marriages, where again it is crucial to distinguish between cultural and strictly religious dimensions”

Again, no. There is no “cluster” of questions, serious or otherwise. What’s wrong is wrong. Also, what’s the point of distinguishing between the religious and the cultural when those we’re observing make no such distinction?

“It would be a pity if the immense advances in the recognition of human rights led, because of a misconception about legal universality, to a situation where a person was defined primarily as the possessor of a set of abstract liberties and the law’s function was accordingly seen as nothing but the securing of those liberties irrespective of the custom and conscience of those groups which concretely compose a plural modern society”

Why would that be a pity? Are human rights not universal?

I’d encourage everybody to read the speech (it’s linked in another post here), because I suspect Williams isn’t the only religious leader who buys into this BS. It’s an interesting window into the “multicultural” mindset.

I hope what Williams really means is that members of religious groups should be free to voluntarily submit to religious based dispute resolution and other customs where they don’t violate existing law, though I’m pretty sure thay already are. But the law shouldn’t be changed to allow someone to waive their civil/human rights pre-emptively, nor should it subordinate its protection of those rights to any other culture.

A part of me suspects your defense of Williams is more contrarian than substantive.


Dave Warnock 02.11.08 at 7:09 pm


“Why would that be a pity? Are human rights not universal?”

Wow talk about missing the point. We cannot be human as isolated individuals, what makes us persons is relationships both with other humans and with God.

It is dehumanising and anti Christian to focus entirely on rights of individuals. As has been said before there is no such thing as an individual/solitary Christian. Therefore Human Rights need to be understood within the context of a group/community or they mean nothing (hence why solitary confinement is cruel).

Besides if you read my post you will see that I am not defending Archbishop Williams position so much as the need for leaders to use intelligence and to challenge simplistic black and white portrayals (which the press use so powerfully).


Wood 02.11.08 at 7:33 pm

Wood’s right - a lot of public figures are angry, and refuse to condescend to Williams’ stupidity. The speech is an easy read, and contains a few gems:

Oh come on. You’re just being a tosser now.


Beth 02.11.08 at 8:48 pm

“An easy read”? Rilly? C’mon, J, you can’t be serious about that…


fatprophet 02.11.08 at 9:00 pm

If J thinks it is an easy read either he is a superior being or I am a complete thicko - I tried reading it three times and it might as well have been written in tongues - mind I might have had more chance of understanding it if it had been and may well have been able to offer the interpretation for it.


J 02.12.08 at 1:21 pm

Perhaps I should have said a relatively quick read of faux intellectual nonsense, not tongues. Anyway…

Dave, give me a break. I didn’t miss any point; RW is full of it, and his reasoning on human rights is a straw man he should be embarrassed to even attempt. Human rights are universal, it IS the job of the law and it’s enforcement mechanisms to protect them, and those things have nothing to do with one’s individual or group identity. A “custom or conscience” that thinks women are property and homosexuals should be executed for being homosexual doesn’t deserve any respect from the legal system or any other societal element. I’d love to find some nuance here, but in reality this is, in fact, a “simplistic black and white” issue, and RW’s on the wrong side of it. I don’t see any harm in calling him on it.


Richard 02.12.08 at 1:41 pm

If you can find any part of Rowan’s speech or further clarification that in any way suggests he is advocating the things you suggest, by all means point it out. But you won’t. Because you can’t.


J 02.12.08 at 9:22 pm

Read that third quote again. RW says it’s a misconception that human rights are legally universal and that enforcing them should respect the “custom and conscience” of societal subgroups. What is he advocating if not accomodation of the customs and conscience of those subgroups? Or are you saying no societal group in the UK considers women property and homosexuality a capital offense? I’m reasonably certain there are groups like that, not all of them Muslim.


Beth 02.12.08 at 10:01 pm

I suppose there’s a difference between universal rights and the universal uptake of those rights. For example, according to human rights legislation, a person has the right to be gay and the right to engage in a gay sexual relationship. This does not mean that a gay Christian is obliged to act upon that right if he or she believes that it is nonetheless against his/her religious principles. Similarly, I have the legal right to gamble (say by playing the Lottery), but choose not to do so because I believe it to be morally wrong.

Equally, if a particular group believes that there is a certain religiously- or culturally-defined manner in which certain disputes must be resolved, there is no reason why they should not engage that procedure, even if an outsider to that group would feel their human rights to be violated by it.

So, a human being as a legal entity is indeed, as Dr. Williams said, more than the sum of their human rights. They are also subject to internal and cultural moral codes which might, if enforced on people of different religions or culture, constitute a violation of rights, but when freely chosen are simply an expression of a particular set of beliefs.

However, despite the fact that this all makes sense to me, I am nonetheless wary of the idea that personal, religious or cultural beliefs should be given legal status. I believe that there is too much potential for abuse. Goodness knows, our legal system is not perfect and is still biased against certain groups in various circumstances - rape victims, fathers in custody disputes, and so on. Nonetheless, the fact that our law is at least nominally objective and blind to differences of faith, age, sex, sexuality, religion and so on, means that campaigners for legal reform have a basis from which to make their claims for changes which benefit these legally weaker parties. How do you call for reform of a system in which gender inequality, or homophobia, or racism is enshrined (for whatever valid spiritual reasons)?


Kim 02.12.08 at 11:35 pm

This is from Mike Higton’s excellent paper on Rowan’s speech:

“And note that Williams thinks that the framework of universal rights is absolutely vital … It is this framework that can keep the kind of public conversations he’s taliking about from getting out of hand. It exists as a guarantee, he says, that ‘any human participant in a society is protected against the loss of certain elementary liberties of self-determination and guaranteed the freedom to demand reasons for any actions on the part of others for actions or policies that infringe self-determination.’ Or, putting it another way, he says that the framework of universal law is there 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.’”

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