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It’s a shame the Chief Rabbi can’t be the next Archbishop of Canterbury

Lord Sacks continues to be the most eloquent spokesman for religion

By on Monday, 10 September 2012

Britain Pope

Benedict Brogan’s interview with Rowan Williams, outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Telegraph last Saturday threw up some interesting observations. Brogan writes, “His time has been marked by an often vitriolic debate about the march of militant secularism. He laughs at the recollection of his exchanges with the atheist academic Richard Dawkins, whom he describes as the “latest pub bore” in the tradition of “great public atheists.”

The outgoing Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, whose latest book, The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning, I have already referred to in a recent blog, is rather less dismissive of Dawkins in his book. Indeed, I don’t remember reading about Williams’ public exchanges on atheism during his time in office: his Socialist-inclined political views – yes; his ideas about Sharia law – yes; controversy over same-sex oriented clergy – yes; his rather muted attitude about defending marriage (unlike his predecessor, Lord Carey) – yes; and lots of general remarks when it was quite hard to know what he was talking about (well, he is an intellectual).

It seems that Williams, seizing the opportunity now that freedom beckons, has published a collection of past lectures, entitled Faith in the Public Square. According to a report in CFNews, he is critical of Lord Carey and of the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, for stating that Christians in Britain are facing persecution. Williams’ view is that “Argument is essential to a functioning democratic state, and religion should be involved in this, not constantly demanding the right not to be offended”.

Surely this is unfair to his colleagues in the Anglican hierarchy? Carey and Nazir-Ali have never indicated they are hostile to argument – when it means a fair and open debate; what they and others have been pointing out for some time (though Williams seems to have missed it) is that in a number of cases that have been well-publicised, Christians’ beliefs have been marginalised and dismissed by a highly secularist interpretation of the law. Given the life-threatening persecution of Christians in some Muslim countries, “persecution” in this context is perhaps too strong a word; but words like “harassment”, “denigration” and “heavy-handed” do come to mind. What Christians want in this country is the right to practise their faith and to follow their conscience; it has nothing to do with a so-called “right not to be offended.”

In his new book, Rowan Williams apparently distinguishes between “programmatic” secularism which becomes problematic when it excludes religious practise and symbols from public life in order to emphasise loyalty to the state; and “procedural” secularism under which the state allows people to publicly practise their faith but does not give preferential treatment to any single religious group. Michael Nazir-Ali rejects this distinction, stating that any form of secularism represents an assault on the Church and on Christian values.

I agree with him. Williams’ is a typically intellectual approach, examining the question in an abstract way without reference to how people actually live their lives. If people were happy to live and let live in the tolerant way he would like, the history of the world would be different. But certain laws enacted by our secularist government directly impinge on people’s Christian beliefs – for instance, laws on adoption and the (anticipated) change to the definition of marriage itself. Furthermore, Williams is (still) the Christian primate of the Established Christian Church in this country; the Queen is still “Defender of the Faith”. What does not giving “preferential treatment to any single religious group” mean in this context?

Brogan comments, “Where others would want to hear clarion clarity about a crisis [on marriage] that goes to the very heart of the Church, [Williams] shies away and hedges. To his critics, this is the reason why the Church appears weak, because he does not communicate certainty…”

To return to Lord Sacks: his book, according to Andrew Marr – not an oracle, admittedly, but still a good barometer of liberal taste – is “the most persuasive argument for religious belief I have ever read.” Sacks argues, not that Dawkins is the “latest pub bore” but that questions of religion and science concern different hemispheres of the brain: science (the left hemisphere) “takes things apart to see how they work”; religion (the right hemisphere) “puts things together to see what they mean”; both activities are vital.

Come to think of it, it is a great pity that the Chief Rabbi can’t, for obvious reasons, apply for the job of being the next Archbishop of Canterbury: he is an intellectual – but with a gift for clear exposition; he believes in God, marriage, the family; he is conciliatory rather than divisive; and from his own religious and historical perspective he sees the marginalisation of faith for what it is.

  • Simon Gardner

    Right. But the whole theistic religion nonsense: Entirely fictional, all of it. Carry on.

  • E. Cake

     Why do you bother to read a Catholic newspaper then?

  • AnthonyPatrick

     He probably isn’t a reader of the Catholic Herald, but is possibly evincing traits of a habit identifying the sub-species trollum interneti.

  • teigitur

    Kind of wasting your time on here. Unless you have a cotribution to make, as opposed the above one-liner of patent tosh.

  • John Thomas

    Certainly Carey and Nazir-ali are right in suggesting that marginalisation and constant denigration of Christianity are the thin end of the wedge and (unless there is a major change) real persecution will difinitely come eventually. “Loyalty to the state”? Any state that wants “loyalty” to itself, before God, is potentially Stalinist (as ours is).

  • paulpriest

    Why are they obvious reasons that he can’t apply?
    Is there anything the Chief Rabbi believes that can’t be found in the broad spectrum of Anglican clerical tenets?
    And at least he believes in God!

  • paulpriest

     He might be the CofE spokesperson on evangelisation?

  • Alexander VI

    OOOOO!  Very satirical Paul…..Bad day stacking shelves was it?

  • paulpriest

     I unstack shelves thank you – and yes it was a bloody awful day [got out two hours later than contracted]

    …although what that has to do with anything I say on here is beyond me.

  • Meena

    Archbishop Williams is not usually so dismissive of Dawkins as he seems to be in this interview.
    I strongly recommend his discussion/debate with Dawkins (chaired by a well-known Oxford Meta-physician) at the Sheldonian, Oxford in February this year.
    The whole 90 minute debate is on YouTube, and is fascinating:

    I find The Chief Rabbi absolutely fascinating to listen to. I don’t accept his theology, that is something that he chooses to believe (his Faith), but I bask in his charisma and his use of language, and I always listen. 

  • Meena

    Apologies for all the “fascinations”. Typing interrupted by a visitor.

  • Meena

    What a shocking way to describe your fellow women and men.

    Are you sure you didn’t mean to write Untermenschen?
    Very sad that you receive so many “likes” for language of this genre.

  • Lazarus

    Agreed. It’s quite a shocking use of language.

    Clearly, it should be trollum interretii.

  • teigitur


  • teigitur

    Jolly good idea!

  • Meena

    And this is: “Lazarus, An attempt to contribute to the rebuilding of Western cultur..”

  • theroadmaster

    Perhaps the recent cases of people of Faith being victimised and penalized by state law and ideology in the UK for not going against their consciences are not of the order of the repressive regimes of Communist China or Russia of old, but they are indicators of a worrying trend that is starting to become more evident in western nations.  In the US, we had the egregious example of the  threats to boycott the very popular chicken sandwich chain called 
    Chick-fil-A, owned by a very conscientious Christian gentleman called Dan T. Cathy, because of some comments that he made supporting the well-understood and age-old version of marriage between one man and one woman which is open to procreation.   He became the lightening rod for the faux outrage of various Democrat mayors of metropolises like Boston and New York and in effect became an attack on free speech relating to people of Faith.   It is the right time for religious people and supporters of the right of religious expression to stand firm against the misuse and abuse of legislation and public pressure to silence people who cannot in conscience accede to obeying immoral laws and practices.

  • Charles

    To be eloquent one must have courage of conviction, persuasive ability, and deep knowledge. How many of us have those?

  • AnthonyPatrick

    Funny muscles a bit slack, Meena?  After four (with a little whistle) “Always look on the bright side of life… ”

  • AnthonyPatrick

    Nice one, Lazarus, but couldn’t that be interretis n. of internet? How about interretiale n. adj. internet-derived? Or even interretiarus trollus m. troll internet-user

  • Lazarus

    Yes, I did puzzle over some alternatives! I can’t help thinking there must be some exact mediaeval Latin equivalent for a ‘troll’ (besides ‘trollus/um’ which just sounds too good to be true). Any Scandinavian Latinists out there?

    Anyway, it’s extremely nice of Meena to encourage the Holy Father’s re-emphasis on the use of Latin in the Church.

  • Veuster

    > Come to think of it, it is a great pity that the Chief Rabbi can’t, for obvious reasons, apply for the job of being the next Archbishop of Canterbury: he is an intellectual – but with a gift for clear exposition; he believes in God, marriage, the family; he is conciliatory rather than divisive; and from his own religious and historical perspective he sees the marginalisation of faith for what it is.

    Yes, he believes in God, marriage and the family and is concerned about the marginalisation of faith. But he doesn’t believe in the Trinity, couldn’t recite the Nicene Creed, knows nothing of the Sacraments, would never think of asking for the intercession of Our Lady and the saints, and doesn’t have even an imperfect understanding of and belief in the Petrine ministry. Dr Williams, for all his faults (and I am no fan of his), believes in all these things. Surely they are important too?

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    Above all else the Chief Rabbi fails the ” is he a Zionist ” test.  The Chief Rabbi is what as known , not complimentary , as a ” Court Jew ” the derogatory term for a Jew who fawns over the Goyim ( Gentiles ) in the UK  yet is selective in his support for the state of Israel. Any Jew who is not 100% supportive of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel as defined in Genesis 15:18 ( On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying,“To your descendants I have given this land,
    From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates)  is IMO untrustworthy & undeserving of the praise heaped upon him

  • scary goat

     Well, I don’ know about that.  I’m no expert, but an Orthodox Rabbi once told me that actually the Jews shouldn’t be in Palestine because they are supposed to wait for the Messiah to come to lead them back home. He said they are there in the wrong circumstances at present, many of them are Jewish race but secular.  Proper religious Jews should accept their exile and wait for the Messiah (unless they happened to be living in Palestine anyway, of course)

  • Charlie Hall

    Proof that it is impossible to please everyone. Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is as supportive of Israel as most American Zionists (I don’t know about the UK). What do you want him to do, resign his seat in the House of Lords and make aliyah tomorrow?

  • Charlie Hall

    I would never eat at Chick-fil-A, as it isn’t kosher, but I had been defending them against the boycotters — until I found that they require prospective franchisees to attend Christian events. That is itself an attack on faith! Believing in religious freedom for yourself but not for others is not something that should elicit sympathy in a free democratic society. 

    And BTW you might want to do some research before you slander public officials. New York Mayor Bloomberg actually OPPOSED banning Chick-fil-A.
    Chick-fil-A is free to open a restaurant anywhere in New York City if it can get a lease on a site with the proper zoning. 

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    Scary Goat, your tale does not have the ring of truth to it. No Rabbi would ever call the Land of Israel by the term Palestine since no such place has ever existed in recorded history except after Great Britain adopted the term as a deliberate insult to the Jewish people in deference to the Arabs. It is not actualy religious Jews who wait for the Mesiah abroad but members of Cults like the Natoorei Carta who have de facto left Judaism

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    Charlie Hall, under normal circumstances I would deem it his duty to make Aliyah, but given he is just another quasi-socialist multiculturalist , then no thanks we don’t need him, we need productive people who will actually do a days work & serve in the army !

  • theroadmaster

    I should not have ncluded Mayor Bloomberg in the chorus of naysayers, as he has displayed a very common sense attitude to this storm in a Chick-Fil-A tea-cup.  The initial reports did include his name among the opposition to the comments of the CEO of the company, but on further inspection, his voice has been one of the more reasonable ones among the contributors.  I did not mean to cause any offense and retract anything that might portray his role to the contrary.

  • aearon43

    You’re right about the “Palestinian state” and “Palentinian people” being a 20th c. European invention. Before that, they considered themselves Egyptians, Persians, etc. or just Arabs or Muslims.

    However, I don’t know about what you say about Sacks. I don’t know a lot about him, but it seems a bit harsh. There is something to be said for choosing your battles — perhaps Sacks has given the matter some thought and come to the conclusion that it’s more productive for him to focus on secularisation in Britain rather than on the question of Israel?

  • aearon43

    I believe you may have had in mind the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, who said that “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago’s values.” (What are “Chicago’s values” though was left undefined — corruption and gang warfare, perhaps?)

    Fortunately Cardinal George didn’t let that one slip by:

  • GFFM

    Maybe the bishop of Clifton should invite Sacks, now that Tina Beattie has been disinvited. Sacks certainly has the credentials and the learning to deliver an excellent lecture.

  • Badjumbly

    Science is not just about taking things apart to see how they work. It has also put a number of useful working things together: I’m using one of them right now. And religion does not put things together to see what they mean. Archeology does that, whereas religion imagines things and invests its imaginings with huge meaning. I’ve nothing against the imaginative part of the brain, but we should value its products for what they are. 

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    aearon43 good day. I may indeed have been a bit harsh on Sacks, but I see him as being too paly with the Muslims ( out of fear of attacks on Circumcission & the Kosher Slaughter of meat & poultry) who I see as the most dangerous enemies of Western Civilisation, far more than the Marxist Atheists.

    The matter of the Marxist Atheist war on believers in the democracies of the west is a serious issue which worries anybody who believes in God, as I do, in that it is a detraction from the spread of Islam in the west & its accompnying encroachment on Judaeo-Christian values such as Brotherly Love, Democracy, the rule of Law ( ie Civil Law ) Free Speech, Equality of the Sexes & a whole host of other freedoms we enjoy as individuals which will be lost once the momentum of Muslim demographics comes in to play & cynical politicians pander exclusively to the growing muslim vote to keep them in power.

    You only have to look at Marxist Labours 13 years of misrule & its social reengineering of the UKs ethnic make up in favour of the followers of Allah the moon god of mecca, to realise this Ticking Time Bomb is, IMO, an even greater challenge to believers in God the creator than the pathetic voices of the Dawkins of this world.

  • trubble

    You call ‘Lord’ Sacks the most eloquent spokesman for religion, and the quote you use to support this nonsense is an ad-hominem attack on Prof Dawkins. Perhaps he is a ‘pub bore’, but that doesn’t make him wrong.

    As an example of Sacks’ failings, he bears false witness about the function of the two hemispheres of the human brain. You would have thought he would have read something about the subject before embarrassing himself in public, maybe he does know that he is incorrect but doesn’t worry about spreading untruths?

    Incidentally, Anyone that considers secularism to be persecution of the religious is either hatefully dishonest or completely ignorant of the meanings of those concepts.

    I would rather be a pub bore than a dishonest manipulator.

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    Chicago was better run & less violent when Al Capone ran it !

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    Simon , looking at the list of people you follow on twitter is quite revealing as to who you are & what you believe in. Since Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Che, Nasser, Saddam, Arafat & Bin Laden are now all dead, I guess you are disapointed you cant get tweets from them. Still never mind those you follow including the BBC, the BBC clone ie Sky News, the Guardian, Al Jazeera & a host of Ultra Left & Muslim extremist people no doubt provide you with sufficient spirtitual nourishment. So good luck to you Tovarisch

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    Anthony , Simon Gardner appears to be a Female ( I won’t say woman since I am not qualified to give a medical opinion on her actual sexual status )
    If you look at the list of those she is following on Twitter, it is the who’s who of Marxist Atheist Anti Western Pro Arab Tree Hugging  Multiculturalism

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    Meena , is that by chance an indication you are a muslim?
    I find your use of the term ” Untermenschen ” uncalled for & disturbing , given it was the term the Nazis, the Mentors of the muslim brotherhood, used to describe the Jews

  • Lord Edmund Moletrousers

    The Police , I hope !

  • mahatmacoatmabag

    Oi Veh, thats all the Catholic Herald needs, not one but two Jewish Troublemakers posting comments !  Listen Charlie, I am the blogs Official Zionist Troublemaker & I would appreciate if you would say a kind word or two on behalf of Israel on here from time to time. Wishing you & family  a Shana Tova

  • theroadmaster

    I believe that you are right about that.  The Chicago mayor went out of this way to convey his opposition to the reasonable beliefs of the Chick-A-Fil CEO, in relation to marriage.

  • vididominum

    I misread the article the first time, as you evidently have, as well. The dismissive remark of Prof. Dawkins belongs to Rowan Williams. Jonathan Sachs, as the second paragraph points out, “is rather less dismissive.”

  • Cjkeeffe

    If I had to choose I’d choose a christian it would be a nice change!

  • Cjkeeffe

    Hi ya – prove it!
    Prove that agnostism or atheism is true.