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Rowan Williams is wrong. If Christians in Britain face persecution, they should not be afraid to complain

Lord Williams’s comments highlight how Christians are on the back foot in this country

By on Thursday, 15 August 2013

Lord Williams of Oystermouth

Lord Williams of Oystermouth

Lord Williams of Oystermouth, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has spoken at a literary festival and made some observations about the persecution of Christians in this country and abroad, and how the two cannot be compared. You can read a report of what he said here.

The subheading of the article makes unfortunate reading: “Christians complaining of persecution in Britain need to ‘grow up’, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has said, as he argues feeling ‘mildly uncomfortable’ is not comparable to real suffering elsewhere.”

Those first two words make the heart sink – “Christians complaining” – it sounds as if we spend our entire lives whingeing. We should, of course be proclaimers, not complainers, but at the same time, Christians have as much right to take people to court as anyone else, don’t they?

Lord Williams, who I admire, has said something that will give comfort to the enemies of the Church: he has added substance to the argument (if it can be called such) that Christians want special priveleges in society and complain that these are being eroded in the name of equality. Moreover, he has implied that we are spoiled and selfish, in that our complaints are nothing compared to those suffering abroad.

Now this is true – Christians in Sudan, for example, have had a far worse time of it than Christians in England; it is true, but it is not relevant to the case in question. You ought not to justify being rude to your wife, because the man next door beats his wife black and blue; you should not dismiss her complaints on the grounds that the lady next door has it far worse.

People like Nadia Eweida had genuine cause for complaint: saying that people in Nigeria have even more genuine cause for complaint is true, but does not change the validity of Mrs Eweida’s case.

The other thing that is troubling about Lord Williams’s remarks is that he makes no reference to the fact that Britain is a country with a bloody history of religious persecution, and that we should always be careful about stoking up religious and sectarian tensions which might (as in Northern Ireland) flare up into actual violence.

The path to anti-Catholic violence was smoothed by decades of anti-Catholic rhetoric and anti-Catholic prejudices and acts of discrimination. Religious discrimination has still not been entirely banished from these shores, and many would like reverse what progress there has been, one fears. This is not a fantasy of mine, I am merely taking the words of Mary Honeyball seriously.

So it is really not helpful if Lord Williams’s words are taken to mean that complaints of religious discrimination in this country are largely groundless.

At the same time, his words are useful, in that they illustrate the way Christians find themselves on the back foot in this country. If we defend ourselves, we are self-pitying complainers, and if we do not defend ourselves, we will suffer too. So what is the solution to this problem? Rabbi Julia Neuberger, who was chairing the discussion, says that believers in Britain may just “need to make their case better”. I agree with her analysis. In a war of ideas, which this is, the courts are the battlefield of last resort. We need better argument, better what the Americans call “public diplomacy”, or us Catholic call “apologetics”. (Some might like to term it propaganda; why not? Propaganda fidei sounds good to me.)

During the Cold War, America and her allies were constantly belittled and ridiculed by intellectuals and the media, no one more so than Ronald Reagan, as I am old enough to remember. At school, we were all taught the history of China using a text book that drew heavily on Edgar Snow, a man who is now seen for what he was, a propagandist for Mao’s murderous policies. Until the end, the anti-democrats were winning the Cold War, at least on the level of ideas.

Right into the 1970s people in Italy and France were voting for Communist parties. The West’s “public diplomacy” was never particualrly successful, which is why Che Guevara tee shirts sell at a greater rate than Ronald Reagan ones today. And yet, and yet. The Cold War only had one real winner.

Again, al-Qaeda and its allies may well be winning the propaganda war in certain parts of the world, some of which are not so far from where I sit and write this; and Dawkins and his chums may be the toast of the Senior Common Rooms of our universities. And yet, and yet… In these culture wars too, the apparent winner may not in the end be the real winner.

We Christians need to put our case better, as the Rabbi says. But this war is not just about talking, about competing narratives; the narrative of the scientists sounds good, after all, who could be against progress and science? But wars are decided by facts on the ground: the Soviet bloc fell because in the end the waiting time for a Trabant in East Germany was fifteeen years. And so Christainity will triumph in the end because it makes practical sense, and because it is a tried and tested way of living that contributes to human flourishing. But we need to make this existential case about the truth of Catholicism. I wonder if perhaps the present Pope is not showing us the way, rather as Saint Francis himself once did?

  • Isaac

    Seems a bit late to bring up caveats, but let’s run with it. I presumed you were talking about vocal “out” atheists, not sure what nu-atheism is though. I was satirising comparison between Catholicism and atheism. True you can compare atheism to a quasi-religious system. You can also compare football to a quasi-religious system to a far greater extent. Using that criteria you can accuse almost any group of dogma.

    If my “a priori atheistic prejudice” means, as with the universe, I don’t try to add my own special unique meanings to words, I’m happy to admit to that particular prejudice.

    a : a dissenting or schismatic religious body; especially : one regarded as extreme or heretical.
    b : a religious denomination.

    The problem here is that you have repeatedly asserted things like “atheist fundamentalists continually strive to impose their own religious, dogmatic mores upon the rest of society”. You have never explained how, let alone demonstrated that this is true.

  • Isaac

    No I asked question as I was interested in the answers. Which is evident as the conversation carried on in further comments. I’m far too lazy to conspire against you. Also in my opinion you do your “cause” more damage than good, so if I really were to conspire against the RCC I’d ask YOU more questions not Major.

    Ad hominem? Well in this case you’re probably right.

  • Julian Lord

    The rights of the child are always before the rights of the parent


  • Julian Lord

    The ECHR has an advisory role only in framing UK law

    International Law is not governed by the ECHR.

  • Julian Lord


    See ? Told you you wouldn’t understand it …

  • Julian Lord

    The way you throw the “totalitarian” accusation around makes me wonder how you would react if you ever had to really face it

    Read my responses to your comments.

    For sure people like you would not be on here freely posting their opinions

    As stated, you don’t even understand the concept. Sadder still, you demonstrate no desire to ponder the argument.

  • Julian Lord

    No, it’s due to hatred of Truth.

  • Ellie

    Lord Williams wants us to hide our light under a bushel!

  • $20596475

    I am really sorry to have to tell you but you are completely wrong. The child’s best interests will always be put ahead of the parent’s when in conflict.

  • $20596475

    You are being silly again.

    What on earth does international law have to do with domestic issues in the UK?

  • $20596475

    What on earth is there to ponder? You are speaking complete and utter balderdash. That is putting it very politely.

    You just don’t know what totalitarian really means, let alone how my arguments might somehow result in it.

    To accuse me of not understanding the concept is just too funny for words, given your total lack of comprehension in this matter.

  • Julian Lord

    Obviously, any “argument” purporting to dismiss someone’s opinions on the basis of the contents of a personal attack is an ad hominem.

    I simply don’t CARE whether you approve of me or not ; but a simple expression of personal dislike for whichever “reason” is not an argument, no matter how much the private might congratulate you for it.

  • Julian Lord

    The fact that your views are influenced by various totalitarian conceptions derived from Marxism does not constitute accusing the EU of being a Marxist totalitarian régime, private, nor does it constitute accusing anyone else of this flaw, and I have NO IDEA why it should be necessary to point out such blatantly obvious category differences to you.

    Perhaps one day you might post something that is coherent with the rules of logical discourse. But I’m not holding my breath …

  • Julian Lord

    In reality, your own consciousness, not being formed by Catholic education nor theology nor understanding, cannot therefore possibly be availed, objectively, of the capacity to distinguish between Catholic doctrine and heresy.

    Your opinions on this question are literally, objectively, worthless, by reason of your clear ignorance of the contents of the Catholicity.

  • Julian Lord

    You are again seeking to impose your own meaning on a word

    translated into English — the private throws his toys out of his pram because he can’t understand what the adults are talking about

  • Julian Lord

    FALSE — in reality, children are subjected to parental authority

    (this thread having now degenerated into yet another endless and pointless litany of errors, misconceptions, and direct falsehoods from the private, I’ll stop contributing to it)

  • Julian Lord

    You really are incapable of following a chain of reason, aren’t you.

  • Julian Lord

    You just don’t know what totalitarian really means


    I have even explained the meaning of the word to you, but you simply stuffed your fingers in your ears and went LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-I-CAN’T-HEAR-YOU

  • $20596475

    If you actually bothered to read and consider what I said you would understand that I suggested that you would so consider the EU and later that I was glad that you denied it.

    Perhaps one day you will stop seeing what isn’t there.

  • $20596475

    There is a huge benefit to me looking at this through my own eyes, for it enables me to see things clearly, directly and without prejudice.

    I do not need to understand the detail.

    What I see is someone who is setting themselves up as an arbiter of doctrine without the authority to do so.

    As it looks to me, and I would suggest to many others, you appear to believe that you are more Catholic than the Pope.

  • $20596475

    I left my “pram” 65 years ago Mr JP!

    What it means is exactly what I wrote.

    What you write is exactly what Isaac said you do:-

    Deny and Conquer, which is to misrepresent comments or invent new unique meanings for words.

  • $20596475

    Parents are subjected to the law and the law recognises that the interests of the child are paramount.

    Parents do NOT have the right to determine what is lawful, and what is not, over anything, including how they treat their children.

  • $20596475

    Where one exists I can follow it easily.

    When dealing with you in threads it frequently gets broken by distortion, incorrect understanding of words, insults and deliberate changes of direction.

    Your pattern is by now very familiar. The only one, it seems, who is incapable of recognising it, is you. You become so entangled in your own self righteousness that you really believe that you are right.

  • $20596475

    Don’t be silly.

    You haven’t “explained” anything. You just think you know something that isn’t actually true.

    Hint: You don’t.

  • Isaac

    I thought you’d given up the “You just don’t understand” plea. It’s sort of nice when you roll out the golden oldies. It makes me feel all warm and cuddly, like an old “blanky”.

    Please post the actual definition of Sect. Unless it’s another word that only exists in the JMED (Jabba’s Mental English Dictionary), is should be very easy for you to do.

  • $24570317

    I think its plainly wrong to imply that some people (for example Richard Dawkins, other atheists and members of other religions) see that the Catholic/Christian religion is the “Truth” and reject it because they have “hatred of [the] Truth”.
    They just don’t believe it’s true, that’s all.

  • $24570317

    More to the point scary: is this website somewhere we can argue, for or against, a point of view or opinion – or a place where traditionalists or fundamentalists can pat each other on the back and sneer dismissively at those who have some other views?

    If it’s the latter, I would say this site serves little purpose. If you, and any others, agree this opinion, it could mean that we’d be better off on another Catholic website called “Strange Notions”.

    This title comes from St Paul’s discussions with the Athenian philosophers at the Areopagus. After listening to St Paul their reply to him was: “you bring some strange notions to our ears; we should like to know what these things mean” (Acts 17:20).

  • $24570317

    “Democracy demands that we ALL accept it’s determinations”

    True in the meaning that we in the West normally attach to “ALL accept”. Orderly governance must continue.
    But we also accept opposing political opinions and the freedom to argue for them. In the UK there is an official “Her Majesty’s Opposition” which the government funds for parliamentary activities.

  • Jeffocks

    I’m not sure in what sense Christianity ‘dominates’ in Europe – It’s not like in the US here. If Christianity ‘dominated’ we wouldn’t have S-S marriage etc. Secularist states here tolerate Christianity less than other religions to whom they wish to demonstrate their tolerance credentials. That’s how it appears to me – part of the process of ‘relativism’ that Pope Benedict deplores.

  • guest

    neurotransmitters passing electric signals via a synapse in the brain: could be God, could be the opposition; aka the enemy.

  • $20596475

    Cannot be either, as neither exists.

    Still therefore meaningless.

  • Isaac

    “no parent should choose what their children learn at school.”

    Blatant quote-mining again! The first three words add context. “In my opinion”… a statement of an opinion is not doctrine. It may coincide with an existing doctrine but you yet to show, in any way, that that doctrine exists or the there is a formed group to form or enforce your imaginary doctrine.

  • Isaac

    (Parents)..They don’t have rights over them, the children have the rights and the parents the responsibilities.

    That’s pretty much the best sentence I’ve ever read/heard.

    So much clear meaning in so few words without any pretensions.

    If I was wearing a cap I’d be doffing it now!

  • $20596475

    Thanks. It is nice to find that someone here can appreciate a simple truth.