The Archbishop of Canterbury takes the measure of his nation’s culture in the wake of a new report about this summer’s riots. Excerpts:
Too many inhabit a world in which the obsession with “good” clothes and accessories – against a backdrop of economic insecurity or simple privation – creates a feverish atmosphere where status falls and rises as suddenly and destructively as a currency market: good lives are lives where one’s position within a fierce Darwinian hierarchy of style is temporarily secure. Too many feel they have nothing to lose because they are told practically from birth that they have no serious career opportunities.
That’s true. But that’s what sociologists say as well. Tell us about the soul, Archbishop.
We have to support our hard-pressed educational professionals in creating and sustaining environments in which character is shaped and imagination nourished, in which we not only raise aspirations but also offer some of the tools to cope with disappointment and failure in a mature way – an education of the emotions is badly needed in a culture of often vacuous aspiration.
Well, yes. But tell us about sin. Talk to us of repentance. Things of the soul. Where was God when the riots consumed London neighborhoods?
Demonising volatile and destructive young people doesn’t help; criminalising them wholesale reinforces a lot of what produces the problem in the first place.
Erm, God? Hello? You’re not going to do this, are you, Archbishop? You aren’t going to say anything that a sociologist or Labour politician wouldn’t say, are you?
The big question Reading the Riots leaves us with is whether, in our current fretful state, with unavoidable austerity ahead, we have the energy to invest what’s needed in family and neighbourhood and school to rescue those who think they have nothing to lose. We have to persuade them, simply, that we as government and civil society alike will put some intelligence and skill into giving them the stake they do not have. Without this, we shall face more outbreaks of futile anarchy, in which we shall all, young and old, be the losers.
UPDATE: An Anglican priest lays into the Archbishop of Cant. Excerpt:
Since the Church’s slanted Left-wing report Faith in the City back in the 1980s, we have got used to seeing the senior clergy make the same sorts of political responses to social issues:
“We have to persuade them, simply, that we as government and civil society alike will be putting some intelligence and skill into giving them the stake they do not have.”
But political policies should be decided by politicians. The Church’s responsibility is to provide moral guidance.
I have read the [Abp of Cant’s] piece twice, and can find no mention of sympathy for victims of the riots. It is too much to expect an Anglican archbishop to sympathise with large companies whose premises were looted, or the police injured during the violence. But it is striking there is no mention of the 213 small shopkeepers whose premises were looted, the five left dead, or those who had their homes robbed and burned. The archbishop expresses anguish over spending cuts, and his pity for “hard-pressed education professionals” attempting to teach in “almost impossible conditions”. He makes no mention of the Church of England, religious faith or God.
And, from the combox thread, Niall:
I don’t think the issue here is that Rowan is necessarily wrong – I think he is, but as a heartless conservative swine I Would Say That, Wouldn’t I.
The problem is, as some commenters have noted, that this is not in any meaningful way a Christian analysis of the causes, nature and consequences of the riots, and that Rowan has yet again missed an opportunity to give a solidly and unmistakeably Christian response to current affairs, and more generally to sustain Christian ideas in the public square. That is, after all, his job.
Yes, he is a serious intellect and a gifted theologian, and by all accounts a personally holy and humble man. But I know a dozen laymen who are all of those things. The Archbishop of Canterbury has a special responsibility above and beyond being personally devout and academically accomplished. If he would rather be back in Oxford, writing scholarly papers on the Greek fathers and discussing the Filioque controversy and the nature of Arianism over an excellent dinner (a not ignoble desire), then there is nothing to stop him from resigning.
As ABC, Rowan gets a lot of free airtime and newspaper inches, and is one of the few Christian leaders who is still treated with respect and deference, even by our most anti-Christian outlets. He gets opportunities to give his views that most Christians can only dream of – and yet time and again he drops the ball.