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Rowan Williams and Sharia: a guide for the perplexed

13 February 2008

Here’s one of the best and most intelligent discussions of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks on Sharia that I’ve seen yet. Perhaps it’s the kind of discussion that he hoped for, and it least it goes beyond the simplistic media distortions: Kai euthus: Rowan Williams and Sharia — a guide to the perplexed.

He assumes that ‘freedom of religion’ isn’t just a case of freedom of opinion, or freedom of speech, or freedom of association – not because religions deserve some extra aura of special ‘respect’, but because none of those freedoms quite captures what religions actually are. To be free to practice a religion is to be free to be involved in a complex, social, ongoing context – a ‘tradition’ or ‘community’ to use some shorthand – that deeply forms ones identity. If freedom of religion is to mean anything at all, it must mean freedom to be formed by such a community, and freedom to participate as a citizen in public life as one who has been formed by such a community.

In Islam such a community is called Ummah, and for Orthodox Christians it is called kinonia, which is far more than the somewhat wishywashy “fellowship” with which it is sometimes translated into English.

In an earlier post I referred to an article by Janet Daley on the same topic, and Janet Daley indeed put her finger on the same core issue, though her conclusion was someone different. Her conclusion was the secularist one that in a secular state religion is a purely “private matter” and that the State must have a superior claim over any religious interests.

The problem with such assumtions is that they are ultimately totalitarian: the state has no limits, and there is nothing outside its purview or control.

Kai euthus at least goes beyond such a simplistic approach.

Update: Since no one has commented yet, I’ll add this.

There are links to other useful and informative posts on the topic:

Postmodern warfare: the ignorance of our warrior intellectuals – an article by Stanley Fish in >Harpers Magazine, July 2002 This was written long before the Archbishop of Canterbury’s paper, but deals with the same issues that the Archbishop raised.

Language log: The archbishop, the law, and the press — what the Archbishop actually said, and how the media misreported it.

Hat tip to Even the devils believe (also well worth reading) via Young Fogey’s A conservative blog for peace for the link.

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