Sunday, 27 September 2009

Liar, liar, pants on fire

I woke up this morning still annoyed at the Archbishop of Canterbury.
That’s both startling and too obscure a beginning, so I’ll start again.
Thing is, I read a report over on Ekklesia about the Arch of Cant’s visit to Japan. Well, Japan, close to International Peace Day so you’d think he’d spout something nice about the need to communicate instead of nuking each other, that sort of thing, wouldn’t you?
But no, seems he chose to blame rational thinking for all the evil unleashed in the 20th century, and presumably all the potential evil of the 21st.
For example, try…
"[T]he sober testimony of the twentieth century is that the rationality of secular thinking is no guarantee of universal understanding and reconciliation. A rationality that has brought us into the age of nuclear weaponry and global economic meltdown invites some sharp questions, to put it mildly."
Or there’s…..
"However secular our age likes to think it is, the disastrous results of exploitative habits and of financial obsession bring people back to the recognition that they need the element of the sacred in their lives – in the sense that they need the freedom to respond to the beautiful and the puzzling and the tragic, to all the things that we do not have the power to manage."
And even…..
"It is in this sense that a religiously grounded education is a deeply 'reasonable' one. It communicates the skills we need to inhabit the real world. That may sound a little strange at first. So often, 'living in the real world' is a phrase that people use when they want to justify ruthless competition, mistrust, low expectations. But the reality around us is not simply one of menace and uncertainty, a place in which the other is always a source of anxiety. It is a place that nourishes us and keeps us alive – through material processes and through human community, from family to society."
You can read the rest at
Oh…..pot, kettle, black….LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE!
As if rationalism was the cause of 20th century social problems, not the primary source of opposition to them.
As if religion was something apart from the ‘real world’ when, if anything, organised religion is one of the most competitive, aggressive, materialist examples of capitalist excess, often brimming over into the outright fascism which it predated, nurtured, encouraged and profited from financially, politically and socially.
If Vincent ‘what, me, protect kiddie fiddlers’ Nicholls or John ‘here’s a trick with a balloon instead of a sermon’ Sentamu came out with this shite I’d just laugh. But Williams, whatever else, may be the only genuinely well read cleric in Britain, so I expect better.
In fact, he’s annoyed me so much I’ll reveal how he misused his education to pull a cheap rhetorical trick.
What he did was play on the post-structuralist ideas of Derrida and Foucault which he, alone amongst his peers, actually will have read and engaged with. In fact, he used to teach this stuff.
Foucault analysed discourse in order to examine how places like prisons, army barracks, schools and factories develop from religious to apparently secular institutions after the Enlightenment, and how that structure tends to constrain the individual even though supposedly our lives are human centred, not faith centred.
It’s uncomfortable stuff, and atheists from a hard science background hate him on kneejerk prejudice because of it, especially as he takes a poke or two at ‘our’ secular saints in passing. But that’s often because they’re too idle to read past page 1 of any book which demonstrates how science is also a discourse, not a set of stand alone hard facts. And without Foucault feminism, our understanding of sexuality or inbuilt prejudice in AIDS/HIV responses (to take but three fields) would be much poorer, and Queer Theory wouldn’t exist, period.
Derrida, the other post-structuralist heavy, is famous for ‘deconstruction’ – the art of taking apart the structure of any belief system (which would include the way we view natural science, not just supernatural pseudo-sciences) to reveal the in-built design flaws. Sadly, he did this so rigorously that he ended up excusing nazis, and also tended to call all his critics cretins instead of answering them. So, failure as a human being, but that doesn’t excuse dissing ideas which happen to be a tad uncomfortable.
What Williams does these days is to ‘problematise’ words we think we understand, like ‘rationality’. That’s fair enough, but he offers cartoons and partial pictures instead of taking apart the ‘belief’ or ‘idea’ properly to reveal internal contradictions. And he somehow considers religion above or apart from this, when the first thing he knows from all those books he’s read and all those classes he’s taught on the topic is that RELIGION IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT.
If it isn’t, who pays his salary, who arranged his plane ticket to Japan, who built the university where he gave the speech?
OK, he’s giving a public speech, not a post-grad lecture. But it was in a university, and his audience read the odd book (and I don’t mean really odd books like the Bible either). So, putting it bluntly, he was dishonest and he played on prejudice like a politician (instead of challenging it like the independent critic he pretends to be). And that makes him as bad as other religious throwbacks, such as the boy-nazi homophobic freak Brown just invited to tour Britain at our expense.

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