FaithWorld

Best of the blizzard over Rowan’s sharia brainstorm

The Sun, 10 Feb. 2008There’s been a blizzard of commentary about Rowan Williams saying that adopting some aspects of sharia into British law was unavoidable. A lot of it was predictable, like The Sun‘s “Bash the Bishop” headline. But there are several thoughtful pieces out there that ask important questions about religion and the law. Below are links to some of the best I found surfing around today.

Our contribution is “Devil in details” in archbishop’s sharia plan.”

What lies beyond Lambeth’s Sharia humiliation? and A multi-faith muddle — two pieces by Simon Barrow, director of the Ekklesia religious think tank, who sees Williams trying to link a declining Church of England with growing minority groups to press for opt-outs for religious groups from laws they find aggressively secular.

Opposing Sharia Arbitration Courts in UK — U.S.-based blogger Ali Eteraz lists the problems he sees with incorporating sharia concepts into British law: “Conclusion — There is absolutely no reason for a Muslim to support Sharia arbitration.”

Reinventing sharia — Asim Siddiqui, chairman of the City Circle network of young British Muslim professionals, says Muslim scholars have to reinterpret sharia laws in a liberal way to ensure these “become dominant over time.”

Trying to figure out what Rowan Williams is saying

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 23 Oct. 2006/Claro CortesArchbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has set off a storm in Britain by saying that some aspects of sharia Islamic law would have to be integrated into the legal system there. There has been almost unanimous criticism of his proposals, including from some Muslim politicians. I’ve read through both his BBC interview and Temple Festival speech to see if there is another message that is being drowned out by the headlines and hullabaloo. There are signs of one, but there are so many questionable assumptions and assertions about Islam and sharia in there that these issues naturally dominate.

The archbishop’s statement about some aspects of sharia being”unavoidable” is so clear that it is hard to argue in his defence that it was taken out of context or hardened up by headline-hungry hacks. This is not like Pope Benedict’s ill-fated Regensburg speech in 2006, where the pontiff quoted a Byzantine emperor slamming Islam and later said he didn’t mean to say he agreed with it. Williams talked about accommodating some aspects of sharia law and spoke in detail about this.

His main complaint seems to be summed up in this passage late in the speech: “One of the most frequently noted problems in the law in this area is the reluctance of a dominant rights-based philosophy to acknowledge the liberty of conscientious opting-out from collaboration in procedures or practices that are in tension with the demands of particular religious groups.” His example for this is the case of Catholic adoption agencies in Britain that have been told they must stop refusing to provide children to gay couples or risk being shut down. The law should allow opt-outs for cases of conscience, he argues, something that is already allowed for doctors who refuse to perform abortions. He also notes that Orthodox Jews have their own courts for some religious issues. So his argument seems to be that opt-outs are needed and Muslims need to have theirs.

Blasphemy and the Beast as Britain debates church-state ties

British judges leave an annual service at Westminster Abbey in London, 3 Oct 2005/Stephen HirdAmong the idiosyncrasies of British life is the fact that this secularised open society has an established church and a law banning blasphemy against it. This anomaly was back in the headlines this week when a member of Parliament tried to abolish the blasphemy law with an amendment to a bill on crime and immigration. With the issue back on the table, another MP submitted a motion to disestablish the Church of England. By a coincidence some might see as a warning, it was listed as motion #666 — the number of the Beast in the Bible’s Book of Revelation, associated with Nero, the Antichrist and other opponents of Christianity.

Change is coming, but it won’t be apocalyptic. After heading off the amendment on the blasphemy ban, the government has pledged to scrap the outdated law against “scurrilous vilification” of the faith after consultation with the Church of England. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has co-signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph advocating the abolition of a ban “in clear breach of human rights law.” The Church of England has signalled it could accept abolition if the government proceeds with caution.

(UPDATE Jan 12: Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, later said the Church of England “is not going to resist the repeal of the blasphemy laws given their awkward and not very workable legacy at present.”)

Interesting quote on “new atheists” in the U.S., Britain

the_god_delusion_2.jpgHere’s an interesting quote on the “new atheists” and their popularity in Britain and the United States from Andrew Brown’s review of religion reporting in 2007 for the London Anglican weekly Church Times:

The backlash against Richard Dawkins and his chums, already detectable last Christmas, is coming along more strongly in this country now, even though the New Atheist movement seems to be doing very well in the United States, and will, I predict, continue to do so. Dawkins-type atheism has a distinct social role over there. It is fundamentalism for the college- educated, offering the same kind of certainties, and a similar range of enemies, in a world that has grown threatening, impersonal, and insecure for everyone.

Do you think the “new atheist” wave has peaked? Or will it keep on going?

British media react to Christianophobia debate

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Westminster Abbey, 19 Nov. 2007What a difference a day makes. A post here yesterday noted that British media had all but ignored today’s debate about Christianophobia in parliament and asked whether that term was an appropriate one to use. Well, today several newspapers have taken up the issue, with different angles.

Andrew Brown in the Guardian says “Civilisation is safe” and sees influences from across the Atlantic for the debate: “The American nationalist right – and now an obscure Tory MP – would have us believe that Christian traditions are under threat. I don’t think so.” He also says that a BBC story about the debate was the second most emailed story on the BBC’s website. His post sparked a long list of comments.

A question on the Daily Telegraph site “How should we tackle ‘Christianophobia’ ?” also sparked a lively discussion. The Daily Express ran the blaring headline: “SOON ALL BRITAIN’S CHRISTIAN TRADITIONS MAY BE KILLED OFF.” The Daily Mail spoke of “rising Christianophobia and busybodies who downgrade Christian traditions.”

Is “phobia” the right term for religious intolerance?

ParliamentParliament in Britain has scheduled a debate on Christianophobia for Wednesday and interest in it seems to be almost zero. It’s on the parliamentary agenda and the BBC has done a story on it. But the usual Google searches find no other articles about it and few blog entries (for example here, here, here or here).

OK, it’s not the hottest topic right now and there’s a much bigger religion story out there today — the return of “teddy row teacher” Gillian Gibbons from Sudan. But that’s not all.

Christianophobia doesn’t seem to be catching on as a useful term denoting a clear injustice to Christians. There was disagreement about it among Christians when the Vatican led a successful drive about three years ago to have it recognised as a social evil equivalent to the hatred of Jews or Muslims. The United Nations adopted the term and reports regularly on cases of Christianophobia, but these reports have little impact.

Burnout on the God beat – second top religion writer calls it quits

Covering religion may be harmful to your faith. Two leading religion journalists — one in Britain, one in the United States — have quit the beat in recent months, saying they had acquired such a close look at such scandalous behaviour by Christians that they lost their faith and had to leave.

Bates article in New HumanistStephen Bates, who recently stepped down as religious affairs writer for the London Guardian, has just published an account of his seven years on the beat in an article entitled “Demob Happy” for the New Humanist magazine. Bates followed the crisis in the Anglican Communion for several years and even wrote a book on it, A Church At War: Anglicans and Homosexuality.

“Now I am moving on,” his article concludes. “It was time to go. What faith I had, I’ve lost, I am afraid – I’ve seen too much, too close. A young Methodist press officer once asked me earnestly whether I saw it as my job to spread the Good News of Jesus. No, I said, that’s the last thing I am here to do.”

Bioethical dilemmas know no boundaries

Bioethical dilemmas know no boundaries. France found that out this weekend when the daily Libération revealed that a French couple that had used a surrogate mother in the United States had won a long legal battle to be recognised as the parents of the twin girls who resulted from the arrangement. Surrogacy is illegal in France. French officials refused to register the twins as the couple’s daughters, leaving them in a legal limbo for seven years. But an appeals court finally granted their wish, arguing it was in the children’s best interests to recognise the U.S. birth certificates that listed Dominique and Sylvie (their surname was not published) as the parents.

an expectant mother France banned surrogacy in 1994 in the hope of preventing a “rent-a-womb” market from developing. But this option is expressly banned by law only in France, Germany and Italy, according to the association CLARA which campaigns to change the French law. It is legal in other places, including Britain, Canada, Greece, New Zealand and some U.S. states. According to the twins’ father Dominique, between 20 to 40 French couples cross the Atlantic every year to have a child with a surrogate American mother.

Since Sylvie and Dominique were recognised as the twins’ parents in a state where surrogacy is legal, they could not be brought to court for breaking the law there. French courts tried to try them for aiding and abetting a case of surrogacy or violating the civil status of the children, but neither charge led to a conviction, Le Monde reported.

UK abortion debate grows 40 years after first law allowing it

Over at another Reuters blog, Ask… , my London-based colleague Michael Holden has put the spotlight on a growing debate in Britain about the 40-year-old abortion law there. The law has come under increasing fire in recent years from anti-abortion activists, who say medical advances mean a foetus born before the 24-week limit can survive and the limit should therefore be reduced. At the same time, pro-abortion activists want to change the law to make it easier to obtain an abortion by dropping the requirement that two doctors agree to the procedure.

Michael’s post asks: Abortion – time for a change?

October 24th, 2007, filed by Michael Holden

embryo1.jpgThe highly charged issue of abortion is once again becoming a hot political issue.

Ever since terminations were legalised in1967, there has been heated debate between those who argue that abortions are morally wrong and those who say it is a woman’s right to choose whether to have a baby.

Ball in Vatican’s court after Muslim dialogue appeal

Pope Benedict prays with Muslim clerics in IstanbulAn unprecedented call from 138 Muslim scholars for better Christian-Muslim understanding had a Warholesque 15-minutes-of- fame in most media last week. Their letter to world Christian leaders got covered widely in English-speaking media (including by Reuters) and much less so in many European countries, possibly because the news conferences presenting it were in London and Washington. Some reactions from Christian leaders were included in the reporting that day. The following day, the reaction from the Vatican — the main addressee of the letter that represents more than half of Christianity — made for another story (here is our report and the original Vatican Radio report in Italian).

The story has now faded from the headlines but it’s one of those developments that cry out for a next step. The Muslim scholars invited their Christian counterparts to a dialogue, so the ball is in the Christians’ court. More specifically, it’s in the Vatican’s court. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most centralised branch of the Christian family. The Muslims also have a bone to pick with Pope Benedict, who just over a year ago gave his famous Regensburg speech that implied Islam was violent and irrational. That sparked off violent protests in the Muslim world and, in turn, inspired 38 Muslim scholars to write a first letter in October 2006 that denounced that violence, asked for a dialogue (which Benedict had suggested in Regensburg) and questioned his understanding of Islam.

The latest letter is a follow-up, with a far larger group of signatories and the more ambitious goal of engaging in a theological dialogue with Christians. The wealth of Koran and Bible quotes cited and the argument that Islam agrees with the heart of Christian teaching — to love God and neighbour — showed these scholars want a long and serious theological discussion with Christianity.