Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Even the Church of England knows establishment is indefensible

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There's a good piece by Theo Hobson on Comment is Free, who expands on the idea that the Church of England is only putting up some vague opposition to the repeal of the blasphemy law out of fear of losing what little power it still enjoys.

Hobson takes this idea further. Given that the Church has hardly tried to use the blasphemy law in the past century, what opponents of the repeal are really worried about is a loss of symbolic power. And the real key to this symbolic power is the Church's established status, something its hierarchy would be even more reluctant to give up, despite the fact that "most of the church knows that its establishment is indefensible. But there is an institutional refusal to admit it. There is a fear of looking foolish. A senior bishop who advocated disestablishment would open himself to the embarrassing question: then why are you presently enjoying a status that you think is wrong?"

He even points out that Rowan Williams was leaning towards pro-disestablishment in his pre-Archbishop days – something he quickly let go once he got the top job. Hobson says: "I think this has been his real weakness, the thing that opens him to the charge of cowardice (even more than the gay issue). Instead of trying to start a debate about the old church-state arrangement, which I think is an urgent question, affecting all of us; he fell into line with the evasive spirit of the institution."

This is the second time I've blogged about one of Hobson's Comment is Free articles, and I like what he has to say. His biography describes him as a "post-anglican", a campaigner for disestablishment and says that "for a few years now Theo has been trying to ‘come out’ as a post-ecclesial Christian theologian". Now, I'm not 100% sure what this means, but in a way it seems he's broadly in agreement with us humanists. Minus the God bit, of course.