For a celebrated secular society such as the UK, why do religious leaders automatically get media air time when they have an opinion they wish to express? What is it about ‘men of the cloth’ such as Rowan Williams that the media find so worthy of attention when they wish to wade into an issue in the public domain? Williams’ most recent foray into the public sphere is his concern over any potential “downgrading” of religious education in schools. One can argue that it makes sense that his view be reported on since this is a public issue that directly relates to the perpetuation of religion. I, for one, have no problem with religion being taught in schools, but it must be taught honestly. If the likes of Williams want religion to remain in schools it is only reasonable that any such class should teach every belief held within that religion and every ‘word of God’ should be mulled over. There is no room for cherry picking information in an educational situation. So, not only should children be taught about how Jesus was a super guy (with super powers) but children should be told about how Jesus’ father (who was also himself) thought it was perfectly reasonable to burn two children to death for the lighting of incense against his wishes (Leviticus 10:1-2). If it is to be taught, then teach it all, no holds barred, with the obvious caveat that it should not be sold as fact but rather ‘This is what this religion believes’ and of course there is never any room for creationism being touted as an alternative to evolution.
Getting back onto topic, Williams has a track record of getting airtime for his political opinions, despite not being an elected political figure but rather an appointed theological one, which, might I point out, doesn’t make him an expert in any realm other than the word of his ‘God’. His opinions are often as progressive as is likely to be found in any leader within a religion, for example he defends equality for women and homosexuals (both the favourite piñata of the religious zealot) in the sense that they should be allowed to hold positions of influence within the church. Naturally this does not extend to a potentially gay bishop having a partner. Even Williams’ liberal sensibilities have their limits. Beneath these almost reasonable positions lies less acceptable opinions in a secular society such as the UK. Williams advocates the introduction of sharia law in affairs of marriage, in effect having separate laws for one segment of society, while he simultaneously holds the view that the UK is fixated on ‘identity politics’ – things such as gay rights and feminism – and now is the time to focus on what is “good for all of us” . To me it looks like he wants two things at once. Separation and unity. Perhaps this is merely being consistent with the contradictory nature of the bible.
So here we have a man getting airtime for his opinions on subjects as diverse as sharia law (despite not being a representative of the people who wish to see it come into effect) gay rights (where he has also been reported as saying the government have no right to change the law to allow gay marriage; see here for a rebuttal to anyone who agrees with him), feminism and what gets taught in the classroom. Again the question has to be asked. Why? Is he an expert in political theory regarding the rights of minorities such as Muslims in the West or the gay community? Is he an expert in the struggle of women seeking equal and fair treatment in a patriarchal society? He gets air time for none of these reasons. It seems he gets airtime because of tradition. The tradition of the religious advisor. This hails back to the time of total rule by the monarch where a ‘man of the cloth’ was always on hand to advise the ruler. This was a time when it was believed that Kings and Queens were chosen by the God of the land and appointed to rule and therefore it was quite natural to have a representative of God on hand when making decisions. Somehow this tradition of valuing the opinion of the church has carried over into current society, but perhaps for more than traditions sake. It is likely that as the UK has become more secular there is a vocal religious minority that kicks up a fuss when there is any indication that their biased, religiously fuelled views are not being taken seriously. In essence the media is almost afraid of being accused of being discriminatory or unbalanced in their coverage by not including the likes of Williams in reporting of an issue. It all seems so utterly insane and arbitrary.
Now that Williams has stepped down from his role as Archbishop he will likely slowly fade into the background scenery and his replacement will begin to pop up in any realm to rant about his position on any issue that piques his interest and so the circus of taking seriously the opinion of a man who is informed by a Bronze Age book as the source of moral guidance in 2012 continues.