It’s a Shame the Chief Rabbi Can’t be the Next Archbishop of Canterbury

Strangely enough, we spoke of Chief Rabbi Sacks earlier today. Now I saw this post in the Catholic Herald: It’s a shame the Chief Rabbi can’t be the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Benedict Brogan’s interview with Rowan Williams, outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Telegraph last Saturday threw up some interesting observations. Brogan writes, “His time has been marked by an often vitriolic debate about the march of militant secularism. He laughs at the recollection of his exchanges with the atheist academic Richard Dawkins, whom he describes as the “latest pub bore” in the tradition of “great public atheists.”

The outgoing Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, whose latest book, The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning, I have already referred to in a recent blog, is rather less dismissive of Dawkins in his book. Indeed, I don’t remember reading about Williams’ public exchanges on atheism during his time in office: his Socialist-inclined political views – yes; his ideas about Sharia law – yes; controversy over same-sex oriented clergy – yes; his rather muted attitude about defending marriage (unlike his predecessor, Lord Carey) – yes; and lots of general remarks when it was quite hard to know what he was talking about (well, he is an intellectual).

It seems that Williams, seizing the opportunity now that freedom beckons, has published a collection of past lectures, entitled Faith in the Public Square. According to a report in CFNews, he is critical of Lord Carey and of the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, for stating that Christians in Britain are facing persecution. Williams’ view is that “Argument is essential to a functioning democratic state, and religion should be involved in this, not constantly demanding the right not to be offended”.

Surely this is unfair to his colleagues in the Anglican hierarchy? Carey and Nazir-Ali have never indicated they are hostile to argument – when it means a fair and open debate; what they and others have been pointing out for some time (though Williams seems to have missed it) is that in a number of cases that have been well-publicised, Christians’ beliefs have been marginalised and dismissed by a highly secularist interpretation of the law. Given the life-threatening persecution of Christians in some Muslim countries, “persecution” in this context is perhaps too strong a word; but words like “harassment”, “denigration” and “heavy-handed” do come to mind. What Christians want in this country is the right to practise their faith and to follow their conscience; it has nothing to do with a so-called “right not to be offended.”

In his new book, Rowan Williams apparently distinguishes between “programmatic” secularism which becomes problematic when it excludes religious practise and symbols from public life in order to emphasise loyalty to the state; and “procedural” secularism under which the state allows people to publicly practise their faith but does not give preferential treatment to any single religious group. Michael Nazir-Ali rejects this distinction, stating that any form of secularism represents an assault on the Church and on Christian values.

I agree with him. Williams’ is a typically intellectual approach, examining the question in an abstract way without reference to how people actually live their lives. If people were happy to live and let live in the tolerant way he would like, the history of the world would be different. But certain laws enacted by our secularist government directly impinge on people’s Christian beliefs – for instance, laws on adoption and the (anticipated) change to the definition of marriage itself. Furthermore, Williams is (still) the Christian primate of the Established Christian Church in this country; the Queen is still “Defender of the Faith”. What does not giving “preferential treatment to any single religious group” mean in this context?

Brogan comments, “Where others would want to hear clarion clarity about a crisis [on marriage] that goes to the very heart of the Church, [Williams] shies away and hedges. To his critics, this is the reason why the Church appears weak, because he does not communicate certainty…”

To return to Lord Sacks: his book, according to Andrew Marr – not an oracle, admittedly, but still a good barometer of liberal taste – is “the most persuasive argument for religious belief I have ever read.” Sacks argues, not that Dawkins is the “latest pub bore” but that questions of religion and science concern different hemispheres of the brain: science (the left hemisphere) “takes things apart to see how they work”; religion (the right hemisphere) “puts things together to see what they mean”; both activities are vital.

Come to think of it, it is a great pity that the Chief Rabbi can’t, for obvious reasons, apply for the job of being the next Archbishop of Canterbury: he is an intellectual – but with a gift for clear exposition; he believes in God, marriage, the family; he is conciliatory rather than divisive; and from his own religious and historical perspective he sees the marginalisation of faith for what it is.



We steal and lie. We tear human relationships apart. We abuse the gift of sexuality that God has given to us for purely selfish reasons. We create new idols that can never bring us happiness. We permit the destruction of innocent human life in the womb. We walk past the homeless and the beggars and ignore their plight.
We seek power over others and once we have it, use it to their detriment and our personal gain. We divorce those we made oaths to love and protect. We abandon all values that have served human happiness for centuries. We play God with human life in IVF and imagine that the eldest and weakest and most vulnerable have no intrinsic value. We deceive ourselves and raise ourselves in our own eyes above that which we are. We annihilate the vision of God from our horizon. We starve and dehydrate the sick to death and immerse ourselves in a culture of suicide and nihilism. Then, after we have done all of these things, we have the bare-faced audacity to ask the question of our Creator:

‘Why does God permit suffering?’

A thousand thousand volcanoes could not achieve that which we do to ourselves and the human race!

SourceThat The Bones You Have Crushed May Thrill



Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to Debate Richard Dawkins

This is one debate that I’m looking forward to watching.

Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins and Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks will meet on Wednesday in an hour-long debate on science and religion, as part of the Re:Think Festival in Salford.

The festival, hosted by the BBC at MediaCityUK, runs from 12-13 September.

It aims to explore and debate ethical and religious issues affecting society.

This will be the second time that Prof Dawkins and Lord Sacks have exchanged their opposing views on faith and science in a public arena.

In October 2011, Andrew Marr discussed the wonders of nature with Prof Dawkins, Lord Sacks and cosmologist Prof Lisa Randall in BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week.

In that occasion, Prof Dawkins’s contribution touched upon the beauty of the physical universe, and highlighted the supremacy of scientific discourse over myth or faith in the explanation of reality.

But Lord Sacks said that, while science provides facts, religion gives meaning; humans, he said, need both.

Ahead of Wednesday’s debate, the Chief Rabbi reiterated that view.

He told the BBC: “There is a belief that science and religion cannot coexist, that the advance of one is to the detriment of the other.

“I believe this is wrong.”

He added that there was “more to life than science and more to religion than ignorance and superstition”.

“What is needed, now more than ever, is a conversation between the forces of science and those of religion,” said the Chief Rabbi.

“Richard Dawkins is a gifted scientist and someone who has contributed a great amount to our understanding of the world.

“I hope we will be pleasantly surprised and realise that there is a very strong argument for saying that, despite obvious differences, there can, and must, be a great partnership between science and religion.”

New year’s debate

The Chief Rabbi will also meet Prof Dawkins in a BBC documentary to be broadcast on the same day.

The programme will mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

During an interview with Richard Dawkins filmed for the documentary, Lord Sacks put it to him that hope was based on having faith that good things might happen.

Prof Dawkins replied: “You don’t need religion to have hope. You don’t need the supernatural.

“Hope is an attitude to the future. The future is an unknown and you can take a scientific attitude to prophesy the likely future.”

“Hope is not something that you have evidence for – it’s something that you feel in you.”

Aaqil Ahmed, commissioning editor of Religion & Ethics at the BBC, has high hopes for the Dawkins-Sacks debate: “Jonathan and Richard are two of Britains most revered thinkers in this area,” he said.

“I can’t wait to listen to them explore the complexities of the relationship between religion and science.

“This is a chance to see in the flesh if the gaps between these two worlds can be bridged by possibly the only two people who could manage it.”

The Rabbi is an intellectual and he should give Dawkins a good run for his money.



Elvis Presley’s Bible Sells for £59,000

A bible which once belonged to Elvis Presley and contains his handwritten notes and thoughts has sold for £59,000 at an auction in England.

The Telegraph reports:

The bible, given to the singer on his first Christmas at his home in Graceland in 1957, was bought by an American man based in Britain, Omega Auctions said on its website.

The religious book, used by Presley until his death on Aug 16, 1977, was expected to fetch around 25,000 pounds but went for more than double its value.

But a pair of Presley’s unwashed and soiled underpants, worn underneath his famous white jumpsuit during a 1977 concert, went unsold.

Bids for the underwear reached 5,000 pounds, but failed to meet the £7,000 reserve price.

Some of the singer’s other personal items sold at the auction on Saturday included used cufflinks, a gold pendant chain/necklace and black Flagg Brothers shoes.

The entire Elvis collection, owned by a single British collector, went for more than 100,000 pounds at Omega Auctions in Cheshire, north England.