Posted on: February 10th, 2008 Archbishop of Canterbury & Sharia (preliminary thoughts)

For background on this issue see this article, and also see Jon Barlow’s blog post (and don’t overlook the insightful comments).

While on the one hand Rowan is far from “calling for the introduction of sharia into British law,” it is true that he is suggesting, and beginning to articulate in public, a different kind of politics, and alternative politics which is rooted in the political theology of Radical Orthodoxy.

Some thoughts:

1. When it comes to the larger culture, the church has two vocations: to convert, and / or to suffer as martyr. Great wisdom is required to discern when and how to apply these two vocations.
2. England, like the US, is no longer a Christian nation. (Actually, it is debatable if the US, unlike England, ever was a Christian nation in any meaningful sense.) Modern England is a modern nation state which participates in the grand Enlightenment political project of privatizing religion in the name of creating a public space for diversity and tolerance. This, however, presupposes an ontology of original violence (in radical opposition to the Christian ontology of original, edenic peace) and actually serves as a mechanism for the state to tyrannize and control the public according to its own needs.
3. The archbishop’s suggestion of an eventual recognition of sharia in the UK (a nation which, like its neighbor France, is increasingly populated by Middle Eastern people, many of whom are Muslims) is a slight move to undermine the hegemony of the modern nation state. This is a state, remember, which plunged itself into the “Iraq War” in an alleged claim to be fighting forces of evil, a claim which grows more dubious with every passing day. (Note: Archbishop Rowan did not “call for” the inclusion of sharia into the British legal system; he merely said that such a development is inevitable, suggesting that such an inevitable development would be a good thing.)
4. This is not to sanction sharia in every sense, or to deny that it itself sometimes legitimates violence against women, etc. Rather, what is going on here is an attempt to give a religious community the right to practice its politics, to bind itself together, publicly and without domination by the modern nation state.
5. What, then, of cultural Christianity and its dominance in the West? Two things to keep in mind: first Williams does not consider the modern nation state of England to be Christian in any meaningful sense, and, secondly, he senses that it is time in the West for the Church to let go of secular power and to begin to practice her second calling, that of martyrdom.

For credible detailed analysis of his comments, see this.

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