JOHN BINGHAM's Telegraph scoop of both the book On
Rock or Sand? and the interview with Archbishop Sentamu was a
reward for consistent hard work and accuracy. But the most
interesting reaction came in other papers.
I often think that the Financial Times is the most
thoughtful left-wing paper in Britain, and its response to the
Archbishops' assault on the Government was a case in point.
"Throughout English history, the country's leaders have deprecated
political interventions from the clergy as the machinations of
"But a poorer and rather humbler Britain should focus on the
Archbishop's central point. 'Today,' he says, 'there is no commonly
held story about what is right and good, and what makes for a
society of mutual flourishing.' This is a judgement with which many
The Daily Mail put the boot straight in: "At a time
when church attendances are down, traditional believers are
persecuted for their convictions, and Christians are being
slaughtered in Africa - the apparent priority of the Archbishop of
Canterbury and his colleagues is playing Left-wing politics.
"Indeed, it spoke volumes that the person most delighted by
yesterday's pamphlet - which approvingly quoted Karl Marx - was Ed
"Once, the Church preached the biblical virtues of hard work,
diligence and self-reliance. How depressing that - when not
obsessing over gay marriage or female bishops - its chief function
now would appear to be delivering sermons direct from the Labour
Party press office."
I'm sure you can find commendations of hard work, diligence, and
self-reliance in the Bible, just as you can find the lilies of the
field. There are proof texts for almost anything if you look hard
enough (and there must be a verse somewhere that makes just that
point). But the effect of this is that the idle rhetorician can
simply slap the label of "biblical" on any policy he wishes the
Church to adopt. This fault is not confined to leader-writers.
What both writers missed - though the FT hints at it in
its last paragraph - is the profound, small-c conservatism of the
document. The idea that a good society is one in which there is "a
commonly held story about what is right and good" is slippery and
dangerous to all political orthodoxies at the moment.
This is obvious if you turn it on its head and say that a good
society is one in which there is no commonly held story about what
is right and good. Because, obviously, there are lots of people who
disagree with that, and you have just robbed yourself of any
principle by which they might be reconciled with the liberal
orthodoxy, or for that matter with each other.
Like most political disagreements, this one can be resolved by
force - although, in the modern world, the force involved is
usually economic. The overriding story of the contemporary Western
world is that there is nothing that can stand in the way of
economic activity. This is taken to be true by almost everyone, and
because it is extraordinarily hard to entertain thoughts on which
you do not act, it soon appears that there is nothing that should
stand in the way of economic activity, either.
There is obviously a huge amount of discontent at this, which
does not fit comfortably on to our political map, or even our
religious one. I suspect, though, that one of the attractions of
Islam for thoughtful people is precisely that it contains resources
from which to reject economic determinism.
WHICH brings us to the Muslim stories of the week.
Abdul Hakim Murad, writing in The Sunday Telegraph,
urged Muslim lawyers to bring cases under the hate-speech laws to
prevent any repeat of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. That
would at least make the disagreements over free speech clearer,
though it would clearly also fuel some Christian animosity towards
Muslims for getting "special treatment", and, if the purpose of
these laws is to diminish com- munal tensions, that seems to be
What made my eyeballs revolve in his piece, though, was the
statement: "No significant Muslim scholar supports the radicals in
Iraq and Syria, but some young people simply pay no heed."
This notion of "significant" needs a lot of work. I know very
well what he means: that no respectable Muslim scholar supports the
radicals in Iraq and Syria. Even that is pretty absurd. Until the
emergence of Islamic State as a distinct military threat, Saudi
Arabia was full of preachers urging them on.
But, even if we grant that no well-paid and respectable imam
supports IS, that just makes the imams who do support it more
significant. Jihadism may be a scholarly aberration, but it is also
a genuinely popular religious movement. That makes it significant,
and it means that its ideologues are significant, too. They can't
be dismissed simply because they are ignorant as well as