19 September 2007

New Christianity's preferred moral compass

Daily Telegraph interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury:

As politics concentrates increasingly on moral questions [a highly selective form of concentration, surely — focusing on intervention at the expense of liberty], so the church has become ever more political [there’s no good reason why it should have: there is little in the New Testament that is directly relevant to current social policy debates]. Yesterday, Dr Rowan Williams met Gordon Brown for the first time since he became Prime Minister and the Archbishop clearly intends to get more involved in the national debate. "Politics is so much about human issues now," he says. [I.e. it’s now mostly about the state intervening into formerly private spheres.]
"Is our society broken? I think it is," he says. … "Outside my front door in Lambeth I see a society so dramatically different from across the river or in Canterbury. There is a level of desolation and loneliness and dysfunctionality which many people have very little concept of. [In 2001 I lived for a few months in a block of flats next to Lambeth Palace. Can't say I noticed desolation, loneliness and dysfunctionality, just the usual vibrant South London melting pot.] If you sense that the world you live in is absolutely closed, that for all sorts of reasons you are unable to move outside, if nothing gives you aspirations, there is an imprisonment in that, there is a kind of resentment that comes with that and a frustration that can boil over in violence and street crime." [Assertions posing as empirical data about psychology, but probably amounting to little more than ideological prejudice. You could just as easily argue that people are now encouraged to feel resentful if they can’t do whatever they happen to feel like, regardless of whether they are suited to it. We used to have less mobility, but also less feeling that lack of mobility justified aggression at others.]
Inequality is, in his view, just a symptom of a wider moral vacuum. "I don't think that the huge wealth of some is the cause (of the problems), it is more that society just wants to reward business success and celebrity." [As opposed to what? ‘Society’ should e.g. reward kindness? Government prizes for altruism?]
"I sometimes sit with [my children] and watch The X Factor and it is heartbreaking to see people who plead with judges to get through because they just want to be famous so intensely," he says. [But why should a strong desire to be famous be considered ‘heartbreaking’? Possibly his reaction would make sense as a response to the unnecessary cruelty dished out by the judges to increase the entertainment value for the audience.]
Broadcasters, he argues, are contributing to the moral decline. "There is a gladiatorial streak in the entertainment business now where increasingly humiliation is the way forward. That worries me, there is a kind of sadism that can't be good for us. It is the building-up and the pulling-down of contestants, it is pushing people into situations where they expose their vulnerability, encouraging a culture of shamelessness." [He has a point.]
One of the Archbishop's key concerns is how the society we live in is damaging children. "What is lacking in children's lives is space ...” But he says pushy parents who rush children between ballet and violin lessons are suffocating their offspring too. "Children live crowded lives, we're not making their lives easy by pressurising them, whether it's the claustrophobia of gang culture or the claustrophobia of intense achievement in middle-class areas." [Ah yes, the pushy-parent story. Generally the preferred explanation for ambition in the young, rather than referring it to innate drives.]
Happiness lessons, which have been suggested by the Government, are not the answer, he says. "Happiness happens when you are not thinking about it, when you are inhabiting your body comfortably… when you feel at peace with yourself and the world. When we live overprotective, overstimulated lives we expect more all the time, we find it hard to be unself-conscious and just do what we do, we overanalyse." [Perhaps a bit hippy-ish as a philosophy, but at least we can be grateful that His Grace doesn’t subscribe to compulsory well-being lessons.]
When we ask him whether Britain is a Christian county, he pauses for a long time. Eventually, he says: "If you mean a country where the majority of people are active churchgoers then we are not that sort of country. If you mean a country where the history, the institutions and the general climate is Christian, I think we are still that." [By ‘Christian’ does Dr Williams perhaps mean ‘left-leaning’? In the sense that most British voters support one of the three varieties of quasi-socialism: “Labour”, “Conservative”, “Liberal-Democrat”?]
Clearly, he was uncomfortable with Tony Blair's missionary zeal but he admires Gordon Brown's moral compass. [A ‘compass’ which points to even more state intervention than we already have?] ... "The kind of political culture that Gordon Brown has come through is a bit more austere and values-oriented. He has a real level of emotional commitment about global poverty." [How very moral of Mr Brown to have an emotional commitment to exporting more of our money overseas.]

Interestingly, the following words do not occur in the Telegraph article, though I suppose we cannot be sure they weren’t censored out by the editors: “God”, “Jesus”, “Christ”. Of course, in 21st century Britain we are really dealing not with Christianity but with ‘New Christianity’, as strained through the po-mo filter. A point which Messrs. Dawkins and Hitchens might bear in mind.