Amid the customary hokum, there’s a flickering of realism in today’s Guardian. Further to this, Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association picks up on yesterday’s piece by Andrew Anthony and spies a possible explanation for Rowan Williams’ rhetorical contortions.
So, if the Catholic church wants exemption from laws to protect gay people from discrimination, you give them your support and even when you have to accept the case for abolishing the legal protection your own religion has from “blasphemy”, you can still salvage something by raising the spectre of offence caused to other religions (as the archbishop says, “The grounds for legal restraint in respect of language and behaviour offensive to religious believers are pretty clear”).
And if you want to protect the special status of the church and Christianity in law, then you speak up for the rights of those of other religions to have their religious law recognised (to quote the archbishop again, “Christians cannot claim exceptions from a secular unitary system on religious grounds (for instance in situations where Christian doctors might not be compelled to perform abortions), if they are not willing to consider how a unitary system can accommodate other religious consciences”). Replacing “Church of England” with “faith” makes any defence of special treatment seem a whole lot more reasonable.
And replacing Williams’ “secular unitary system” with something clearer and more precise - say, “the law” - makes his claim to special treatment, whether for Anglicans or Muslims, rather less reasonable. Which is presumably why the archbishop chose to deploy such opaque and circuitous language. And there I was thinking dishonesty is a sin.