Rowan(ish) meets the press..

Possibly already contender for Anglican blog post of the year, MCJ provides us with a moment of utter hilarity!!!

(Reproduced in full here because I don’t want you to miss it)

Good morning.  This is Meet the Press and I’m Tim Russert.  Can the law teach human decency or good manners?  Should it even try?  Should it be illegal, for example, to be a racist, a sexist, a homophobe or simply Bill Belichek?  The leader of Anglican Christianity aroused a storm of controversy when he suggested that the law might have a role in improving public discourse.  We are pleased and honored to have here with us this morning, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury.  Your Grace, welcome.
Thank you very much, Tim, it’s a pleasure to be here.
How’s the weather there in London?
It’s quite lovely.  This afternoon, I’ll probably take a radio out to the garden and listen to the Third Test.

Sounds like a wonderful way to spend the day.  Your Grace, let me read you something you recently said in the James Callaghan Memorial lecture:

The law cannot and should not prohibit argument, which involves criticism, and even, as I noted earlier, angry criticism at times; but it can in some settings send a signal about what is generally proper in a viable society by stigmatising and punishing extreme behaviours that have the effect of silencing argument. Rather than assuming that it is therefore only a few designated kinds of extreme behaviour that are unacceptable and that everything else is fair game, the legal provision should keep before our eyes the general risks of debasing public controversy by thoughtless and (even if unintentionally) cruel styles of speaking and acting.

Rowan Williams
January 29, 2008

Your Grace, do you think it is proper for the law to, as you put it, "send a signal?"
Well, the law does it all the time, doesn’t it?  After all, the law sent a signal that racial discrimination was unacceptable.
Quite right.  But racial discrimination is a relatively easy thing to define.  You seem to be proposing that what you call "thoughtless" and "cruel" styles of speaking be legally prohibited.  Aren’t those rather subjective concepts?  If your idea became a legal principle, wouldn’t we be in danger of the situation we see in Canada now where a writer named Mark Steyn will be hauled before a Canadian tribunal because some Canadian Muslims claimed they were offended by something he wrote?
Of course that kind of situation can and should be guarded against.  I in no way desire limits on public debate.  But we should as civilized men in general and Christians in particular always avoid giving offense.  And we can easily argue without resorting to the sorts of behaviors I mentioned.
But is it a function of the law to force everyone to play nice?  And who is to define what’s thoughtless?  Who is to define what’s cruel?  Are you suggesting that the government should compile a lexicon of hurtful words, phrases and concepts that are not to be used?  Should the government update it every year or so, provide copies free of charge, teach it in schools, that kind of thing?
Those are intriguing suggestions, Tim, and definitely worth looking into.  I think those are ideas that we in the Church of England will have to study.
Your Grace?
Are you high?
Not at all.  Why on earth would you think that?
I don’t remember.  Your Grace, someone whose stock-in-trade is spirited debate and who vehemently disagrees with you is Christopher Johnson of the MCJ.
  Well, gosh, Tim, what Rowan Williams calls thoughtless and cruel, other people call honest.  After all, if your brother has a drinking problem and you tell him that he needs to get help, you’re going to hurt his feelings but it has to be done, you betcha, if you truly love your brother.  Tim, you and I both know that if I say "bacon" in front of some of those Islamic fellas these days, I’ll get in trouble and the Episcopalians will be the first in line to picket me and stuff.  Dr. Williams’ suggestion is more of the same pedantic sophistry I’ve come to expect from that broccoli-shaped blowhard.
Your Grace, is "broccoli-shaped blowhard" the sort of rhetoric that you’d like to see legally abolished from public discourse?  And please don’t welsh on answering the question.
Good one there, Tim.
No, no, not at all.  After all, debate in British universities is often quite spirited and…
What about something along the lines of Brussels-sprouts-for-brains Cardiff fog machine?
Well, I certainly wouldn’t…
Waste of a perfectly good crozier?
That’s the sort of expression that…
The Archbishop of Neptune?
Personally, I would tend to steer clear of those sorts of…
Punting the question on the Thames?
Now, Tim, I think you’re…
Essentially, Your Grace, you don’t know what people should stop saying but you think government should have a role in forcing them to stop saying it.
That’s rather an oversimplification, Tim.  Not to change the subject but can I ask you something?
What did you mean before when you said you hoped I wouldn’t "welsh" on answering your question?
I’d really like to answer that, Your Grace, but unfortunately that’s all the time we have.  Join us again next week for another edition of Meet the Press.



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