Friday, May 6, 2011

Rowan at less than his best (Tom too)

"Rowan at his best" was the title of a recent post by Bosco Peters on Liturgy. Quite right, too, on the matter of spiritual wisdom shown by ++Rowan. But now we have Archbishop Rowan Williams commenting on the death of Osama bin Laden. Thinking Anglicans has the quote and a range of reports about the view expressed in the quote. Here's what he said:

"Lambeth Palace press release: Archbishop on Osama Bin Laden
…Q: Do you believe that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is justice for the 9/11 attacks and indeed other attacks? And was the US morally justified in shooting him even though he was unarmed as the White House now admits?

A: I think that the killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done, in those circumstances. I think it is also true that the different versions of events that have emerged in recent days have not done a great deal to help here. I don’t know the full details anymore than anyone else does but I do believe that in such circumstance when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a ‘war criminal’ as you might say in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed. "

Why is this ++Rowan at less than his best?

(1) He is commenting on something which requires no comment from him as ABC (and, by contrast, I see that his English RC counterpart is refraining from comment).

(2) He sets himself up to be taken down by the press. His first sentence is fine as far as it goes, for example, if he were having a conversation at the water cooler. But it permits the most minor of media distortion to make it into a "++Rowan uncomfortable at Osama's death" seller of newspapers.

(3) The last sentence is just awful. If someone is manifestly a war criminal how is justice not being seen to be done if he is killed? ++Rowan is imprecise here: what he means is that he thinks "legal justice" should be seen to be done. But where is the case for the requirement that this happens? Start thinking too much along these lines and you will be arraigning soldiers all over the place for being a little hasty with the trigger in war situations. Legal justice for manifest war criminals is a "nice to have" not a "must have." Further, what is said by ++Rowan is naive about how justice would be seen to be done in this situation. Any trial would be either a celebrity trial (with all that could go wrong over the celebration of the criminal as some kind of victim and thus perpetuating the suffering of the victims of 9/11 and other atrocities) or a secret military trial (with all that could go wrong about people like ++Rowan banging on about justice being "seen" to be done). What kind of punishment would be "just" if this had continued through the normal legal processes? Where would the trial take place (the Hague, New York or Guantanamo)? There are a host of very difficult questions here about the simple desire for justice to be seen to be done.

(4) When ++Rowan has such obvious signs in many other speeches and writings of original thought, why when he commenting on political matters such as this do we get responses which more or less could have been composed by a left-leaning robot? Here is an opportunity for a creative, Romans 13 based supportive comment for the leadership shown by President Obama. It gets missed all over the shop by church leaders. How hard would it be for some church leader somewhere to actually endorse what Obama has done here? It's not as though he's a Republican or anything impossible like that!

Fortunately a commenter at TA, Edward of Baltimore expresses a great deal of wisdom on the matter:

"The U.S. justice system is based on presumed innocence and a fair trial: I don't think Osama bin Laben could have counted on either of those today. Is the world better off without him? No doubt. Is the world a safer place without him? Likely. Was "justice done"? Not so sure. Was there an alternative? Can't think of one."

UPDATE: Following up on an alert by Steve in a comment below, I have to agree with Steve that now we find +Tom Wright at less than his best. As cited in Steve's comment and (fuller) in Ruth Gledhill's blog, +Tom Wright tries to come up with a parallel hypothetical situation in which Britain sends helicopters into the USA to shoot-to-kill a couple of terrorists. I don't think so. We are talking about a situation in which there is no doubt that Osama bin Laden was guilty of a succession of horrific war crimes against humanity and against the USA. I cannot think how such a parallel would arise between Britain and the USA. Why can we not have Christian leaders simply say, "It is a good thing that this evil man is dead"?


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

Bryden and you clearly consider yourselves at your best in your Bible quoting. The ABC is not alone in not being at his best. Here is another not at his best:

“Consider the following scenario. A group of IRA terrorists carry out a bombing raid in London. People are killed and wounded. The group escapes, first to Ireland, then to the United States, where they disappear into the sympathetic hinterland of a country where IRA leaders have in the past been welcomed at the White House. Britain cannot extradite them, because of the gross imbalance of the relevant treaty. So far, this is not far from the truth.

But now imagine that the British government, seeing the murderers escape justice, sends an aircraft carrier (always supposing we’ve still got any) to the Nova Scotia coast. From there, unannounced, two helicopters fly in under the radar to the Boston suburb where the terrorists are holed up. They carry out a daring raid, killing the (unarmed) leaders and making their escape. Westminster celebrates; Washington is furious.

What’s the difference between this and the recent events in Pakistan? Answer: American exceptionalism. America is allowed to do it, but the rest of us are not. By what right? Who says? …

Of course, ‘proper justice’ is hard to come by internationally. America regularly casts the UN (and the International Criminal Court) as the hapless sheriff, and so continues to play the world’s undercover policeman. The UK has gone along for the ride. What will we do when new superpowers arise and try the same trick on us? And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?” Bishop Tom Wright


Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I find it interesting that you should even question the propriety of the Archbishop of Canterbury answering a question about the death of Osama bin Laden - when you, yourself, have not held back from making public comments on your site.

After all, the ABC was asked for his input. Did anyone ask for yours?

hogster said...

Re Father Rons comment. The words of lesser folk like Peter and myself do not carry the weight that others words carry.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Steve,
+Tom at less than his best by not making a perfect parallel in his imagined scenario. When have terrorists in Britain killed 3000 people in one go?!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
In line with Hogster's point, I am a minion of the Communion airing a few views about an event far away; the ABC is a major world religious leader, a representative figure for the Anglican Communion, and (in Britain) a major voice in the media.

I would encourage the ABC, as with any major religious leader, to take great care when speaking in public.

James said...

Or -

Why do we have no commentary on the appointment of clergy person Janet Trisk to the Standing Committee? This seems to me like something very relevant to faith, the Commmunion, and also the Church of England. As a self-identifying Sea of Faith member, she thinks it is dangerous to ascribe existence to God in some manner beyond human imagination - i.e., she does not believe God is "real" in the usual sense of our using this word.

Are Anglican clergy now permitted to call upon persons to refrain from believing in God (in the sense that Trinitiarian Christians have faith in God)?

This fascinating question is full of possible implications for the lives of Anglicans all around the world.

If he's able to comment on something way beyond his normal role, most certainly he could provide us some commentary on this issue, especially since it's been raised so frequently.