Thursday, 23 October 2008


Watching Question Time, as Phil Woolas makes more news by not appearing than any Minister has by going on. Roy Hattersley is proving amusingly effective in highlighting that Sayeeda Warsi is clearly winging it - she's just been called by members of the audience on some fairly ill-informed comments about how sex education is taught in schools.

Anyway, it was not just the immigration controversy, but also Woolas' prediction that the Church of England would be disestablished within 50 years which led to his being pulled from the show.

“Disestablishment – I think it will happen because it’s the way things are going. Once you open debate about reform of the House of Lords you open up debate about the make-up of the House. It will probably take 50 years, but a modern society is multifaith.”

As one would hope, this called forth a lengthy Church and Nation editorial in The Times yesterday which notes that "there remains a powerful case for antidisestablishmentarianism" yet comments that

Disestablishment would in a sense allow the Church of England to be more Christian. Its concerns would be less expansive, and a more distinctive voice might thereby emerge. Whether that is the right course for the Church and for the nation is a conversation worth holding.

But disestablishment is not the only way to deal with the public role of religion in a society of many faiths and none.

I have argued in a couple of essays on this subject - not freely available online, but summarised in this Guardian letter and news story - that we do need to renegotiate the role of religion in public life but that a limited co-establishment, within a human rights framework, could produce a rather more British settlement.

A ‘pragmatic secularism’ would offer a different approach to a new settlement between religion and the state. This would determine which of the current privileges of the Established Church would end and which could be shared with other major faiths ... that the boundaries will be established by political negotiation means that pragmatic empiricism to the relationship between religion and the state will not deliver an entirely coherent blueprint. This may be a particularly British approach, reminiscent of George Orwell’s claims in The Lion and the Unicorn that his new post-revolutionary England “will not be doctrinaire, nor even logical. It will abolish the House of Lords, but quite probably will not abolish the Monarchy. It will leave anachronisms and loose ends everywhere, the judge in his ridiculous horsehair wig and the lion and the unicorn on the soldier’s cap-buttons”.

PS: The famous Blackadder reference:

Dish and Dishonesty
Prince George: Get him here at once!
Blackadder: Certainly, sire. I will return before you can say 'antidisestablishmentarianism.'
Prince George: Well, I wouldn't be too sure about that! Antidistibilitsmin... anti-misty-linstimbl...
title card: Two Days Later
Prince George: Anti-distinctly-minty-muntanism... anti...
[Blackadder enters]
Blackadder: Sir Talbot Buxomly!

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