Again, Mike Higton has nailed it exactly in his excellent commentary on ‘Shariagate’ (and I’m so disappointed it hasn’t been called that by the tabloids and broadsheets). This is how Higton concludes, with two potential narratives for any journalist still uncertain how to report the story:
The first is the story that the Archbishop is a head-in-the-clouds academic, with no real grounding in the real world – and that this lecture is the latest in a series of blunders that could only be made by someone almost terminally naive. Accompany this by pictures that emphasise his eyebrows, and you have the makings of a convincing article. If you’re careful, you can make it sound like he’s been stuck in some academic cloister all his life, and has only emerged blinking into public in the last five minutes. You’ll have to brush over the fact that he’s exercised rather a lot of pastoral ministry, responding to quite an impressive range of quite-real-enough-thank-you circumstances1, and you’ll also do best not to mention how long he’s spent handling eye-watering arguments across the Anglican Communion that involve some of the most fractious and wilful antagonists you could hope to find – but just use the words ‘ivory tower’ a couple of times and your job will be done.
The second, rather similar, is the story that the Archbishop naively assumes the world to be stocked with ‘people of good will’ who will be reasonable if we speak to them nicely – and that he’s rather charmingly surprised when people turn out to be quite as wilfully unpleasant and selfish as they normally are. You’ll have to hide the fact that few contemporary theologians have as dark a view as he does of human beings’ ability destructively to deceive themselves – but people are always prepared to swallow a ‘genial vicar’ stereotype, so you should get away with it.
Go read the whole thing, and applaud.
- I love that phrase! [↩]