He is bumbling, overly complex, indecisive, and needs a good haircut. At least, that is what they like to say about Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The latter may be undeniable based on the observable evidence, but the criticisms of the Archbishop’s personality flaws are utter rubbish. He is, in the Anglophone world, something of a theological giant (whether you agree with his positions or no). And, in fact, he speaks quite clearly: it is just that the newspapers seem not to do “nuance” (a sad reality true of their approach to religion as a whole, and not just Christianity).
The whole culture, at least in British newspapers, of “Archbishop speaks/hue and cry erupts” is a dreadful bore. The fact is that bin Laden and at least two other people who were shot were unarmed. The Christian who is comfortable with killing an unarmed man, whatever evil he may have committed, is not much of a Christian. I am not talking about execution here. Though I find capital punishment pretty repugnant, I can accept that sometimes it is necessary, if all the requirements of law have been fulfilled, that is. But here we didn’t have an execution, we had an assassination, a “take out”.
The original US government account gave the impression that bin Laden had been killed in the heat of battle. In fact, we now know that between the marines entering the building and themselves starting shooting-to-kill, they were only fired on once, and that by one of bin Laden’s militiamen whom they killed within seconds. How did the original account turn out to be so farcical? The Archbishop is surely also right about that: the errors in reporting and the very different accounts given by the various arms of what seems to me to have been an unnecessarily byzantine operation, have also not helped to make the case for what happened.
I am no fan of Islam, theologically speaking, as any reader of this blog will surely know; nor am I averse to armies using force, it is what they are for. But these things cannot be done with impunity forever. If Muslims feel enraged by their treatment at the hands of Americans, British and other NATO powers, then I can empathise. These governments are as antipathetic to Christian values as they are to Muslim ones. They do not shoot us, it is true; but worse than that they belittle, malign, and dismiss us. They do us no violence, but treat us as if a short spell in psychiatric hospital would do us good. The treatment of the Archbishop of Canterbury over his recent remarks – remarks solicited by repeated questioning on the same subject – is a sad example of this tendency.