Though not as headline-grabbing or outspoken during his term in office, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has issued a number of public statements, articles, and books since the end of his tenure. (Since he is life peer, he will be referred to as Lord Carey as befits his office.) In a recent interview in the Telegraph to plug his new book, Carey speaks of the needs for Christians to have rights in a society that is on a "crusade" against them. Read the interview here.
To this, Crusty Old Dean has a two-word review: Boo-hoo. COD almost wishes Lord Carey would maintain his silence, as he is tired of those who uncritically reaped the benefits of Christianity's privileged place in society now petulantly demanding to be accorded special privileges in a world they have failed to minister to for almost a century.
The question of religious liberty and discrimination is a complicated and complex one, and is not as simplistic that those who own a B&B who refuse a room to a gay couple are having their religious liberties destroyed by a secularist crusade, one of the examples Lord Carey cites here. What is the role of personal conscience in a society where that conscience is not solely informed by a single religious influence? Not all Christians even think homosexuality is a sin. Increasing numbers of persons in Britain do not claim a religious tradition. Why should the interpretation by just some Christians, who are in turn a minority in the country as a whole, be determinative on society as a whole?
The hospital where COD did his chaplain residency was formed in the 1920s when the good white Protestant doctors in Providence, RI, refused to work alongside Jewish doctors, who in turn founded their own hospital. The USA has had laws against interracial marriage -- indeed, in the year 2000, when Alabama put its interracial marriage ban on the ballot for repeal, 40% of those voted to retain the ban. One could make plausible religious arguments that Jews are cursed as deicides by Matthew's passion gospel and children of the devil from John's Gospel, and for centuries many Christians believed black persons were under the curse of Ham. Would Lord Carey believe Christian white supremacists have, under religious conscience, the right to refuse service to Jews and Christians? This is not an argument ad absurdum; if Lord Carey is demanding that the right of a small group of persons to be respected, then how small does that group have to be before society determines that right is not permissible?
And what are Lord Carey's opinions on the injustices perpetuated on society when Christianity had a legal and cultural hegemony? After all, Britain is the country which freed its slaves before it accorded full civil rights to Catholics in 1829 and removed all restrictions against Jews in 1845, while, of course, refusing to recognize marriages performed in non-Church of England churches until relief acts of 1836 (which also removed the requirement of non-Anglicans to pay a tithe to the Anglican Church). These, apparently, are the good old days when one kind of Christianity was still able to force its opinions on society as a whole.
Lord Carey's own title belies the absurdity of his claims: the man is a life peer with the right to vote on legislation affecting all Britains, purely by virtue of an office he was not elected to. A victim of persecution, indeed.
Crusty Old Dean would like to add that he believe in respecting religious conviction as much as possible -- this is, for instance, why he supports the President's recent compromise on the question of religious organizations providing for contraception for employees who may not share that conviction which was recently proposed. Religious conscience is a right. Owning and operating massive multimillion dollar universities and hospitals is not a right. Forcing that conscience onto others through the institutions you own and operate is not a right. The true anger which has emerged regarding "religious liberty" from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is, in COD's opinion, nothing more than a collective Carey-esque whine by the bishops: furious that society no longer accords them the privilege to reap the benefits of conscience while at the same time refusing it of other persons. The compromise on the table is an effort to walk the line between respecting the conscience and liberty of all persons, and if it is refused we can discern the true motives of the USCCB here.
Religious liberty and conscience should be true religious liberty and conscience. After all, America runs the risks at times of interpreting the First Amendment as applying only to some people, as the despicable bigotry of the Park51 religious center in New York demonstrated. Religious liberty is religious liberty: not a smokescreen for demagogues to use Christianity to try to claim its former powers and privileges in society or to manipulate religious differences for political gain.
Pining for the days of tyranny of the majority and whining in the minority is not becoming, Lord Carey. Even you deserve a better legacy than this.