The Church of England is not a religious cult
Consider some of the reaction to Dr Williams’ decision to support the Tobin or ‘Robin Hood’ tax on financial transactions. It was first proposed by the Nobel-prize winning economist James Tobin in 1972. He posited that a micro-tax of about 0.5 per cent on foreign exchange deals could yield billions of dollars which could be used to fund development in poor nations, and so alleviate poverty. In order to make ‘the bankers’ pay for their profligacy – and so mitigate the burden on ordinary taxpayers – the Archbishop has come out in support of this policy.
And you’d think he’d suggested that a woman should be Pope.
Consider Matthew D’Ancona in the Evening Standard, who (rightly) observes the Church of England ‘cannot help tilting towards the liberal Left’. But this leads Jeremy Warner in the Telegraphto splutter: ‘Dear Archbish – do shut up’. Bizarrely, he acknowledges that the Archbishop of Canterbury has thrown himself ‘onto the bandwagon already occupied by the Vatican, Jose Manuel Barroso, Uncle Tom Cobley and all…’, but he never proffered and article headed ‘Dear Pope – do shut up’. Indeed, the Telegraph would never have published such a headline.
Toby Young in the same paper is just as rude: ‘Back in your box, Bish’, he quips. Alex Brummer in the Mail blandly states: ‘Williams does not seem to have a clue on the likely impact of such a tax on Britain,’ but it is patronisingly dismissive.
The Archbishop himself declared that he supports the main proposals of a recent report from the Vatican calling for widespread financial reform and a tax levied on the sale of shares, bonds and foreign currency. He said: “This has won the backing of significant experts who cannot be written off as naive anti-capitalists – George Soros, Bill Gates and many others. It is gaining traction among European nations, with a strong statement in support this week from Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister.”
The BBC also notes this idea is actually from the Vatican, and talks respectfully of the objective of ‘ethical regulation of financial markets’ emanating from the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Dr Williams has simply agreed that the Vatican's proposals should be ‘a starting point for debate’.
As it happens, His Grace disagrees profoundly with Dr Williams’ views on taxation, capitalism and Marx. But that is not the point. The issue is the manner with which one disagrees. And, on that, you will find much of the ‘right-wing press’ pouring scorn upon the economic pronouncements of the Archbishop of Canterbury, while treating the Pope’s economic encyclicals and the Vatican’s ‘Justice and Peace’ agenda with great respect and reverence. Which is strange, because Roman Catholic Social Teaching is, well... socialist. The Archbishop of Canterbury is saying nothing that Pope Benedict XVI has not said, and if not he, his predecessors. You might call elements of it ‘third way’, but fundamentally the Vatican is pro-European, anti-State, anti-individualist and corporatist. Its social doctrine advocates close co-operation between employers and workers, with the state overseeing wages, working conditions, production, prices and exchange. By eliminating competition, the system is meant to promote social justice and order. This model pervades the European Union: the foundation is Roman, and the edifice is incrementally constructed by the continental Christian Democratic parties, presently supervised by the ‘devout Roman Catholic’ Herman Van Rompuy.
Christianity is as fragmented and pluralised as political allegiance, and both have their deviant sects and cults. Political cults differ in popularity, acceptability and prestige in exactly the same manner as Christian sects and cults, particularly in the way the media treat them. The Exclusive Brethren may be pilloried for insisting on a specific education for their children, and Evangelical Christians may be ridiculed for their stance of homosexuality. But television documentaries are far less likely to make the same arguments about Roman Catholic schools or refer to the Pope as ‘Marxist’ or ‘tilting to the liberal left’ (which, in his economics, he manifestly does). The inference is that Roman Catholics are a ‘church’ – indeed the Church – while the Brethren are a ‘sect’. The same treatment may be observed in the media’s treatment of ‘fringe’ parties: ‘Conservative’, ‘Labour’ and ‘LibDem’ are a respectable part of the social and cultural landscape; the deviant cults of UKIP or the BNP are not (the Greens are in transition). And yet there was a time when the Labour Party was a dangerous sect: it is only when groups begin to win elections and constitute a majority that the absurdities of social relativity become apparent.
The Church of England is neither sect nor cult: it is, as Burke observed, along with Parliament and Monarchy, a pillar of the Establishment. Certainly, she is flawed. But one might expect the Conservative-inclined press to acknowledge its crucial constitutional function. And one might also expect its intelligent and discerning commentariat to discern the ruinous economic proposals which are the real causes of poverty.