The Archbishop of Canterbury Speaks on ISIL

Dr. Welby’s contribution to the Lords Debate on proposed military action by UK forces in Iraq

HANSARD: Column 1685 12.13 pm 26 Sep 2014

The Archbishop of Canterbury:

My Lords, the danger of this debate is that we speak only of Iraq and Syria, ISIL, and armed force. ISIL and its dreadful barbarity are only one example of a global phenomenon, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House mentioned. We will not thus be able to deal with a global holistic danger if the only weapons we are capable of using are military and administrative, and if we focus only on one place. It is clear, as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition set out so clearly, that we need to take this action now. However, it is also necessary over time that any response to ISIL and to this global danger be undertaken on an ideological and religious basis that sets out a more compelling vision, a greater challenge, and a more remarkable hope than that offered by ISIL. We must face the fact that for some young Muslims the attractions of jihadism outweigh the materialism of a consumer society. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, implied, if we struggle against a call to eternal values, however twisted and perverted they may be, without a better story we will fail in the long term.

The vision that we need to draw on is life-giving. It is rooted in the truths of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, relying heavily in the Middle Ages on the wealth of Islamic learning and that of the other Abrahamic faiths, not necessarily enemies, and enriched by others, such as Hinduism and Sikhism, in recent generations. Religious leaders must up their game, and the church is playing its part. It is the role of the church I serve to point beyond our imperfect responses and any material, national or political interest, to the message of Jesus Christ and the justice, healing and redemption that he offers.

But in the here and now there is justification for the use of armed force on humanitarian grounds to enable oppressed victims to find safe space. ISIL and, for that matter, Boko Haram and others, have as their strategy to change the facts on the ground so as to render completely absurd any chance of helping the targets of their cruelty. It is clear from talking this week with Christian and other leaders across the region that they want support. The solidarity in the region is added to by the important statement from the Grand Imam of al-Azhar on Wednesday. The action proposed today is right, but we must not rely on a short-term solution on a narrow front to a global, ideological, religious, holistic and transgenerational challenge. We must demonstrate that there is a positive vision far greater and more compelling than the evil of ISIL and its global clones. Such a vision offers us and the world hope and assurance of success in this struggle, not the endless threat of darkness.

My Response to Dr. Welby’s speech – Alan Rogers

Dr. Welby displays a limited grasp of the history of religion. He offers a conveniently amnestic view of religion’s past. My previous blog on this site sketched the history of Christianity in what is now called Britain. My account began with the burning alive of Dr. John Rogers in front of his wife and ten children. Was the bishop who ordered this atrocity not a Christian? As my account shows a four hundred year effort was required to change the Christian country which is now the United Kingdom into the relatively civilised place it is today. Most of this effort concerned wresting power from the Church, eliminating the injustice and persecution brought about by enforced Christian dogma. The truth is that the communities where Islam is still dominant have still to make this journey. At present they face a choice between two evils, military dictatorship or theocracy. We have seen in Iran what Theocracy offers and it is chillingly like Sixteenth Century Christianity. Military dictatorship was what Colonel Gadafi and Sadam Hussein offered – a kind of brutal stability.

Dr. Welby seems to think young Moslems living in the UK decide to join Jihadist movements because they are bored with playing Grand Theft Auto and shopping in the town high street. If they had access to more religion all would be well. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry that such nonsense has appeared in Hansard.

The response of these young people shows the dangerous nature of religion. Some people will believe religion despite its irrational nature – perhaps even because of its irrational nature. It is an interesting scientific question to ask if this phenomenon is an evolutionary, inherited feature of the emotional make-up of the species H.sapiens. Once the young person is “converted” the priest or cleric has huge manipulative power over this individual. The Jihadi really, really believes his religion. There is no room for doubt, no scope for self criticism other than questioning if he is devoted enough to the belief system he now depends upon. [I use only the male pronoun because it is less cumbersome – there are of course equally committed females]. The Jihadi also has the false promise, common to Christianity and Islam, of an afterlife. Of course dedicated atheists may be prepared to sacrifice their lives in what they think is a justifiable cause. This tends to be a more altruistic decision however. Of the form – “I must risk my life so that my children and grandchildren will not have to live under this atrocious regime”. The Jihadi is promised paradise if he dies while killing unbelievers, the very opposite of altruism.

In some ways it is sad to watch a good man like Dr. Welby struggle to justify religion in the face of the manifest evil of an intensely religious group like ISIL. But he should not be allowed to deliver in our Parliament such a distorted view of the history of western civilization without challenge.

Could there be a better demonstration of the need to debate the removal of the 26 Lords Spiritual (Anglican bishops) from the United Kingdom Parliament?

Alan Rogers

September 2014