A Tale of Two Rowans

Both are British (one English, the other Welsh).  Both went to Oxford.  Both have parents who decided to name them Rowan.  And both have achieved worldwide fame.  But in pretty much every other way that matters, they couldn’t be more different from each other.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams is the primus inter pares at the head of a worldwide religious community, the Anglican Communion.  But he is also senior primate of the Church of England, an institution whose other leading figure, carrying the title Supreme Governor of the Church of England, is Queen Elizabeth II (one of whose other subsidiary titles, dating back to Henry VIII, is of course “Defender of the Faith”).  By virtue of this role in what is not only a spiritual but a civic institution, Williams is a cornerstone of the British establishment.  Which is to say that, in addition to being a shepherd responsible to fellow Anglicans around the globe, he is also a holder of a public office and of a public trust, responsible to the British Crown and to every citizen of the United Kingdom.

If Rowan Williams is that most solemn of things, the Queen’s bishop, Rowan Atkinson is somewhere at the opposite end of the seriousness spectrum.  Famous for his characters Blackadder and Mr. Bean, Atkinson is not just a comic actor but one who almost invariably plays the fool.  Often, interestingly, these fools are clerics, such as the nervous vicar who, officiating at a marriage ceremony in Four Weddings and a Funeral, inadvertently says “Holy Goat” instead of “Holy Ghost.”

I said above that – names, fame, nationality, and Oxonian backgrounds aside – our two Rowans “couldn’t be more different.” That’s not quite correct.  Both, as it happens, have also made public pronouncements in recent years on certain highly controversial issues.  Only a few weeks after 9/11 – eager, apparently, to show his dhimmitude and prevent a jihadist attack on British soil, Home Secretary David Blunkett proposed a law that would criminalize religious hate speech.  The almost universal response to this ignominious move was a deafening silence – the most notable exception being a letter dated October 15, 2001, and published in the Times of London on October 17.  It was by Atkinson.  He wrote, in part:

I hope that I am not the only person in the creative arts who feels great disquiet about the proposals outlined by the Home Secretary in the Commons today, to introduce legislation to outlaw what has been described as ‘incitement to religious hatred’ …Having spent a substantial part of my career parodying religious figures from my own Christian background, I am aghast at the notion that it could, in effect, be made illegal to imply ridicule of a religion or to lampoon religious figures….For telling a good and incisive religious joke, you should be praised. For telling a bad one, you should be ridiculed and reviled. The idea that you could be prosecuted for the telling of either is quite fantastic.

Alas, it appeared as if Atkinson might actually be “the only person in the creative arts” in Britain who didn’t like what Blunkett was up to.  Certainly none of his fellow British celebrities rushed in to second his motion in an equally high-profile manner.  In the wake of Blunkett’s proposal, Atkinson was conspicuous by his seemingly solitary opposition.

Although Blunkett’s bill ended up passing – in a somewhat milder version, thanks to the efforts of the House of Lords, and no thanks whatsoever to the dhimmi wimps in the House of Commons – the cringing and groveling didn’t go far enough for the other Rowan, who in January 2008, in a pompous, pretentious six-thousand-word lecture entitled “Religious Hatred and Religious Offence,” called for severer punishments for writers and artists who slander religion, his argument being (and I quote here not from the intolerably tortuous text itself but from a more straightforward, and apparently official, summary) that these givers of offense ignore “the hurt that their actions may cause,” that they refuse “to see people’s belief choices from any other perspective but their own,” and that permitting such speech “deprives society of the ability to have a sense of the value of humanity, beyond the most basic idea of human dignity.”

How curious that Rowan the clown, the professional jester, could have such a clear understanding of fundamental English values, while Rowan the priest – who is nothing less than an official, certified public symbol of those values – could get it all so wrong.

But, as some readers will recall, that was just the beginning.  A week after his call for a stricter law against giving religious offense, Williams delivered yet another six-thousand-word piece of oratory.  This time his subject was sharia law, which, he urged, should be allowed a greater role in British jurisprudence.  As I have written elsewhere, the speech was “a masterly…exercise in euphemism and circumlocution” in which Williams sought over and over to convey the idea that sharia isn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be, all the while wriggling and slithering around the incontrovertible facts of the matter in a way reminiscent of the most slick, slimy, and slippery of used-car salesman.  Williams’s disquisition was a full-out disgrace: an expression of an obscene readiness to forfeit British liberty – and to sacrifice the truth itself – in the name of sham “tolerance” and bogus “respect” for Islam.

Williams, who has been Archbishop of Canterbury since 2003, is expected to step down in December. For some of us, his departure from Lambeth Palace can’t come too soon – though it is probably too much to hope that his successor (who has yet to be chosen) will be much better.  Meanwhile, Atkinson continues to wage his lonely, heroic struggle against the cynical and cowardly campaign to erode British freedom.  Last week, in reaction to what would appear to be a fresh wave of hate-speech arrests (the offenders include a teenager holding an anti-Scientology placard and members of a gay-rights group who protested the Muslim organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, “which was calling for the killing of gays, Jews and unchaste women”), Atkinson launched a drive for the repeal of Section 5 of the Public Order Law, under which these arrests were made.  (This is, note well, not the same law he was challenging  back in 2001: as in some other supposedly free European countries, it’s hard to keep straight all the laws in Britain that place limits on freedom of expression.)  Atkinson said that the Public Order Law, which forbids “insults,” was having a “chilling effect on free expression and free protest,” and was part of what he described as a “new intolerance,” a “creeping culture of censoriousness.” It is high time, he suggested, to “rewind the culture of censoriousness” and stop appeasing what he called the “outrage industry – self-appointed arbiters of the public good encouraging media-stoked outrage to which the police feel under terrible pressure to react.”

It was cheering to see that Atkinson is still in there fighting – and cheering, too, to see that, in this latest battle, he actually has allies – ranging from the Christian Alliance to the National Secular Society, and including sixty-odd members of Parliament.  It would appear, however – unless I’ve missed something – that he is, yet again, “the only person in the creative arts” in the U.K., at least the only one with any degree of clout, who is willing to step up and associate his name with the now apparently controversial cause of individual liberty.  Certainly the list of supporters at the website of his campaign, Reform Section 5, includes no famous British writer, artist, or performer of any kind – no Stephen Fry or Dame Judy Dench, no Daniel Day-Lewis or Hilary Mantel, no Martin Amis or Emma Thompson.  Have they not yet been asked to participate, or have they politely declined?

Meanwhile, there was no immediate word on whether the other Rowan had anything to say about this new crusade by his wiser and braver namesake.  But then, it can take a while to scribble out six thousand words – especially when you’re doing the Devil’s work, all the while trying, with every masterfully mendacious sentence, to appear to be on the side of the angels.

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  • Alan Leslie

    Coming to a USA near you.

    • stevef

      My guess the Progs/DEMS will use primarily the Mexicans to destroy out Republic with multiculturalism and the expansion of the ZombieNation.

      • atthebeach

        Well, it seems the 'Turk's' are bringing Islam to America's Reservations whereby they seek to embed Islamist 'ideals' in the hearts/minds of the Indians who live on these Federal, Indian-Governed territories; areas of our nation that heretofore; we have not thought of being ideological 'game-changers'. Sharia; is like the weed; whereby, first is 'sleeps'/then it creeps/and finally it leaps. Shariah – rooted in a political/totalitarian MO – is growing; and is found in one of it's three stages; throughout our Country; 'thanks' (not) to the dedication – make that 'fanaticism' – of it's adherents.

        These people are thinking 'big'. . .inner-cities; prisons; college/university campuses; down on 'the farm'; and now the Reservations. (We know too; there are saturating our Government at 'highest level's.) Most American's OTOH; are not thinking at all – about our changing religio-political landscape.

  • Eliz

    I found the guidelines to writing comments intriguing: "FPM appreciates your comments that abide by the following guidelines:

    1. Avoid profanities or foul language"

    Doesn't that 'prove' the point abot censoroiousness, mentioned in the article? ['Atkinson said that the Public Order Law, which forbids “insults,” was having a “chilling effect on free expression and free protest,” and was part of what he described as a “new intolerance,” a “creeping culture of censoriousness.”]. But then, of course, publishing doesn't necessarily mean endorsing or supporting…

    • Had_Enough

      It simply asks that commentors abide by civil practices when commenting. You can have any opinion you want but if you just want to spew obscenities then they will either edit it or not post it. The problem with your point of view is that you mistake the spewing of obscenities or name-calling with real free speech. Of course its legal to do those things but this is a privately owned site and the owners are not under any obligation to meet the test of "free speech" defined by you and others who believe that every swear word you write or shout is worthy of anything other than contempt.

      • Varlet

        Very well said

  • CharlesDickens99

    Ahh……the two Rowan’s.
    One has great moral authority and is a spiritual leader in his country. The other is the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    • Keith Breedlove

      Maybe, in December, the first should replace the second. Think of the economic advantage to a failing church — they'd only have to replace the surname on name boards, stationary, business cards and the like.

      • https://www.facebook.com/missypetra Petra Thompson

        Not to mention that the new, improved ArchBish would be able to fill the pews. The hairy hippy we currently have is universally detested.

  • https://www.facebook.com/bishoppoteet Lee Poteet

    As a classical prayer book Anglican I have found that the archbishops of Canterbury since Geoffrey Fisher have left a great deal to be desired. They have seemed more political and less concerned with being real Christians than at any time in the history of the English Church. People forget or ignore that it was an Archbishop of Canterbury which led the barons revolt which gave us, Americans as well as English, the Magna Carta, the first great attempt at defining the liberties of free men. Nor are we reminded in the history books that fifty per cent plus one of the writers of the American Constitution were Anglicans. That being the case I find the present fascist positions of the English and American Anglican establishment to be both "disgusting" and "reprehensible."

    • CharlesDickens99

      I was under the impression that the authors of the American Constitution were mostly deists?

      • Western Canadian

        You are wrong.

  • Carlisle

    Multiculturalism has long become the inofficial state ideology of the United Kingdom and political correctness and (self-)censorship of the mass media are their prime branches of service to ensure compliancy.

  • Stuart Parsons

    And I am one charged under the act with displaying racially agravating signs on my car insulting islam. I appear in court in January. One hopes the court is able to differentiate between a race and a religion, for I am certainly no racist, but I suspects that it is not important, to have offended Islam is enough..

  • Ghostwriter

    How ironic. A comedian is more wiser than the Archbishop of Canterbury. I hope that Rowan Atkinson succeeds and Archbishop Williams retires to somewhere far,far away from Britain,hopefully the British Virgin Islands,where he won't shame his church any further.

  • Fritz

    I have to admit that I have been a fan of Rowan Atkinson ever since I saw his program, the Black Adder.. Unlike the typical American stand up comedians of late Mr. Atkinson has a mind, and it shows. Most people think of Rowan Atkinson as the silent or mumbling Mr. Bean, but you will see in the Black Adder programs that he has quite a wonderful mastery of the English language. What surprises me is that John Clease, Eric Idle, Micheal Palin, and the rest of Monty Python has not followed Mr. Atkinson's lead to call for the repeal of this section 5 of the public order act, of course many are probably U.S citizen's by now.

  • Questions

    Maybe Rowan Atkinson's words will inspire Ricky Gervais to take up the cause of liberty. The other Rowan, leader of the Anglican Communion, is beyond the pale of hope.

    While I'm ruminating, I'd like to ask: What's with the Monarchy? The silence on this issue is deafening. Why doesn't Her Royal Majesty the Queen say something? Speak out against the Islamic wave engulfing her great country. Come to think of it, her eldest, Prince Charles, seems positively philo-Islamic, given his recent pronouncements.

    "Four Weddings and a Funeral," by the way, was a fine comedy, a feel-good Richard Curtis special. Rowan Atkinson, by God, you've passed the audition!

    • Bazza Mackenzie

      Her Royal Majesty the Queen, and Prince Charles, does not say something because she has failed as 'Defender of The Faith' and instead become 'Defender of the FaithS', so any criticism/observation/opinion/judgement/mockery/humour et cetera of so-called "faiths' other than Anglican (or other "Christian" denominations) , well, one in particular (take a guess which one), may be offensive – and, you know how angry they get (on behalf of their 'commander') when somebody upsets them!

      As a believer (in God The Father Creator and salvation through Jesus Christ), it is not wise to mock the Holy Spirit (at all), however that does not mean God does not have a sense of humour! I believe He has the best sense of humour! Afterall, God bestowed Rowan Atkinson with such a wonderful gift to share, along with other gifts such as intelligence and wisdom! Thank God! Oh, and 'Not The Nine O'clock News' was a great show, too.