Monday, March 10, 2008

Maggi Dawn: Blogging the archbishops

From Maggi Dawn (Chaplain and Fellow in Theology at Robinson College Cambridge), interviews with Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, on blogging and the new media. Interesting stuff - currently a 4-part series with more to come [boldface mine]:

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York spent three days in Cambridge the week before last, to take a leading role in the first of six events called “A World to Believe In: The Cambridge Consultations”. . .

I arrived at the agreed time to fire your blog-questions at the Archbishops, but some of the organisation of the day had come slightly unstuck and the interview time was about to be squeezed out. The Archbishops overheard my protests, though, and they and their teams created a small space for me. So I sat with them over lunch, laptop at the ready, with an Archbishop on either side of me. I began by asking them how much they knew about the blog-world, and what kind of effect – positive or negative – they thought blogging, facebook and similar media are having on Church life and spiritual concerns.

“They are clearly part of the whole knowledge economy”, said Archbishop Rowan. “They have encouraged people not to take in passively what’s produced – it has opened up a more interactive environment for the sharing of knowledge – a democratisation of knowledge. And clearly that is bound to affect the Church at every level.”

Is the democratisation of knowledge always a good thing, though, I asked him? Does it flatten a desirable level of expertise?

“It can certainly flatten expertise,” he replied. “But perhaps the more worrying issue is that i[t] can in some ways encourage unreflective expression – it’s possible simply to think it, and say it, without any thought. When that happens in personal conversation, there is a humanising effect. But on the screen, it’s less human.”

Then the Archbishop of York chipped in: “On the other hand, people have found real friendships through blogs, who would never have otherwise met each other – it’s a worldwide connection, people really do “meet” you on your blog. When I cut up my collar the response online was enormous – that’s when I realised just how many boundaries can be crossed with blogs.”

He thought for a minute, and then added, “But you know, when people write without thinking, it can get very difficult; it can be offensive and troublesome. The best of what’s there on the blogs is from those who take a little time to reflect before they publish. But there is no choice about whether we engage with this new media. It’s the world we are in – the Church has to engage with it!”. . .

“But look at the blog-world,” I said. “It reveals a fairly large number of people who self-identify as Christian but who do not regularly attend a place of worship in the formal sense. Spirituality and faith are clearly alive and well, but there are plenty of people who believe the Church in a fatal decline. Is there really a future for organised religion?

Human beings, by nature, always need a home,” said Archbishop Sentamu. “Whatever else happens to organised religion, if it’s providing a place of safety and identity, then future is very bright. If not, the future is bleak. The Church should be a home where the stranger finds love, and the lonely a welcome. When it loses those things, then it’s just an institution, and it’s bureaucratically passive. But organised religion is ambiguous. It can be a source of great good, or of evil.”. . .

So I asked the Archbishops whether they think the time is approaching, for the good of the Church and the State, for the Church of England to begin divesting itself of its historic position as a national church.

Archbishop Sentamu smiled. “The church I grew up in – the Church of Uganda – is not established! So this idea of an established Church was something new for me when I came here. In England, though, this is a serious constitutional question, more complex than people usually realise. It’s easy to say it’s just an anachronism that gives privileges that don’t fit in the modern world. But in fact disestablishment would not principally address those issues – they are side issues. Disestablishment would call for a complete rearrangement of the English constitution. You can’t disestablish without rethinking the political and social structure of the nation at the same time.”. .

Read it all - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, so far.

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