10 February 2008

Too Intelligent to Lead?

Around cyberspace these last few days, there seems to be a lot of blaming of the Archbishop of Canterbury for the content of his lecture entitled: Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective.

The most reasonable criticism to my mind is one that says he ought to get more media-savvy and to feed the press his message in language the reporters and people can understand. Fair enough, that's probably a pragmatic statement.

Extending from this view, however, there seem to be a lot of people blaming the Archbishop and saying that it was 'his fault' that the media falsely reported his message. It's his fault, people are saying, because newspaper reporters don't understand theology and Rowan Williams is too intelligent for the common person to understand him. I have to confess that I find this astounding.

First of all, I think that reporters reporting on theology and religion have a responsibility to know something about the subject on which they are reporting. No newspaper would tolerate a business reporter who didn't understand basic economics and although I've seen a lot of bad reporting of financial news, I've yet to hear anyone baying for the resignation of the Governor of the Bank of England on the grounds that the 'person on the street' doesn't understand monetary policy.

Secondly, it really beggers belief that a society is baying that a national leader knows his subject too well and that he is too much of a careful thinker to be a good leader. People seem to be essentially saying that we don't want intellectually brilliant leaders who engage in complex thought but we want leaders who divide the world into simple categories of black and white and go after the 'bad guys'. Girardian theory at it's finest!


Anonymous said...

A good perspective, Pam. As a former journalist, I have to say you might be a bit too optimistic about the knowledge of reporters in most areas.

But, yes, it is not Rowan Williams' fault that his speech to a group of specialists is being distorted when explained to an audience of non-specialists.

PamBG said...

Interesting comment, thank you.

Perhaps I'm just giving people the benefit of the doubt? I do remember that when I worked in pensions that a journalist on a specialist pensions periodical quit in order to write for 'Horse and Hound' which was her real aspiration.

OK, I understand that not all journalists can be specialists, but it seems ridiculous to say 'Don't employ leaders who have a deep understanding of the issues. Someone might not understand them. And they might not be able to make black and white decisions because they might see both sides of the story.'

Rev Tony B said...

It does seem bizarre to suggest a leader can't be intelligent. Perhaps it's a question of what we expect from a leader - there are times when we need an intellectual, times when we need a visionary, times when we need a media-savvy prophet.

I do think the real problem here is the press. We are pretty much where we were 20 years ago with David Jenkins, and for the same reasons. In each case we have gifted and caring pastors, with massive intellects and knowledge, and in each case unfairly and badly reported by a press corps that don't understand - and worse, appear to be driven by the need to find a target to shoot at. The Sun's "Bash the Bishop" campaign is a disgrace - but that's no surprise, 'cos the Sun is a disgrace. I'd like to think that we could get reporters who know what they're dealing with in the field of religion, but I'm pessimistic, I'm afraid. It fits the general social attitude towards the Church: don't understand why it's still here.

Doorman-Priest said...

Now that the dust has settled, we are starting to hear the sound of the voices of reason.

I'd like to hear the voices of those who want to burn the Daily Mail's printworks to the ground!

Peter Kirk said...

No, "cometothewaters", it WAS at least initially "Rowan Williams' fault that his speech to a group of specialists is being distorted when explained to an audience of non-specialists", because this story broke when he explained it in his own words to non-specialists in his Radio 4 interview. Perhaps his mistake was to assume too much of Radio 4 listeners.

Has anyone really suggested that a leader should not be intelligent? The problem is with leaders who lack the intelligence to realise when a display of their intelligence is not going to be helpful.

Pam, I'm afraid I can't read about "Horse and Hound" journalists without thinking of Hugh Grant in "Notting Hill", a great film especially to feed the fantasies of a shy single man like me!

PamBG said...

Peter, I've not seen the film 'Notting Hill' so I don't know the reference.

Yes, I have 'heard' people saying he is too intelligent to be a good leader. Two people at church, and a few people on email groups.

I can somewhat take the point about the interview, except that the question was asked in a way that, if it was not crafty, was certainly intelligent and Williams answered in kind. I think you're still suggesting that if Williams had answered more clearly that the tabloids wouldn't have run with the stories they ran with.

It all strikes me like 'Well, that wouldn't happen to anyone (i.e. me) with some media-savvy'. Whereas I think that the tabloids are looking for any bait they can to spin into 'Religion hates the good loyal British common man' (sic)