Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Dalai Lama, the Archbishop and the Prime Minister

There is a lot of chatter circulating about the visit of the Dalai Lama to London and the refusal of the Prime Minister to meet him at his official residence, 10 Downing Street. Instead, the meeting took place at the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace, apparently to placate the Chinese, but to the manifest irritation of Tibet activists. One Tsering Passang wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister: ‘Many of us feel that your decision not to receive His Holiness at your official residence is perhaps sending a wrong signal - a sign of bowing to pressure from other forces.’

Yet Cranmer is actually delighted by the organisation surrounding this visit because it is symbolic of the continuing foundations of Britain’s constitutional settlement. The Dalai Lama is spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhists, and it was utterly unimportant to him where the meeting took place. No.10 Downing Street has no constitutional significance whatsoever: it is simply the Prime Minister’s office, for which the terms ‘Downing Street’ and ‘No. 10 have become synonymous. Over the centuries, the ‘house at the back’ has been occupied by sundry royals, peers and politicians, and it has been considered ‘a small, unimpressive, mediocre building’. Prime ministers have frequently chosen not live there, and it was not until Benjamin Disraeli that it attained ‘official residence’ status. But this has frequently been a pretence: prime ministers as recent as Harold Wilson actually lived elsewhere while conspiring with the media to give the impression of habitation. It has been subject to so much demolition and restructuring that it is literally a political façade; the recognisable grey brick and black door are all that predate the 1950s.

Lambeth Palace, however, has a continuous history going back to the 12th century. Its architecture is evocative, speaking of High-Church Anglican continuity with the Old Faith, and it has been witness to some of the most significant events of the nation’s history, including the trial of John Wycliffe for ‘heresy’. For the Prime Minister to insist on meeting the Dalai Lama here reinforces the religio-political fusion that exists at the heart of the British Constitution: that government consists of the spiritual and the temporal.

China may be concerned that a meeting with the Dalai Lama at No.10 might appear to lend him political legitimacy, but a meeting at Lambeth Palace has actually reinforced both his spiritual significance and his political status. It is, in any case, not without precedent, for there the Dalai Lama met Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, back in 1981. And while the office of prime minister may be traced back almost three centuries, there have been archbishops of Canterbury for more than 1400 years. And while the Prime Minister is charged with the governance of the United Kingdom, the Archbishop of Canterbury has a global role as head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Far from it being somehow demeaning, a meeting at Lambeth Palace actually represents a much greater honour than any previously bestowed upon him.

Of course, the Chinese may be as ignorant of this as many Anglicans are of the significance of establishment. But it is entirely possible to consider something to be a 'good thing' or a ‘bad thing’ without having more than the haziest idea of what it actually entails.


Anonymous billy said...

Given that everybody that GB speaks to goes down, is this the end of Buddhism?

24 May 2008 at 17:26  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

your grace
the question of is the arch bishop of canterbury just another bloke , is quite interesting , a spiritual leader as opposed to a temporal one and therefor with far greater responsibility .

i have ranted against the sometimes unusual positions the CofE has adopted , gay clergy being one of them .which to me doesnt require that much dialogue .

whilst this is not an open pulpit , does his grace think that we sometimes assume too much , that temporal governance is the way to reveal the heavenly realms ?.

i am a little stuck , whilst sin obscures , it seems we are entering into redressing how we find the light .

re post : the dali lama is a very wise and respectful man , as is the archbishop , i draw the line at the gordon brown who has so far lied about britains future nor it seems can find the right words to save the tibetans from cultural anihilation .

24 May 2008 at 21:58  
Anonymous najistani said...

Is Your grace aware of this?
"A traditionalist Anglican has said he will continue with a campaign for the Church of England to work explicitly to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Paul Eddy, a lay member of the General Synod, has come under intense pressure from bishops to withdraw his plan.

But he has secured enough support for his motion to be debated at the next meeting of the Church's ruling body.

The motion calls on the Church to proclaim Christianity as the only route to ultimate salvation.

Mr Eddy, who is training to become a priest, has been denounced by some Muslims, but says the Church can no longer avoid hard questions about its beliefs.

He said he had received angry e-mails and telephone calls from senior figures in the Church denouncing his motion."

25 May 2008 at 09:36  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Najistani,

His Grace has indeed seen the report, and is fermenting a few insights on the matter.

25 May 2008 at 11:29  

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