Andrew Brown, writing in the Guardian newspaper, sees something of where England might be headed, should the present cries for disestablishment be heeded.
These cries for the disestablishment of the Church of England are especially strong at the moment, given the recent dustup over the Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks on proper role of Sharia law in English society.
"It is time to look at the damage he has done to others, and not just himself; one of the things that his flameout has illuminated is just how dangerous disestablishment might prove. The last thought-provoking thing that I heard him say was at a radio award ceremony where he had to present himself, or at least his producer, with a third place prize for religious radio. He said that it was not true that religion must always lead to conflict, but almost always true that in any sufficiently serious conflict you would find religion.
I wish he had developed and made more explicit that line of thought, because it provides the beginning of a justification for the existence of the Church of England. The defenders of a place for religion in public life do not have to suppose that religious belief is true, and many of them don't - in fact all of them suppose that most religious dogma must be false. The question is not whether irrationality is irrational; it is how it can best be managed.
Irrationality won't be abolished just because life would be simpler without it. Whether you prefer to think we live in a fallen world or a Darwinian one, it isn't rational. There are some conflicts that can be resolved only by force and many where real interests are at stake and it is crucial to win. Humans, being the animals we are, tell ourselves that the reasons for which we are prepared to fight -to die or to kill- are the most important causes in the world; so naturally our stories about them will get attached to other tales of the same sort. That means religion. We have watched this happening even in the secular 20th century."
Brown then argues that the level of hysteria surrounding the rhetoric calling for the Archbishop's removal reveals a fundamental intolerance in the broadest part of the English public, especially toward "foreign" faiths and practices. To Brown's way of thinking, it's the Church of England with its broad practice of tolerance based on the Elizabethan Settlement and its sense of duty toward all that has kept England free of the worst sort of religious based jingoism; such as one finds, according to Brown, here in the USA.
One of the things that has emerged from the debacle is that there is a very strong body of opinion in this country which holds that you can't be truly Muslim and truly British. This isn't just the belief of the Islamist nutters, though they make it their central claim. It also animates an astonishing number of people writing in or to the media who would describe themselves as Christians. It is as if three quarters of the country had risen to sing "Land of hope and glory" at the Last Night of the Proms.
It is at moments like that that we need an established church, precisely because it dampens zeal down. The undemocratic privileges of the Church of England are much better for everyone than democratically won privilege would be. Bishops in the Lords are infinitely preferable to priests who tell people how to vote.
If, say, the Economist got its way and the Church of England were disestablished, and replaced by the American model of a confusion of sects all competing for votes, what could stop them responding to the popular demand for a condemnation of Islam? What could give them anything of the Church of England's woolly, incoherent but essential belief that it has a duty to everyone in this country, no matter what their beliefs are. Can any sane person want a hundred English Paisleys competing against each other for the nationalist Christian congregations, and their money, and at last their votes? Because that is the spectre that rose from the debacle caused by Williams' speech and interview
Read the full essay here.