The Archbishop of Doublethink

The Archbishop of Doublethink

George Orwell coined the term ‘doublethink’ to describe the flexibility of mind required to live and survive in the society described in the novel 1984. Amongst its many traits, doublethink required the ability “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic …” The book frequently quotes these examples: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, and 2 + 2 = 5.

The Anglican world has just received its own example of doublethink (and doublespeak) in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s opening address to the Anglican Consultative Council. Speaking in Ghana less than a week after General Synod’s decision to approve prayers of blessing on sexual relationships outside marriage, Archbishop Justin Welby stated, “When I speak of the impact that actions by the Church of England will have on those abroad in the Anglican Communion, those concerns are dismissed by many. Not all, but by many in the General Synod.

This makes it sound as if the Synod had ignored the Archbishop by voting as it did on February 9th, that he had advocated one position and synod had approved the opposite. Archbishop Welby did indeed speak about his fears for Christians in other countries during the Living in Love and Faith debate. Choking back tears, he warned, “It’s about people who will die, women who will be raped, children who will be tortured. When we vote, we need to think about that – It is not just about what people will say – it is about what they will suffer.”

Despite his own warning, he still spoke in favour of the bishops’ proposals. Was Justin Welby amongst the ‘many in the General Synod’ who dismissed Justin Welby’s concerns? Does Justin Welby now stand condemned by Justin Welby? Is ‘doublethink’ now the prime requisite of an Archbishop of Canterbury?

Centuries before George Orwell, the letter of James described those who exhibit such Janus-like qualities: “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”