Monday, November 26, 2007

Rowan Williams in Athens

Well, not literally in Athens, but the ABofC's interview with a Muslim magazine put me in mind of Paul standing before the Athenian council in the book of Acts, preaching the message he had always preached, but using completely different vocabulary to his normal Jewish audiences, because the Athenians had different cultural reference points. Williams tries to use neutral language, rather than Christian house vocabulary, to communicate with his audience.

There is a lot of fascinating stuff in the interview, for example:
Beyond the tensions of international disputes, we discuss the more fundamental conflict between religion and modernity.“There is an essential clash somewhere. It is to do with the functional view of human beings. What are humans for? The Muslim, the Christian, the Hindu, the Sikh, would say that we are for the glory of God; so that God’s light may be reflected and God’s love diffused. It is never just about how we fit into the cogs of society, or about economic production. The more our education system is dominated by functionalism, skills, productivity, and the more our whole society is determined by that kind of mythology, the harder it is for the religious voice to be heard. There is a real abrasion between lots of the forms of modernity and religion.”

This is a crucial insight to hold onto - since the Industrial Revolution, the economic point of view has increasingly held sway over any other in terms of our understanding of people. The UK education system is explicitly geared to creating a well trained workforce for the economy. Immigration policy is organised around economics, so is international policy. We are defined as 'consumers' - there was that symbolic tipping point many years ago when British Rail changed from speaking of 'passengers' to speaking of 'customers'. There was a lot of annoyance at the time - we just don't like being defined economically, but over the years we've got used to it.

and this, on the connections between the pace of life, fear, anxiety, and faith:
However, ultimately he believes that “thereis a conflict at the essential level. There is something about western modernity which really does eat away at the soul. If the soul is, to give the most minimal definition, that dimension of us which is most fundamentally in conscious relation with the Creator, then those things which speed us up and harden us are going to get in the way of the soul. We don’t know how to talk about it any longer but it is language that we still reach for. The worst message we can give off is compulsive anxiety, ‘I’ve got to fix everything’.” Throughout our discussion the themes of fear and anxiety are played out in different ways. Increasing fanaticism and obsessions with “the uncontrollable other” are due to fear and anxiety which ultimately he believes is a lack of faith in God. “When belief is weak we are not willing to let things rest in God’s hands because we are not sure that they are there. We can’t trust God sufficiently to rest in what we are and who we are.” For the Archbishop, “confidence is a key; the right kind of confidence; not arrogance, but real trust in God.”

Thinking Anglicans has links to various press reactions to the story, Ruth Gledhill, unfortunately, has decided to headline with the ABofC's comments about the USA. There is so much more in the interview than this, and anyway, what he says about the US is broadly right and deserves to be heard and thought about.

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