Anglican leader launches morality crusade by Ruth Gledhill
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Mon Dec 23 00:26:54 EST 2002
Anglican leader launches morality crusade
Dr Rowan Williams has laid down his vision for a new moral order in
Britain in the post-September 11 era
By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
THE LONDON TIMES
THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has launched an
impassioned plea for church leaders to put morality back at the heart
of society and public life.
In an agenda-setting speech, his first since taking up office at the
start of the month, Dr Williams showed the depths of his determination
to advance an intellectual agenda and make the Church of England a
powerhouse at the centre of the debate about politics and morality.
The speech, delivered to an audience of politicians, academics, church
leaders, newspaper editors and other opinion formers in Central London,
was one of the most intellectually ambitious and far-reaching speeches
from an Archbishop of Canterbury for 30 years.
In his speech, the Dimbleby Lecture, which will be broadcast on BBC One
tonight, Dr Williams argued that without religion "our whole politics
is likely to be in deep trouble".
He said it was inevitable that governments can no longer deliver in
terms of setting out a moral basis for ordinary citizens to live their
While governments are successful at encouraging enterprise and
consumerism to an unprecedented degree, they are no longer capable of
guaranteeing long-term security. He made it clear that he believes that
in a post-September 11 world, it is God that has to define how we live
rather than our political leaders.
At the press conference to mark his nomination earlier this year Dr
Williams spoke of his determination to "recapture the imagination of
our culture for Christianity". His lecture was an indication of how he
intends to set about doing that.
Dr Williams took as his starting point "The Shield of Achilles", a
seminal work describing how the traditional model of the nation-state
is being superseded by the market-state, by the American academic and
former White House adviser, Philip Bobbitt.
He said that we were living in a period "where the basic assumptions
about how states work are shifting." He said: "The idea that's being
increasingly canvassed is that we are witnessing the end of the nation-
state, and that the nation-state is being replaced in the economically-
developed world by what some call the market-state."
A new form of political administration has arisen in which the idea of
being a citizen and a politician has changed. Where the job of those
who ran the state was once seen as guaranteeing the general good of the
community, the state no longer has the power to keep its side of the
bargain. The international power of the markets and consumers meant
that any one country is unable to guarantee employment - one indication
of how things have shifted.
In addition there are "sinister implications" in the revolution in
electronic communication, with international conspiracy harder to
detect and frustrate. "Al-Qaeda and similar networks inhabit a virtual
world, not an identifiable headquarters in a single place."
The deregulation involved in the new political mode has meant "the
withdrawal of the state from many of those areas where it used to bring
some kind of moral pressure to bear," he said.
Dr Williams described how the educational system, despite the best
efforts of teachers, is empty of vision.
He said: "It means that government is free to encourage enterprise but
not to protect against risk, to try and increase the literal and
metaphorical purchasing power of citizens, but not to take for granted
anything much in the way of agreement about common goals or social
One "worrying sign" of this underlying philosophy was the way
successive governments have dealt with education, with the emphasis on
parental choice and the publication of results. He conceded these in
themselves were not "social evils". But he said: "They also fit all too
neatly into the consumer model and allow the actual philosophy of
education itself to be obscured behind a cloud of sometimes mechanical
criteria of attainment."
Dr Williams, a fan of "The Simpsons", illustrated his connection to
popular culture with a reference to how a society without deeper
meaning behind its culture can lose itself in repetitive behaviour from
which it never learns. "Groundhog Dayis a comic horror, but a real
enough one: we know how easily we can get stuck in repeating patterns."
This was a further argument for society's need for Christianity because
it gave people the historical background and morality not to be forever
Dr Williams said that modern politics was about sating consumer needs.
"The unspoken model of political expectation now is increasingly the
consumerist one: the individual confronts the state, asking for what is
promised - maximal choice, purchasing power to determine a lifestyle.
Policies that restrict lifestyle choices are electoral suicide." He
accused politicians of only concentrating on the short term, bouncing
from one election to the next.
Religious belief could fill the vaccuum, he said. "If specifically
religious tradition has a place here, it is because of those elements
that only religious conviction seems to secure in our sense of what is
human. To see or know anything adequately is to be aware of its
relation to the eternal," he said. "Without that relativising moment,
our whole politics is likely to be in deep trouble."
The challenge for religious communities is how to offer a vision as a
way of opening up some of the depth of human choices, he added.
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