Rowan Williams, Again

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see England’s Archbishop of Canterbury is at it again:

If religion is pushed into private spaces, as increasingly it tends to be by our public discourse, we lose one of the most emotionally and imaginatively resourceful ways of seeing human behaviour; we lose something of the sense that certain acts may be good independently of whether they are sensible or successful in the world’s terms. I suppose you could say that we lose the “contemplative” dimension to ethics, the belief that some things are worth admiring in themselves.

Most of the passage that Andrew cites is what you’d expect a clergyman to say, so, however foolish, it’s nothing to be worried about. The opening passage, however, is intriguing either as delusion or attempt to delude:

If religion is pushed into private spaces, as increasingly it tends to be by our public discourse…

Good grief. Has this poor parson not noticed that there is a religion called Islam that now has a significant presence in Britain? You can think what you want about that faith, but the one thing you cannot say is that it has been pushed into a “private space”.

Andrew, meanwhile, goes on to add this:

If you haven’t read Marilynne Robinson’s “Absence Of Mind”, it speaks powerfully to the civilizational loss that a failure to grapple with, let alone understand, religious discourse and culture can bring.

Life is probably too short for me to want to find time to read Ms. Robinson’s book, so I’m a little reluctant to comment in too much detail, but “civilizational loss” is quite some claim. While a decent working knowledge of the more important varieties of religious belief is undeniably essential for an understanding of mankind’s history, present and, let’s face it, future, “grappling with” religious discourse is a more dubious activity—something about angels and pinheads, if I recall—of interest to some, of none to others, and mainly of benefit as a brake on fanaticism within the ranks of the faithful, except, of course, that all too often it is just the opposite…

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