New Archbishop of Canterbury Raises Morality Issues in First Public Lecture

Jan 08, 2003 12:45 PM EST

In what one newspaper called a "morality crusade," the new archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, used his first public lecture to plead for a role for religion in political debate.

In the Dimbleby Lecture, delivered December 19 before a distinguished audience of politicians, church leaders, journalists and other opinion makers, Williams argued that without religion "our whole politics is likely to be in deep trouble." He also pointed to the limitations of governments to provide a moral basis for citizens or long-term security.

Williams said we are living in a time when the "basic assumptions about how states work are shifting" and may be witnessing "the end of the nation-state," replaced in the developed world "by what some call the market-state." As a result, short-term expectations could produce "instability, reactive administration, rule by opinion poll and pressure."

"We are bound to ask where there is a future for the reasonable citizen, for public debate about what is due to human beings, for intelligent argument about goals beyond the next election," he said. "My conclusion is that this future depends heavily on those perspectives that are offered by religious belief."

Williams described an educational system that is largely empty of vision, a system that fits "too neatly into the consumer model" that allows the "actual philosophy of education itself to be obscured behind a cloud of sometimes mechanical criteria of attainment."

Religion could fill the vacuum, according to the archbishop. "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. "With that relativising moment, our whole politics is likely to be in deep trouble." He added that he is convinced that religion can offer ways to open the way for human choices, providing a wider context and setting for understanding who we are as individuals and communities.

Prime Minister Tony Blair praised Williams for his "insights," suggesting in a newspaper interview that "the church should always speak out where it feels strongly about things." He said that he did not agree, however, that consumerism was driving morality out of politics.

(Full text of the lecture is available at Anglican Communion.)

By Albert H. Lee
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