Two posts here in two days? Don’t get your hopes up that great things are happening, but here is a return to my idea of posting an excerpt of a theologian I’ve been reading on Friday. This would be the third time I’ve followed this plan, which by most measures in the church is enough frequency to be considered a tradition.
Rowan Williams was until recently the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Communion, and is perhaps the preeminent living Anglican theological. His essay, “Seculalrism, Faith, and Freedom”, was first given in 2006, and the text quoted below appears in a volume of essays, The New Visibility of Religion: Studies In Religion and Cultural Hermeneutics (Continuum Books, 2008).
I can across this piece while starting a graduate seminar on secularism this term here at Laurier. In this essay, Williams argues that if we as a society allow our public discourse to be governed by purely secular principles, ruling out of bounds any religious or ideological arguments as to what constitutes human good other than those arguments which offer “a minimal account of material security and relative social stability”, then our social life will be greatly impoverished and we will be unable to discuss anything of significance.
“…I am arguing that the sphere of public and political negotiation flourishes only in the context of larger commitments and visions, and that if this is forgotten or repressed by a supposedly neutral ideology of the public sphere, immense damage is done to the moral energy of a liberal society. For that ideal of liberal society, if it is to be any more than a charter for the carefully brokered competition of individuals, requires not a narrowing but a broadening of the moral sources from which the motivation for social action and political self-determination can be drawn.
… There is indeed, deplorably, a kind of appeal to ‘liberal’ ideals that effectively reduces the human self to an economic unit, a solitary accumulator of rights, comforts, and securities. But, it is an odd sort of liberalism that so dismisses the significance of a freedom learned by social processes of formation and exercised consciously and intelligently for goals that are not exclusively self-interested.
If the three terms of my title do indeed belong together; if a proper secularism requires faith; if it is to guarantee freedom, this is because a civilized politics must be a politics attuned to the real capacities and dignities of the person - not the individual consumer, but the self-learning over time to exercise liberty in the framework of intelligible communication and the self-scrutiny that grows from this. Such a concept of the person is, I would maintain, unavoidably religious in character; it assumes that we ‘answer’ not only to circumstance or instinct or even to each other but to a Creator who addresses us and engages us before ever we embark on social negotiation. That, after all, is why we regard the child - or the mentally challenged adult or the dying man or woman who has passed beyond ordinary human communication - as a person, whose dignities and liberties are inalienable. The struggle for a right balance of secular process and public religious debate is part of a wider struggle for a concept of the personal that is appropriately robust and able to withstand the pressures of a functionalist and reductionist climate. This is a larger matter than we can explore here; but without this dimension, the liberal ideal becomes deeply anti-humanist. And, like it or not, we need a theology to arrest this degeneration."