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Archbishop of Canterbury - Society still needs religion

Posted on: April 18, 2008 11:08 AM
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The Archbishop of Canterbury gave a lecture in which he acknowledges the rise in interest in spirituality, particularly in the Western World, but underlines the crucial role traditional religious allegiance continues to play in a genuinely plural society.

Dr William's lecture entitled "The Spiritual and the Religious: is the territory changing?", is the third in a series "Faith and Life in Britain" being given at Westminster Cathedral.

Acknowledging the contribution that increased spiritual awareness can make to social and corporate life, Dr. Williams argues for the continued relevance of traditional religious commitment in developing and sustaining some of the deepest resources needed in a responsible plural society.

"When the great German philosopher Jurgen Habermas acknowledged some years ago in debate with the then Cardinal Ratzinger that traditional religion offered necessary resources to the construction of social reason and just practice, he was paving the way for some such approach on the part of secular government. There is an implicit acknowledgement, it seems, that what religious affiliation of a classical kind offers is not to be reduced just to an enhanced sense of the transcendent or of the interconnection of all things."

Dr Williams argues that religion is in fact:

"…one of the most potent allies possible for genuine pluralism – that is, for a social and political culture that is consistently against coercion and institutionalised inequality and is committed to serious public debate about common good. Spiritual capital alone, in the sense of a heightened acknowledgement especially among politicians, businessmen and administrators of dimensions to human flourishing beyond profit and material security, is helpful but is not well equipped to ask the most basic questions about the legitimacy of various aspects of the prevailing global system. The traditional forms of religious affiliations, in proposing an 'imagined society', realised in some fashion in the practices of faith, are better resourced for such questions."

The challenge for those "who adhere to revealed faith" but do not wish simply to be absorbed into an uncritical post-religious culture focused on "the autonomous self and its choices" was to rediscover what "the great Anglican Benedictine scholar Gregory Dix meant by describing Christians as a new 'species', homo eucharisticus, a humanity defined in its Eucharistic practice...'The unleavened bread of sincerity and truth' is the gift of the Easter Gospel, we are told in the liturgy; 'Lord, evermore give us this bread' (Jn 6.34)." 

Ends

Notes to editors:

The full text of the lecture can be found here: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1759