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Dr Williams detects turning of the tide towards religion

12 April 2012

by Rachel Boulding

IN HIS final Easter sermon as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams suggested that the tide might be turning towards a more posi­tive view of religion from those outside it.

Sidesmen reported a higher-than-usual attendance at Canterbury Cat­he­dral for the 11 a.m. eucharist on Easter Day. In his sermon, the Arch­bishop referred to the way in which various secular commentators “surprisingly float the idea that, with­­out some input from religious thinking, our ludicrous and destruc­tive economic habits are more likely to go unchecked”.

Laughter greeted his mention of “Alain de Botton’s recent book on how to hold on to the best bits of religion without the embarrassing beliefs that go with it”. All this sug­gested that, from those outside faith, there was a new “sense that there is some­thing here to take seriously”, he said.

There was also evidence that young people shared this positive view, and, “while still statistically deeply unlikely to be churchgoers, don’t have the hos­til­ity to faith that one might expect”. This makes it “about the worst possible moment to downgrade the status and profes­sional excellence of religious edu­cation in secondary schools”.

Dr Williams went on to preach about the action of God: “Perhaps ‘religion’ is more useful than the pas­sing generation of gurus thought; but is it true. . . ? We are not told that the story of the empty tomb is a beautiful imaginative creation that offers inspiration to all sorts of peo­ple; we are not told that the message of Jesus lives on. We are told that God did something.”

Dr Williams emphasised the need to realise the truth of “this compel­ling vision” rather than only “looking respectfully and wistfully at what it might offer” from the out­side: “We learn and assimilate its truth by the risk of living it.”

He took the situation in the Holy Land as one example of the difference religion makes to one of “the most completely intractable problems of our day”. In a determin­edly even-handed presentation of the difficul­ties for both Israeli and Palestinian communities, he urged going beyond diplomatic initiatives: “We have to put immense energy into supporting those on the ground who show that they believe in a God who acts.”

The Archbishop praised networks that fostered “a feeling for the other or the enemy that we’d rather not have to develop — small mo­­ments of recognition and kindness”.

He ended by focusing on the need to speak of God: “What matters isn’t our usefulness or niceness or what­ever: it’s God, purposive and active.”

The full text of the sermon is here.

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