HE was "exasperated" by the slogans of the Occupy protesters, he
disagrees that atheists should be invited to present Thought for the Day, and he
believes that, no, the Church of England is not in a worse position
than when he began as Archbishop ten years ago.
Asked on Monday night whether he regretted being outspoken
during his Canterbury tenure, Dr Rowan Williams expanded on his
answer (in short, no) by providing frank replies to questions that
probed some of the thorniest issues he has grappled with.
Dr Williams was speaking at Methodist Central Hall, where he
gave the fifth annual lecture of the Christian thinktank Theos.
Asked by the BBC newsreader Michal Husain, who chaired the lecture,
to look back on certain comments which had got him into "hot
water", Dr Williams said: "I do regrets all right, but I do not
think that it will do to be too cautious in a job like this. .
"You are here to try and say what you believe you have been
given to say . . . to try and share a particular picture of what
the world is like, what God is like. . . You have to keep trying to
preserve the big picture."
Asked about whether his successor should be more guarded, he
suggested that, in light of the names mentioned, "I do not think
anyone will have that problem."
Dr Williams concluded, when asked whether he had left the Chuch
in a worse position than the one he had found it in ten years ago,
that: "There is no golden age of church history. . . Because I am a
Christian and I believe in God, I believe the Church is not just in
my hands. . . I believe that if God has called that Church into
existence, God is faithful to what he has done."
Dr Williams was asked three questions about the Church of
England's stance on homosexuality during the course of the evening.
He argued that the Church had issued "repeated condemnation of
homophobia", but said: "If people are getting the message that they
are getting condemned for what they are, that has very serious
mental-health impacts." He hoped that this was "not what the Church
It was, he said, "a great mistake to imagine people are waiting
with baited breath to hear what the Church has to say about their
sex lives". Pastoral practice meant "helping people to live with
the decisions they have made", and "respecting where they have come
Asked about his view on the occupation of St Paul's Cathedral,
Dr Williams said that he had felt "exasperation with the language
of protest" which was "so general as to be undemanding". It had
reminded him of an episode of the TV comedy Father Ted, during which a protest
of priests involved them shouting "down with this sort of thing".
It "does not help just to say we must work for the overthrow of
The subject of Dr William's lecture, a typically wide-ranging
and studious talk which encompassed the Russian theologian Vladimir
Lossky, the LSE professor Richard Sennett, and the psychotherapist
Patricia Gosling, was "The personal and the individual: human
dignity, human relationships, human limits".
His central thesis was a rejection of individualism in favour of
a "personalist" approach to ethics. Dr Williams posited that: "What
makes me a person, this person rather than another, is not simply a
set of facts. . . It is the enormous fact of my being here rather
than elsewhere, being in this relationship with those around me. .
. I stand in the middle of a network of relationships."
Every human being was, he suggested, embued with an "enormous
mysteriousness", and due "the same kind of reverence or attention".
For this reason, Christians "worry about those kinds of human
beings who may not tick all the boxes but who we still believe to
be worthy of respect". This included the unborn, the severely
disabled, the dying, and the marginalised.
He later concluded that this argument meant that: "You are not
going to solve ethical arguments like abortion by saying it is like
having a tooth out, or by saying you have to decide when the soul
enters the body. . . We are talking about personal, relational,
Human rights require, Dr Williams suggested, "a very strong
focus on human dignity", and there was a connection between this
notion of dignity and the notion of the sacred: "Before anything or
anyone is in relationship, it is already in relationship to
The language of theology was "possibly the only way to speak
well of who we are and what humanity is like . . . expecting
relationship, expecting difference, expecting death and . . .
expecting rather more than death, too".
Answering a question about where tolerance fitted into this
world view, Dr Williams suggested that it was "rather low level" -
a term that implied that "I have to put up with other people
because in the short-term I can't get rid of them". He would like
to "up the ante a little bit" to a "positive expectation" of the
The lecture contained a fierce rejection of individualism: the
"evolution of the unco-operative self" which seeks control, rejects
engagement with others and fears scrutiny and transparency. It was
evident throughout society, in corporate life and in the search for
the perfect body or marriage. The "mystery of another person" could
induce "terror or inarticulacy", yet we must risk encounter because
we need one another, Dr Williams argued.