CHRISTIANITY is not immune from the “cancer” of violent extremism, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
Every world faith, including Christianity, includes a minority of people who refused to live peacefully with those who were different from them, Archbishop Welby said.
“We need to remember it’s not just Daesh [Islamic State, or IS]. In all the major world faith traditions, including Christianity, there is a group that cannot tolerate diversity, cannot tolerate difference,” he said.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last Friday, Archbishop Welby said that the current surge of violent religious extremism was the worst that Christianity had experienced since the 16th- and 17th-century wars of religion.
Although it was clear that sociology and economics partly explained religious extremism, faith leaders also had a responsibility to offer a theological narrative that was more attractive than that offered by IS, the Archbishop argued.
The answer was to promote “good religion”, he said. “As a Christian, I would say that our role is to present the faith of Christ in a way that is so clearly full of the love . . . of God that it is an effective counter-narrative in and of itself.”
The Archbishop also criticised those who would attempt to proscribe extremist thought itself. Using words attributed to Queen Elizabeth I, he told the audience that “you cannot make windows into men’s souls. . . We cannot look into the inner heart of a person. And therefore I think we have to be very careful about thought control. To educate, yes. To inspire, even better. To make things hard to think, better still. But to control thought is taking on the values we are trying to oppose.”
He also questioned whether it was possible to define extremism, noting that, in some senses, Martin Luther King had been an extremist.
Earlier on Friday, Archbishop Welby had joined a discussion with the Grand Mufti of Egypt, among others, about how different faiths could work together to combat extremism.
He said that interfaith dialogue was more “honest” now than in the past: discussion was no longer reduced to “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all nice!” But the West still needed to become more comfortable speaking of its extremism problem through theological language.
“We no longer have the vocabulary; we have lost the capacity in Europe to use theological values to discuss our differences in society generally.”
While at the Forum, Archbishop Welby also took part in a discussion on how faith communities were responding to the challenges of the 21st century, including inequality.
In a statement, he asked people to pray for everyone taking part at the summit. “Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to work collaboratively and unselfishly for the common good.”