Friday, 19 December 2008

A pause for thought from Rowan Williams

I'm a regular listener to BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme, which has been part of my morning ritual for over a decade. A lot of the time it's just straightforward news, and at other times the political argy-bargy does get a bit tedious, but occasionally something really does cause me to listen, to pause for thought.

Yesterday, was one such occasion: Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was speaking to John Humphries about the past year as part of his Christmas message. It was a calm and measured piece, and in marked contrast to some of the rather adversarial interviews in which Humphries is involved.

The most widely reported of the Archbishop's comments were those he made about the present economic crisis and culture of greed, which he described as "a sort of reality check which is always good for us, a reminder that what some people have been calling 'fairy gold' is just that".

Many papers reported with glee his questioning of the Government's current policy of encouraging people to spend again as "a little bit like the addict returning to the drug".

But most of the discourse was actually about re-orientating society, and changing our values:

"I'd like to think that in this sort of crisis, people would be reflecting more on how we develop a volunteer culture, where people are willing to put their services at the service of the needs of others so that there can be a more active and vital civil society.

"I think there's a good chance of that and I'd like to hear more from the Government about how a volunteer society can be encouraged."

Other subjects included knotty questions about Iraq, Zimbabwe and disestablishment. After the unfortunate episode earlier in the year when his comments - clever, but naively placed - on the place of Sharia Law were widely reported out of context, Williams appeared to handle himself much more assuredly than in many previous interviews. I hope that this marks the beginning of a trend: he is too important - as well as thoughtful and wise - not to be listened to.

If you haven't heard the interview, it can be found on the BBC website.

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