Rowan Williams on a "broken" society

Rowan Williams tells the Telegraph that he believes our society is "broken," in an interview that has nothing to do with the Anglican Communion.

"Is our society broken? I think it is," he says. "We are in a phase of our culture where the fragmentation of society is far more obvious. It's not just families, it is different ethnic communities and economic groups. We talk about access and equality the whole time, but in practice we all seem to live very segregated lives."

He goes on: "Outside my front door in Lambeth I see a society so dramatically different from across the river or in Canterbury. There is a level of desolation and loneliness and dysfunctionality which many people have very little concept of. If you sense that the world you live in is absolutely closed, that for all sorts of reasons you are unable to move outside, if nothing gives you aspirations, there is an imprisonment in that, there is a kind of resentment that comes with that and a frustration that can boil over in violence and street crime."

Inequality is, in his view, just a symptom of a wider moral vacuum. "I don't think that the huge wealth of some is the cause (of the problems), it is more that society just wants to reward business success and celebrity. If you're a teenager in Peckham neither of those are easily accessible."

Indeed, he is horrified by the triviality of modern society. "We are too celebrity obsessed, we have got into a dangerous cycle where fame is an objective in itself."

His children are 11 and 19. "I sometimes sit with them and watch The X Factor and it is heartbreaking to see people who plead with judges to get through because they just want to be famous so intensely," he says.

Comments (4)

Jim, the interview does touch on the Anglican Communion, though briefly. It's on page two of the online article. Here's that section from the interview, which comes at the end:

We have spent so long discussing the morality of politics that we have barely touched on the politics of the Church. Why is it so obsessed by gay priests?

"I don't think it's just an obsession with sex," he sighs. "It's about the authority of the Bible.

"Generally we're seeing a reworking of that - it's an area of real anxiety and for some people this is a step too far."

He does not know if he can stop the church breaking apart. "I hope it won't," he says. I'm working very hard to stop that happening."

That last quote very much has to do with the Anglican Communion crisis.

Mary Ailes

I can seem some of what Rowan says but think he is suffering from the nostalgia of privilege. Many of us find living now - "the" good old days. I know I would not want to go back to the times in which my parents and grandparents lived. Unless you were a person of privilege - life was very hard, prejudice rampant (and not just racial), children did not sit at home watching TV - most worked in industries or coal mines because they worked cheap and could fit in small spaces.

He is suffering from the nostalgia for privilege.

He's troubled by the reward for business success, which is to say he's troubled by a meritocracy.

In the days Ann refers to the doors of upper mobility were closed by enforcement of privilege. There was no point in continuing your education if you were lower class because there was little chance of reward based on what you knew or could do. So children went to work at an early age.

And he wants the Church of England to retain its privileged place -- as when he stated to the Telegraph the next King or Queen should be still be crowned as defender or the faith, not just faith.

We live in better times because barriers of class and privilege have broken down, and attitudes have shifted from protecting markets to expanding opportunties for trade. We have benefited from the Enlightenment.

Nonetheless, society is broken. Supposedly that is what the church is for, to reach out to a broken society. But could it be that the Enlightenment also put some of in too literal a mind about scripture, and others of us to doubtful that there is any deeper meaning to life?

Irony alert:

http://education.guardian.co.uk/faithschools/story/0,,2170402,00.html

Faith schools are 'cherry picking' too many children from affluent families and contributing to racial and religious segregation, according to the most extensive research of its kind, based on the government's own data. The findings - which last night drew a fierce response from the Church of England - will reignite the debate about the role of religion in the education.

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space