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A community of communities

A community of communities

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, asks how religious communities can serve the well-being of the community, and reflects on power in a well-functioning society. He spoke at the Inter Faith Conversation ‘Living Well Together in Britain Today’, last Tuesday. Here is the talk on YouTube.


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Once again Rowan offers an idealized picture of religion which stresses the positive contributions of religion. Would that things were that simple and that I could believe in clichés such as “common identity,” “integrated adult person,” “proper belonging,” and “mature responsible adults.” The binary opposition or distinction between belonging and not belonging needs to be deconstructed because the terms can bleed into each other, as in the case of women and gays in the various traditions. (Women and gays are treated very unequally in the Church of England.) One belongs and does not belong, which, following postmodern thought, raises the question of whether anyone really belongs to a common identity. (Do people really grow up and become mature individuals? French psychoanalysis says this is an illusion which was sold by American analysis in the 1950s to support Cold War America.) The late Emmanuel Levinas offered an ethics which starts with an acknowledgement of irreconcilable difference. One should respect the Other not because he or she can be reduced to the sameness of a common identity but precisely because of difference. Walter Benjamin said, The Theses on History: “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” Any document to a common identity would also mask violence.

In the aftermath of the Shoah and the many other crimes of the Twentieth Century, the luxury of making sense of differences should be abandoned.

Gary Paul Gilbert

On an unrelated note, I don’t know what to make of how Rowan does not thank secuarlists and liberals for the religious liberty that the “community of communities” enjoy in liberal democracies. Is it the problem that the nonreligious cannot be assimilated to a religious common identity? Is there even only one definition of “religion?”


In a wider context, this event is reported on Nov 23rd here as “Chief Rabbi (Lord Jonathan Sacks) opens week of interfaith activity” with accompanying picture showing the ABC next to Chief Rabbi Sacks.

Apparently there are at least nine faith communities (among them Hindu and Zoroastrians) and some civic representatives involved and the event has been going for two years (see:

Scottish Interfaith Week is also Nov 27th to Dec 4th and details of events are here:

Cities like the City of York have events planned for the whole week:

Perhaps UK people can give fuller coverage?

Chris Epting

This is a nice piece. Wisdom gleaned from long experience in the ecumenical movement which often sees the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church as a “communion of communions.”

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