FaithWorld

from John Lloyd:

God, Richard Dawkins, and the meaning of life

Two clever men, long past the first flush of youth, took part in a debate on God’s place -- or absence -- in the meaning and origin of life last week in Oxford. They differed; and to no one’s surprise, each remained unconvinced by the other’s argument at its end. Oxford University has been hosting such encounters for centuries.

So why was the University’s Sheldonian Theatre packed, with two other theaters full of people watching the debate on closed-circuit screens? Why was it covered by the news media? Why had it been sold out within hours? Who still cared about this stuff in a society that -- for all that the Church of England is an established religion and the queen is its head -- is as secular as any in the democratic world?

Judging by the response of the audience, including this writer, that last question’s answer emerged in the Oxford debate. We realized, as we listened to the moderate, educated English cadences of the debaters, that we care because no matter how indifferent to religion we are, or even how certain that it is a purely human construct rather than a divine revelation, we are made uneasy by its claims and miss its promise of grace and eternity. More practically, we care because many can feel morally adrift without its guidance. In his just-published book, Religion for Atheists, the philosopher Alain de Botton argues that, as he put it in an interview, “religions are full of interesting, challenging, consoling ideas … they do community really well, they’re very good on ethics, they teach us to be good, to be kind.

And the fact that the Oxford debate was a clash, with the promise of a victor, added to the fascination of the event. One of the two debaters was Richard Dawkins, a fellow of Oxford’s New College, a famed biologist, yet more famed for being the world’s most prominent and aggressive atheist. The other was Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the world Anglican communion, thought to number some 80 million. The stakes were high for both men --neither wanted to be seen as being bested. And for the audience, among whom were many priests and students of theology, to see a winner or loser was to offer reassurance that their faith, or lack of it, had support at the highest level available.

The title was "The Nature of Human Beings and the Question of Their Ultimate Origin" -- as the chairman, the philosopher Anthony Kenny, remarked, more than enough to fill an evening. The evening was filled, to overflowing, intellectually and in attendance, but for much of the time it was even more replete with courtesies and agreement, a tone underscored by Kenny’s insistence that, first, both agree on three underpinning issues. These were: that they both believed there was such a thing as truth; that they believed in logic (as in, two contradictory statements cannot both be true); and that they believed in science’s claims to describe the observable world. Both agreed. And like well-tempered chess players, once agreed on the rules they then played the game with grace and humor.

Archbishop of Canterbury attacks UK government policies as radical

(Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at Canterbury Cathedral, April 4, 2010/Toby Melville)

Britain’s coalition government has embarked on “radical, long-term policies for which no one voted,” causing anxiety and fear, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said in an article on Thursday. The comments are his most outspoken against the year-old Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

“With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted,” the spiritual leader of the 80-million strong Anglican Communion wrote. “At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context.”

Archbishop of Canterbury voices unease over bin Laden killing

(Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at Lambeth Palace in London September 17, 2010/Chris Ison)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the 80-million strong Anglican Communion, has said the killing of an unarmed Osama bin Laden left a “very uncomfortable feeling.” Rowan Williams said the different versions of events coming out of the White House “have not done a great deal to help here.”

Bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces early Monday during a raid on his home at Abbottabad, a garrison town near Islamabad in Pakistan.

Church of England to wash some Bible imagery from baptism rite

baptism 1

(Sistine Chapel fresco The Baptism of Christ c. 1482 by Pietro Perugino)

The Church of England has voted to use more accessible language during baptisms to help it connect better with congregations, especially non church-goers.  Members attending the Church’s General Synod, or parliament, in London, agreed that the Liturgical Commission should provide supplementary material to help prevent the eyes of  worshippers “glazing over” during important parts of the service.

The Reverend Tim Stratford, from Liverpool, said on Wednesday his motion was “not a request for christenings without Christianity.” Quite the opposite.  “I am not asking for the language of Steven Gerrard,” he said, referring to the Liverpool and England  soccer star. “Just references that could be understood by the majority.”

Parts of the service were difficult to use “without seeming inappropriately schoolmaster-like”, he said.  Stratford said he did not disagree with the words currently being used, such as “I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, and I renounce evil.”

UK envoy feared anti-Catholic violence after Vatican offer to Anglicans

vaticanLondon’s Vatican ambassador feared anti-Catholic violence in Britain after Pope Benedict offered to accept traditionalist Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks. Catholic-Anglican relations faced their worst crisis in 150 years because of the offer, which undercut the authority of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the cable quoted Ambassador Francis Campbell as saying after the offer last year. (Photo: Pope Benedict and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at the Vatican, November 21, 2009/Osservatore Romano)

The cable, dated November 30, 2009 and published by The Guardian newspaper in London on Saturday, reflected concerns that have since eased. Tensions that it predicted for the pope’s visit to Britain in September this year did not materialise.

The confidential cable, signed by U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Miguel Diaz, said Campbell noted that England’s Catholics were a minority and mostly of Irish origin. “There is still latent anti-Catholicism in some parts of England and it may not take much to set it off,” it said, paraphrasing his words. “The outcome could be discrimination or in isolated cases even violence against this minority.”

Conservative bishops deliver blow to Anglican Covenant

rowan williamsConservative Anglicans have rejected a proposed landmark agreement designed to prevent splits in the worldwide Anglican Communion, just as the Church of England — the Communion’s mother church — moved a step closer to adopting it.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the 80 million Anglicans worldwide, has invested much personal authority in the proposed Anglican Covenant, which aims to prevent disputes over divisive issues such as gay bishops and same-sex unions. He has said the Anglican Communion faced a “piece-by-piece dissolution” if member churches failed to undertake to avoid actions that upset others. (Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams opens the General Synod at Westminster Abbey in London November 23, 2010/Dan Kitwood)

The General Synod, the Church of England’s governing body, voted in favour of the deal, although it still has a number of stages to go before adoption, which would be no earlier than 2012.

Catholic Church launches ordinariate for Anglicans in January

benedict and williams (Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (L) and Pope Benedict in London September 17, 2010/Stefan Wermuth)

The Roman Catholic Church will launch its first ordinariate for disaffected Anglicans in England and Wales in January and take in bishops, priests and laity over the following months, the Church announced on Friday.

Five traditionalist Church of England bishops have applied to join the ordinariate, a Church subdivision retaining some Anglican traditions, and about 30 groups of parishioners are due to cross over, Church leaders told journalists.

It was not clear how many priests would convert in the move, prompted by traditionalist opposition to Church of England plans to ordain women bishops. Married Anglican priests will be accepted but married bishops cannot retain their higher status.

First group of Anglican bishops to convert to Rome

williams benedict (Photo:  Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict celebrate evening prayer at Westminster Abbey in London September 17, 2010/Richard Pohle)

Five Church of England bishops opposed to the ordination of women bishops will take up an offer by Pope Benedict and convert to Roman Catholicism, heralding a possible exodus of traditionalist Anglicans.

The bishops will enter full communion with Rome through an ordinariate, a body proposed by the pope last October to let traditionalists convert while keeping some Anglican traditions, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales announced.

The ordinariate will let married clerics become Catholic priests, in an exception to the Vatican’s celibacy rule, but not bishops. Married Anglican bishops who convert may be granted a special status almost equivalent to their former rank.

Anglican gay bishops are okay if celibate, Archbishop Rowan Williams says

williamsThe spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Rowan Williams, backed gay people becoming bishops on Saturday as long as they remain celibate, risking more divisions within the Church on the issue.

Making one of the most explicit statements he has made on the subject, the head of the Church of England told The Times that he had “no problem” with their consecration. But he would not endorse gay clergy in active relationships because of tradition and historical “standards” that require celibacy, he said in the interview. (Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, February 11, 2009/Kieran Doherty)

He said he had to decide against endorsing gay relationships for clergy and bishops because “the cost to the Church overall was too great to be borne at that point.”

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s address at Lambeth Palace

lambeth 2 (Photo: Pope Benedict and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams embrace at Lambeth Palace in London, 17 Sept 2010/Chris Ison)

Meeting Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Pope Benedict put aside differences between the two churches and stressed the close cooperation they have developed over the past four decades.

Here are excerpts from the pope’s comments to the archbishop:

“…It is not my intention today to speak of the difficulties that the ecumenical path has encountered and continues to encounter. Those difficulties are well known to everyone here. Rather, I wish to join you in giving thanks for the deep friendship that has grown between us and for the remarkable progress that has been made in so many areas of dialogue during the forty years that have elapsed since the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission began its work. Let us entrust the fruits of that work to the Lord of the harvest, confident that he will bless our friendship with further significant growth.

“The context in which dialogue takes place between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church has evolved in dramatic ways since the private meeting between Pope John XXIII and Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher in 1960. On the one hand, the surrounding culture is growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a deep and widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment. On the other hand, the increasingly multicultural dimension of society, particularly marked in this country, brings with it the opportunity to encounter other religions. For us Christians this opens up the possibility of exploring, together with members of other religious traditions, ways of bearing witness to the transcendent dimension of the human person and the universal call to holiness, leading to the practice of virtue in our personal and social lives. Ecumenical cooperation in this task remains essential, and will surely bear fruit in promoting peace and harmony in a world that so often seems at risk of fragmentation.