frgavin on September 10th, 2012

The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a major attack on his critics in the Government and Church of England months before he leaves office.

Archbishop launches parting attack on critics

The Archbishop of Canterbury issues a challenge to his critics in a new book which he introduces with a warning that he has become “resilient” and “even rebellious” Photo: ANDREW CROWLEY

By Edward Malnick, and Cole Moreton

For almost 10 years he has endured a simultaneous barrage of criticism from those who say he should not meddle in politics and those who argue that when he talks about the Bible he becomes “irrelevant”.

This week the Archbishop of Canterbury issues a challenge to critics in a book which he introduces with a warning that he has become “resilient” and even “rebellious”.

Faith in the Public Square is a collection of lectures from his decade as Archbishop, all of them couched in the academic language that has become familiar from Dr Rowan Williams.

However, he uses the introduction, which he wrote this summer, to also make a fresh series of attacks on the Government and on his opponents in the Church of England.

He prefaces his remarks by saying that as he reaches the end of his time in office he is willing to take the “risk” that he will encounter further criticism — then takes it with a forthright attack on the Government’s economic record.

Dr Williams criticises the way the economy has been run during the financial crisis, saying that public life has become tainted by a “myth” that it is possible to guarantee financial security.

“A mythology of control and guaranteed security, combined with the fantasy that unlimited material growth is possible… has poisoned social and political life across a growing number of countries.

“No theologian has an automatic skill in economics; but there is an ethical perspective here, plainly rooted in theology, that obliges us to question the nostrums of recent decades, and above all persistently to ask the awkward question of what we want growth for, what model of well-being we actually assume in our economics.

“Without an answer to that, we enter just the ‘virtual reality’ atmosphere that has created (and maintained) financial disaster in the last few years.”

Pointedly, the book also includes a lecture in which Dr Williams sets out his critique of the Prime Minister’s Big Society. He argues that David Cameron’s concept “has suffered from a lack of definition about the means by which ideals can be realised”.

He said this has bred a degree of cynicism, “intensified by the attempt to argue for devolved political and social responsibility at exactly the same time as imposing rapid and extensive reductions in public expenditure”.

He said the Big Society has been perceived by the public as “aspirational waffle” designed to hide a “deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable”.

Despite this, he says it offers an “extraordinary” chance for the Church to serve the community and “the opportunity is too important to let pass”.

In the lectures, Dr Williams also criticises changes in the way universities are funded. He writes: “God help us all (literally) when the humanities and the pure sciences come to be seen as luxuries in higher education, or indeed education of any kind.”

Dr Williams also uses the book’s introduction to criticise those on the evangelical wing of the Church, such as his predecessor Lord Carey, who have said that Christians in Britain suffer from persecution.

“We have been hearing quite a lot about the dangers of ‘aggressive secularism’ and the strident anti-Christian rhetoric of some well-known intellectuals is still a prominent feature of our society,” Dr Williams writes.

“But … our problem is not simply loud voices attacking faith (and certainly not ‘persecution’ as some of the more highly-coloured apologetic claims).”

He adds: “Argument is essential to a functioning democratic state, and religion should be involved in this, not constantly demanding the right not to be offended.”

His intervention exposes a damaging rift within the Church, particularly with Lord Carey, who earlier this year told judges at the European Court of Human Rights that British Christians were being persecuted and “driven underground” by courts.

Dr Williams’s attack comes ahead of the publication of a book by the former bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, in which the leading conservative repeats his concerns about the dangers of “aggressive secularism”.

In May, Bishop Nazir-Ali said that the exclusion of Christians from their places of work for wearing a cross amounted to the “beginning of persecution”.

Dr Williams argues that secularism comes in two different forms and that a secular state does not necessarily pose a problem for Christians.

“Programmatic” secularism excludes religious practise and symbols from public life in order to emphasise the “unclouded” loyalty of individuals to the state, which Dr Williams describes as problematic.

However, he does not object to “procedural” secularism, under which the state allows people to publicly practise their faith but does not give preferential treatment to any single religious group.

He says the Church can continue to exist in a secular society as long as it is allowed to speak up for its values.

Bishop Nazir-Ali said Dr Williams’s distinction was “not really stable”, insisting that any form of secularism represents an assault on the Church and Christian values.

In an interview in The Daily Telegraph, Dr Williams acknowledged that he had made mistakes during his time in office.

“I know that I’ve, at various points, disappointed both conservatives and liberals,” he said. “Most of them are quite willing to say so, quite loudly.

“That’s just been a background to almost everything, a pretty steady ‘mood music’.”

In November, at a meeting of the General Synod, he will make a final attempt to broker an agreement on women bishops — an issue which threatens to split the Church — before he steps down to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

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