I went to see Rowan Williams on Tuesday afternoon. He delivered a talk on the subject of Resurrection, then fielded an hour’s worth of questions. Everything he had to say was wise and relevant, and presented with clarity and humility. In short, he was hugely impressive.
But it has been drawn to my attention that The Times, that bastion of broadsheet tabloidism, was considerably less impressed. Yesterday’s editorial (or “evil Murdoch shite” as the person who pointed it out to me would have it) suggests that the Archbishop’s dabbling in current affairs earlier the same day was a disastrous, inappropriate and incomprehensible mess. Indeed, the man I was so impressed by was actually, according to The Times, talking “gobbledegook”. Admittedly, the “unfortunate sermon” referred to by the editorial is a different one to that which I sat through, and it’s possible that Williams just wasn’t on form earlier in the day. So I popped onto his website and had a butcher’s at the offending address.
Imagine my surprise on reading something which bears little resemblance to the sermon The Times editorial appears to be on about. (Oh, alright – it wasn’t a surprise at all.) This “not particularly coherent attempt” is hardly one of Williams’ more complex or verbose efforts, and since he was addressing a crowd at one of the greatest centres of academia in the world I think he can be excused a certain level of intellectual depth anyway. Of course, intellectual musings of this nature can be taken out of context to look meaningless, hence the quotations in The Times editorial backing up the claim that Williams was talking “gobbledegook”, but read as a whole the sermon ought to make sense to any vaguely intelligent and thoughtful human being.
Of course, “vaguely intelligent”, “thoughtful” and “human being” are not terms one would usually apply to Rupert Murdoch, hence his obvious problems understanding the sermon. And there are other signs that he hasn’t actually understood it or even read the whole thing through; where he wants us to believe that Rowan Williams is making random, misguided statements about a political situation which he doesn’t really understand (he isn’t very clever after all), the actual sermon is tightly focussed on the theme of obedience and the difficulties for Christians looking up to authority when a regime is doing things like invading whole countries on false grounds. (If, in passing, Williams wished to take a swipe at the war he opposed from the very beginning, who can blame him? Though it should be pointed out that, contrary to what The Times editorial suggests, he didn’t once use the words “Iraq”, “Blair”, “Saddam”, “weapons of mass destruction” or “deceitful lying hypocrite”. Furthermore Williams clearly has a far more all-encompassing view of politics and social justice than a single-minded dislike for one war.)
The difficulty of how to respond to our Government at this time is a real issue for Christians and non-Christians alike, and as such I would rather think it comes within the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remit – so how he could be “trivialising his office” by talking about it I’m not sure. Perhaps Murdoch is worried that if the church starts responding to politics in this way it will threaten his role as the man who decides what people think. Or perhaps he’s just cross that he couldn’t understand it.