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In hac lacrimarum valle (2003)
October 19, 2003
"Just War Revisited", the Archbishop of Canterbury's lecture last Tuesday to the Royal Institute for International Affairs, was far less inflammatory than suggested by press reports. It was, in fact, a rather dry and abstract response to a lecture delivered last year by a conservative Roman Catholic writer, George Weigel, on the theme "Moral Clarity in a Time of War". Mr. Weigel attempted to show how the traditional tenets of the Just War doctrine apply in modern circumstances. Dr. Williams takes issue with him on several points, not, in my judgement, very forcefully. Despite his evident determination to find fault with the American War on Terror, one could reasonably conclude that he reinforces Mr. Weigel's case more than he undermines it. Let me review the main issues in dispute:
1. Mr. Weigel emphasizes that the moral principles applicable to war are fundamentally different from those that govern private conduct:
The second crucial idea to be retrieved in the contemporary renewal of the just war tradition is the distinction between bellum and duellum, between warring and "duelling," so to speak. As intellectual historian and just war theorist James Turner Johnson has demonstrated in a number of seminal works, this distinction is the crux of the matter in moral analysis. Bellum is the use of armed force for public ends by public authorities who have an obligation to defend the security of those for whom they have assumed responsibility. Duellum, on the other hand, is the use of armed force for private ends by private individuals. To grasp this essential distinction is to understand that, in the just war tradition, "war" is a moral category. Moreover, in the classic just war tradition, armed force is not inherently suspect morally. Rather, as Johnson insists, the classic tradition views armed force as something that can be used for good or evil, depending on who is using it, why, to what ends, and how.
The basis for this distinction between public and private action is "that rightly constituted public authority is under a strict moral obligation to defend the security of those for whom it has assumed responsibility, even if this puts the magistrate's own life in jeopardy". Those who hold positions in government have a duty to protect the public that is just as strong as the private citizen's duty to refrain from violence.
The authority of the government to protect the law-abiding and impose penalties on evildoers is not a reward for the government's virtue or good conduct. . . . The protection of citizens and the execution of penalty on peace-breakers is the commission which constitutes government, not a contingent right which it must somehow earn. In the mystery of God's providence, many or indeed most of the institutional bearers of governmental authority are unworthy of it, often flagrantly so, themselves stained with crime. But this does not make it any less the vocation of government to protect the innocent and punish evildoers. A government which refused to safeguard citizens and exercise judgment on wrong out of a sense of the guilt of past crime would only add the further crime of dereliction of duty to its catalog of offenses.
From these premises, Mr. Weigel concludes that governments in general, and the U.S. government in particular, have the moral right to take unilateral military action and, if necessary and prudent, to strike preemptively against enemies that cannot safely be allowed to attack first. It is often a good idea, naturally, to gather allies, and many threats are either not severe enough to justify action or beyond the power of a single nation (even America) to tackle. Mr. Weigel's version of the Just War doctrine is not a blank check for perpetual warfare, but neither does he accept the notion, often peddled overtly or covertly in Just War's name, "that the role of moral reason is to set a series of hurdles (primarily having to do with in bello questions of proportionality and discrimination) that statesmen must overcome before the resort to armed force is given moral sanction". Failing to carry out one's duty through excessive scrupulosity is not morally superior to pursuing it too rashly.
Dr. Williams does not explicitly deny the bellum-duellum distinction, but he tries to dilute it to a nullity. "If a state or administration acts without due and visible attention to agreed international process, it acts in a way analogous to a private person. It purports to be judge of its own interest." Thus a government that does not receive international approval for the means that it chooses to protect its citizens is reduced to the level of a private person, with no right to wage war.
There are a couple of problems with this line of argument. First and foremost, a government that, in principle, recuses itself from using force to protect the public safety unless it has the approval of some outside party has abdicated one of its essential functions. To that extent, it is no longer a government but simply an administrative authority. That raises the question of the legitimacy of the entity to which the warmaking power has been granted. The touchstone of legitimacy for Americans is democratic election within a constitutional framework. No international body or combination of bodies possesses that attribute. Even if the United Nations had a much more admirable record than it really does, it would have no right to supersede the will of the American people, as expressed through their duly elected representatives.
But, supposing that one thinks it unimportant whether the U.S. government is democratic in all of its functions, there is the obvious prudential question: Where is the higher authority to which Americans (or British or French or Israelis or Iraqis) can safely entrust the power to command or veto the use of armed force? Dr. Williams' answer is advanced with little conviction:
The private person has redress in a higher court; do states? Aquinas and later just war theorists were writing in a context where what we understand as international legal structures did not exist (outside the Church, whose standing in such matters was a matter of complex dispute in the Middle Ages). There is a principle which allows the lower jurisdiction to act if the higher is absent or negligent. Does this apply in the modern context? I do not seek to settle these questions here, only to note that their significance for restating anything like a just war theory seems to be underrated by Weigel. Even if the international structures do not exist or lack credibility, the challenge remains as to how any one nation can express its accountability to the substantial concerns of international law.
Exactly why, "if the international structures do not exist or lack credibility" are modern statesmen constrained to be accountable to "the substantial concerns of international law" while those of Aquinas' day were not? A medieval king who went to war "purport[ed] to be a judge of his own interest". If that fact rendered his war unjust, then "Aquinas and later just war theorists" were theorizing about an impossibility. No war in their era (or ours) could conceivably be just, and it was stupid of them not to notice.
2. Dr. Williams asserts his disagreement with Mr. Weigel's contention that
the classic tradition views armed force as something that can be used for good or evil, depending on who is using it, why, to what ends, and how.
Thus those scholars, activists, and religious leaders who claim that the just war tradition "begins" with a "presumption against war" or a "presumption against violence" are quite simply mistaken. It does not begin there, and it never did begin there. To suggest otherwise is not merely a matter of misreading intellectual history (although it is surely that). To suggest that the just war tradition begins with a "presumption against violence" inverts the structure of moral analysis in ways that inevitably lead to dubious moral judgments and distorted perceptions of political reality.
The disagreement amounts to almost nothing, however. Dr. Williams concedes the legitimacy of the government's use of force to carry out its proper duties:
Some of this is illuminated if we turn to Aquinas's discussions of violence (in [Summa Theologiae] I.IIae.6.iv and II.IIae 66.viii and 175.i). Violence is an external force compelling certain sorts of action, a familiar Aristotelean definition; as such, it is bound to appear as against nature or against justice (since it takes from someone what is theirs, intrudes on their territory, restricts the exercise of their freedom of choice and so on). External acts may be subject to violence, though the freedom of the will can never be affected in itself. There is, however, a recognition that external force is sometimes used to accelerate a natural movement; in which case it is not exactly violence in the pure sense. The implication is that action which intends what is natural to human beings even if formally coercive is legitimate; so that action which employs violence of some sort for the restoration of a broken or threatened social order does not have the nature of sin. This is the basis on which a large part of Aquinas's discussion of legal penalties (in II.IIae 64 and 65) rests.
Public good is what is natural to human beings, the context in which they may exercise their freedom to realise the image of God. Confronted with action that is inimical to order, action that is "inordinate" in respect of public goods, the [government's] restraint on another's freedom, the intrusion into what is theirs and the privation of their personal resources that we should normally call violence, is not sinful.
The Archbishop's only caveat is a commonplace:
The ruler who administers the law may use coercion for the sake of the common good, in domestic policing and in international affairs. But such coercion will always need publicly available justification in terms of the common good, since otherwise it will appear as an arbitrary infringement of natural justice. The whole point is that there is precisely a presumption against violence, which can be overcome only by a very clear account of the needs of the common good and of what constitutes a "natural" life for human beings.
By that standard, there is a "presumption" against many other acts, against, for instance, the surgeon's cutting into another's body, which similarly must be justified by "a very clear account" of the needs of the patient and what constitutes his natural life. All moral actors have a duty, as Socrates taught, to account for their choices. Mr. Weigel's point is that a choice of war is not subject to some special, ultra-high burden of proof that would not apply to choosing to ignore the circumstances that made war a possible option. Where one's alternatives are, say, to overthrow a hostile regime that is in a position to furnish money and weaponry to active enemies or to do nothing in the hope that a self-proclaimed foe will be quiescent, the Just War tradition does not, in Mr. Weigel's view, tilt the scales in favor of the latter. If it did, it would simply be a different form of pacifism.
3. The portion of Dr. Williams' lecture that has drawn the most strongly negative reaction is his discussion of the "serious moral goals" that may underlie terrorist activities. As summarized by The Daily Telegraph, his opinions sound like lunacy:
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, yesterday urged America to recognise that terrorists can "have serious moral goals".
He said that while terrorism must always be condemned, it was wrong to assume its perpetrators were devoid of political rationality. "It is possible to use unspeakably wicked means to pursue an aim that is shared by those who would not dream of acting in the same way, an aim that is intelligible or desirable."
He said that in ignoring this, in its criticism of al-Qa'eda, America "loses the power of self-criticism and becomes trapped in a self-referential morality."
The actual position taken in the lecture is not nearly so bad, but it is completely non-responsive to Mr. Weigel's argument.
In the course of reviewing the prerequisites to a just war and applying them to preemptive U.S. action in the War on Terror, Mr. Weigel considers "last resort", the principle that war should not be undertaken when peaceful means of resolving a conflict are available. A natural objection to preemption is that it cuts off the prospect of negotiations. Even if the adversary is obstinate right now, the serious prospect of war might change his mind.
Among those who have forgotten the just war tradition while retaining its language, the classic ad bellum criterion of last resort is usually understood in simplistically mathematical terms: the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force is the last point in a series of options, and prior, nonmilitary options (legal, diplomatic, economic, etc.) must be serially exhausted before the criterion of last resort is satisfied. This is both an excessively mechanistic understanding of last resort and a prescription for danger.
The case of international terrorism again compels a development of this ad bellum criterion. For what does it mean to say that all nonmilitary options have been tried and found wanting when we are confronted with a new and lethal type of international actor, one that recognizes no other form of power except the use of violence and that is largely immune (unlike a conventional state) to international legal, diplomatic, or economic pressures? The charge that U.S. military action after September 11 was morally dubious because all other possible means of redress had not been tried and found wanting misreads the nature of terrorist organizations and networks. The "last" in last resort can mean "only," in circumstances where there is plausible reason to believe that nonmilitary actions are unavailable or unavailing.
Dr. Williams responds with generalizations that overlook the context the particular terrorist groups that threaten the civilized world today in which Mr. Weigel writes, in favor of a timeless, abstract overview:
This suggests, uncomfortably, that there are circumstances where you will know almost automatically when it is a waste of time to consider non-military options; and the implication of earlier comments is that where terrorism is concerned this can be taken for granted, since terrorists have no recognisable political aims, or are devoid of political rationality. The assumption that an enemy can be regarded as devoid of political rationality . . . . is an awkwardness in Weigel's case. The terrorist, he says, has no aims that can be taken seriously as political or moral; but this is a sweeping statement, instantly challengeable. The terrorist is objectively wicked, no dispute about that, in exercising the most appalling form of blackmail by menacing the lives of the innocent. Nothing should qualify this judgement. But this does not mean that the terrorist has no serious moral goals (what about the Irgun?). It is possible to use unspeakably wicked means to pursue an aim that is shared by those who would not dream of acting in the same way, an aim that is intelligible or desirable. The risk in claiming so unproblematic a right to define what counts as politics and so to dismiss certain sorts of political calculation in combating terrorism is that the threatened state (the US in this instance) loses the power of self-criticism and becomes trapped in a self-referential morality which creates even deeper difficulties in the application of just war theory.
But Mr. Weigel does not claim that no terrorist ever has "aims that can be taken seriously as political or moral", only that the particular ones who confront us right now will not respond "to international legal, diplomatic, or economic pressures" short of war. That is an empirical judgement, one for which, in this specific instance, the evidence is irrefutable. Surely Dr. Williams doesn't think that there are no cases in which it is an accurate appreciation and, whatever he believes, he doesn't say that al-Qaeda has "serious moral goals". (His nonjudgmental reference to the Irgun's goals is a refreshing surprise. Never before has the Archbishop, to my knowledge, expressed a dram of sympathy for anti-socialist Zionism [1].)
4. The final point of contention involves that vexed question of the extent to which citizens ought to acquiesce in decisions about war and peace with which they disagree. Mr. Weigel does not advocate self-censorship, much less the suppression of dissent, but he does call for recognition that ultimate authority for deciding these questions cannot be scattered through the whole of society:
As I have argued above, many of today's religious leaders and public intellectuals have suffered severe amnesia about core components of the tradition, and can hardly be said to own it in any serious intellectual sense of ownership. But even if today's religious leaders and public intellectuals were fully in possession of the tradition, the burden of decision-making would still lie elsewhere. Religious leaders and public intellectuals are called to nurture and develop the moral-philosophical riches of the just war tradition. The tradition itself, however, exists to serve statesmen.
There is a charism of political discernment that is unique to the vocation of public service. That charism is not shared by bishops, stated clerks, rabbis, imams, or ecumenical and interreligious agencies. Moral clarity in a time of war demands moral seriousness from public officials. It also demands a measure of political modesty from religious leaders and public intellectuals, in the give-and-take of democratic deliberation.
Dr. Williams doesn't like the phrase "charism of political discernment", and here I agree with him. It is too redolent of divine approval of political decisions. The call for "political modesty" is, however, well-taken, for reasons that C. S. Lewis aptly presented in a letter to the journal Theology on the eve of World War II:
It is plain that equally sincere people can differ to any extent and argue for ever as to whether a proposed war fulfils these conditions [for a just war] or not. The practical question, therefore, which faces us is one of authority. Who has the duty of deciding when the conditions are fulfilled, and the right of enforcing his decision? Modern discussions tend to assume without argument that the answer is 'The private conscience of the individual', and that any other answer is immoral and totalitarian. Now it is certain, in some sense, that 'no duty of obedience can justify a sin'. . . . Granted that capital punishment is compatible with Christianity, a Christian may lawfully be a hangman; but he must not hang a man whom he knows to be innocent. But will anyone interpret this to mean that the hangman has the same duty of investigating the prisoner's guilt which the judge has? If so, no executive can work and no Christian state is possible; which is absurd. I conclude that the hangman has done his duty if he has done his share of the general duty, resting upon all citizens alike, to ensure, so far as in him lies, that we have an honest judicial system; if, in spite of this, and unknowingly, he hangs an innocent man, then a sin has been committed, but not by him. This analogy suggests to me that it must be absurd to give to the private citizen the same right and duty of deciding the justice of a given war which rests on governments; and I submit that the rules for determining what wars are just were originally rules for the guidance of princes, not subjects. This does not mean that private persons must obey governments commanding them to do what they know is sin; but perhaps it does mean (I write it with some reluctance) that the ultimate decision as to what the situation at a given moment is in the highly complex field of international affairs is one which must be delegated. No doubt we must make every effort which the constitution allows to ensure a good government and to influence public opinion; but in the long run, the nation, as a nation, must act, and it can act only through its government. (It must be remembered that there are risks in both directions: if war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful.) What is the alternative? That individuals ignorant of history and strategy should decide for themselves whether [each condition] is, or is not, fulfilled? or that every citizen, neglecting his own vocation and not weighing his capacity, is to become an expert in all relevant, and often technical, problems? [reprinted in Lesley Walmsley, ed., C. S. Lewis: Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, pp. 767-68]
Again, Dr. Williams' disagreement is mild. He says only that "Lawyers, NGO's, linguists, anthropologists, religious communities, journalists, strategists, military and diplomatic historians, all know some things that may not instantly appear on the radar of any government, and the democratic process is about making sure that government hears what it may not know." Certainly. Nonetheless, if the debate never ends, if it is always subject to reopening ab initio at any time, effective warmaking becomes a utopian hope. At the very least, energies that are needed for the prosecution of the war are diverted into endlessly rejustifying it, meaning that the conflict will take longer and be more costly in lives and treasure. The de facto pacifism of political immodesty poses a rarely appreciated danger to innocent lives.
In conclusion, I think that Dr. Williams' critique performs two valuable services. First, it will introduce George Weigel's analysis to a much larger audience than would otherwise see it. Second, the inability of an informed and intelligent critic to find significant flaws in the argument reinforces its conclusions. A proper grasp of how to apply Christian principles to modern warfare is vital to our time. Without it, Christians will either be paralyzed by doubt or will wind up yielding the arena to an amoral "pagan ethos", a development that both Mr. Weigel and Dr. Williams deplore. As Mr. Weigel concludes,
Some have suggested, in recent months, that the just war tradition is obsolete. To which I would reply: to suggest that the just war tradition is obsolete is to suggest that politics the organization of human life into purposeful political communities is obsolete. To reduce the just war tradition to an algebraic casuistry is to deny the tradition its capacity to shed light on the irreducible moral component of all political action. What we must do, in this generation, is to retrieve and develop the just war tradition to take account of the new political and technological realities of the twenty-first century. September 11, what has followed, and what lies ahead, have demonstrated just how urgent that task is.
 
[1] For a short, balanced account of the man from whom the Irgun took its philosophy, vide Daniel Radosh, "A Brief Literary Biography of Vladimir Jabotinsky". The contrast between Jabotinsky and Osama bin-Laden is striking.
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September 3, 2003
Fr. Ken Joseph, Jr., an Assyrian Christian priest of Iraqi descent, initially opposed liberation from Ba'athist rule. After visiting the country as part of a "peace" mission, he declared that "I Was Wrong". He has now returned to Baghdad, where he finds much that is encouraging.
I have been shocked at the difference between the Baghdad I found on my return and all the bad news from the city.
Despite the recent bombings, Baghdad looks dramatically different. The stores are full of supplies. The streets are crowded with people and cars. The buses are working and police are on the streets, directing traffic.
At night the streets are full of pedestrians, many families with children. I am at a loss to reconcile what we see on the ground with what is being reported.
The "regular people" are much better off than they were. Security has improved with Iraqi police everywhere, telephones are starting to work, electricity, while off and on, is relatively stable, the stores are full of food, and, little by little, people are getting jobs back.
Pensions have been paid on time. The schools are working and people for the first time have hope and a future.
When I was here before the war what was most awful for people was that they had no future -- nothing to look forward to. For us who have never experienced that situation, it is difficult to understand, but it is akin to being in prison without the possibility of parole.
They would look at me and say, "Sure we have food, a place to live, a job. But can you understand what it is to live with no tomorrow? It is like living in prison."
Now -- for the first time in 35 years -- they have a hope and a future. What most impressed me was to see Iraqis really hustling. They are thinking of starting companies and importing goods.
People, especially young people, say that for the first time in their lives they can travel overseas, surf the Internet, make international calls, and watch satellite TV. It is a wonderful time for the average Baghdadi.
But Fr. Joseph calls attention to an ironic problem. Islamofascist sympathizers may claim that America is waging "war on Islam", yet our administrators in Iraq are pacifists in that conflict, displaying no enthusiasm for the principle of separation of Mosque and State.
With all due respect, people in Iraq in general hate radical Islam. They are secular. They do not want to see an Islamic state. They do not want to become like Iran.
At the same time, money and people from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other places are flooding the country using intimidation to accomplish what they cannot do by any other means. And average Iraqi is concerned at what seems to be a U.S. position, that is soft on Islam.
The problem for Christians is very different. The Americans do not appear to be requiring a secular constitution as they did in Japan or a limited regional autonomy.
This is a serious problem for us. They are already giving their blessing to the dual system so common in Muslim countries: the recent citizenship changes allow for a 2-year wait for Arabs (read Muslims) and a 9-year wait for non-Arabs.
We are beginning to feel that if the United States will not demand that the constitution be secular with a strong prohibition against religious involvement by the government and limited autonomy, then we will have to pull Assyrian Christians out of the country.
It would be an immense tragedy if the ancient Christian community in Mesopotamia, established centuries before Mohammed, were to be driven out not by caliphs or Arab socialists but by a government established under the aegis of history's most powerful Christian nation.
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January 4, 2003
American conservatives have taken an instant dislike to Dr. Rowan Williams, inaugurated a few weeks ago as Archbishop of Canterbury and titular head of the Anglican Communion (though not, of course, of the Church of England, whose "supreme governor" is Queen Elizabeth II). Negative reactions come easily, for Dr. Williams is stridently anti-American and a loudmouthed critic of the prospective Iraqi War. Elsewhere I have offered my own less than admiring commentary on his views on those topics. Still, we must remember that expertise in secular politics is not part of the job description of an archbishop, just as presidents and premiers need not (and almost invariably do not) have a firm grasp of theological principles.
On the religious front, I have been hanging onto a small degree of hope for Canterbury's new prince. His opinions on questions of faith appear, at first glance, to fall mostly within the mainstream of historical Christianity. He upholds the fundamental dogmas of the Church the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, etc. and, quite surprisingly for a reputed "liberal", is sympathetic toward paying honor to the Theotokos. Where he is patently unorthodox, as on the morality of homosexual relations, he has shown signs of waffling since his elevation, which one may charitably interpret as a sign that he is capable of reevaluating positions that may have been taken without full reflection.
The Archbishop's New Year's broadcast on BBC has drawn more attention than its content might seem to warrant. At first glance, it is simply another jeremiad against the superficiality and materialism of modern life. If that were the extent of the message, it would not be worthy of much note; modern life is superficial and materialistic. It has other qualities, too, but one can't blame churchmen for being critical. On further reflection, though, one sees that Dr. Williams is treading this familiar ground in a slightly unfamiliar direction.
The statement's theme is the manipulation of images:
We are in the world not of make-believe, but of makeovers. Walk down almost any street in town, and you'll see banks, businesses, cafes and bars busy reinventing themselves. Time for a change to the decor and the name. Businesses, charities, seem obsessed with rebranding themselves. You do wonder a bit how much difference it really makes.
So what's going on? I suppose that behind all this is an anxiety. What do people really think of us, of me? Do they trust us, do they admire us, do they think we're better than our competitors? Perhaps if we changed the name, changed the image, we'd look better and be trusted and relied on.
Yet responding to that anxiety may not improve the situation:
Perhaps people trust us even less when we change the brand name? It can be an infallible recipe for anxiety, permanent, restless concern about how we look. We're bound to think, as the year changes, about change in general - and this is just one kind of change. But it's one that tells us some uncomfortable truths about ourselves, about the way we live now.
By contrast, although Christians have devised many ways to present God, "We believe that God isn't constantly anxious about what we think of Him, constantly reinventing Himself. . . . There is something beyond anxiety and fear. God is to be trusted."
The moral is left largely to the listener, whose immediate reaction is likely to be that Dr. Williams thinks that we should imitate God by ignoring what other people think of us and refusing to alter our lives to accommodate their preferences. The Daily Telegraph's religion writer seems to have construed the text that way:
While Dr Williams did not mention names, his comments follow the efforts of a number of organisations, from the Labour Party to British Airways, to change their images - with differing degrees of success.
But does that interpretation make any sense? The motive for rebranding one's products or reinventing one's way of doing business is that customers change. Tony Blair drastically revised the Labour Party's platform because the old socialist certitudes no longer appealed to the electorate. British Airways faces the problem of attracting passengers whose propensity to fly has been adversely affected by international turmoil. It is only reasonable to change and experiment when trying to please changeable human beings.
God of course has no need to cater to His creatures' transient tastes, but a businessman trying to make an honest profit is not in the same position as God. It is not much of a virtue to refuse to give your customers what they want unless, that is, they want something deleterious. A bookstore that "reinvents" itself as a porn emporium deserves to be condemned on moral grounds. But Dr. Williams seemingly casts the cloak of his disfavor over innocent alterations, suggesting that redecoration or a new brand name can (and, by implication, should) spark distrust. Some hearers might extrapolate to the notion that "reinvention" of our private lives is likewise a bad idea, taking "God isn't constantly anxious about what we think of him" to mean that indifference to His teachings and neglect of worship are nothing to worry about.
The liberal part of Dr. Williams' constituency, the part with which he is most closely identified, may nod contentedly at this point, provided that they think no further about their leader's words. The hook that may stick in the backs of their minds and draw them toward deeper thought is this: Within the Church, who have been more enthusiastic than they for transforming the image of Christianity into one congenial to contemporary men? Ecclesiastical liberalism has feverishly reinvented and rebranded God's Word. "Perhaps if we changed the name, changed the image, we'd look better and be trusted and relied on."
Is the Archbishop hinting that such a strategy, whatever its success in the secular world, is an inevitable failure when applied to what is eternal and divine, no better than "an infallible recipe for anxiety, permanent, restless concern about how we look"? Doesn't Christian liberalism exhibit precisely that concern in its unending anxiety to win the approval of groups that despise all that Christianity stands for, ranging from black racists to feminists to militant  homosexuals to, most recently, Islamic fundamentalists?
On the personal level, too, there may be a subliminal message. In pursuit of material advantage, the Archbishop observes, men will overhaul long-familiar habits. They regard wrenching changes as worth the price if they produce a little more income. Yet what do these same men do when the Church asks them to please God by giving up sinful habits? They ignore her exhortations, because change would be "too hard". It is "too hard" to pray regularly, "too hard" to devote time to learning the elements of the Faith, "too hard" to give alms more generously, "too hard" to live in faithful marriage or celibacy, "too hard" to stifle wrath and forgive one's enemies, "too hard", in short, to live the life that Christ set before His disciples. Is it truly "too hard", or are we more interested in next quarter's P&L statement or next year's election outcome than in eternal life?
God's will does not change, and, if we wish to obey Him, we need not conduct market research to discover His commandments. Novelty, innovation, catching trends on the wing are the lifeblood of business and politics, but spiritual progress requires deepening our understanding of old truths rather than seeking out new ones. "There is something beyond anxiety and fear. God is to be trusted." Nunc et semper et per secula seculorum.
Dr. Williams is a successor to Thomas Becket, who similarly was better known before his accession as a political than a religious figure. No one expected Archbishop Becket to be much more than a secular-minded time server. The two situations are different in many respects, but we may yet see the present Archbishop of Canterbury "reinvent" himself in ways that no one would have foretold a few months ago.
Further reading: The Edge of England's Sword has published both negative and cautiously positive appraisals of Dr. Williams. Both are worth considering.
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