on 2 April 2013
Rowan Williams takes the questions that trouble the people today in these universal exacting times and applies to them the Christian viewpoint and values. He tackles the problems to social order - or, if you like disorder, the secularism in its varied forms. It is a carefully thought through reply to these problems beginnig from the simple first beliefs in God and the Creation and leads on from there.
It is a book that challenges preconceptions.
It is a book for the inquiring mind lost and seeking some solutions to unanswered questions & half spoken beliefs.
Built up through a series of individual chapters; each can be read as a stand alone piece of writing on the issues of today whether they be economics, multiracial societies or the place and need of the Church's influence in government today.
This is the best book of its kind and a necessary document in our time.
In the short time I have possessed it this book has opened my eyes to many aspects of the role of the church and its importance to our daily lives at all levels of the community.
on 5 March 2014
I was aware of the existence of 'Faith in the Public Square' a little while ago, when it seemed to cause a minor stir among some Anglicans but it seems to have little longer-lasting impact. The first thing to note about it, however, is that it’s not a book that Rowan actually set out to write. Instead, it’s a collection of transcripts of various sermons and lectures he gave between June 2002 and February 2012. Much of the vernacular used for a public address has been kept; in fact, I’m not certain how much editing was done to the transcripts at all, apart from the staff at Bloomsbury occasionally omitting spaces whenever they thought italics were most appropriate, something I hope they will correct in any subsequent print runs.
As the title suggests, the book is largely about how issues of faith and religion play out in public life. The lectures have been ordered by theme, rather than by the order in which they were first given, so as to try to give some kind of coherency to discussions on a quite wide variety of topics. The first two parts of the book, which are the longest and, I think it’s fair to say, the most intricate, are about secularism, multiculturalism, pluralism and the different ways these are perceived, coupled with Rowan’s own thoughts about which is the right path to walk down.
If anything though, these chapters could be skipped, as Rowan summarises it all very nicely in the Preface. The rest is more filling in the details. Crucial to this point of view is the distinction between what he refers to as “procedural secularism” and “programmatic secularism”. The former is a stance where no religious (or non-religious) position is given undue privilege in places of public life, such in government or media. The latter is (though Rowan, if I recall from those early chapters correctly, does not use the phrase) “aggressive secularism” – a term that is too often used, more often than not, incorrectly. It denotes the idea that religion ought to have no place in public life; it should be out of sight, out of mind. In so doing, he singles out the French for having this view.
Rowan advocates procedural secularism whilst rejecting programmatic secularism, as well as those who advocate the latter under the guise of the former. Though he does not mention by name the National Secular Society, the inference is all too easy to draw.
After this opening, which I warn you gets a little turgid, the book moves onto the application of religious (though mainly christian) thinking into other areas of public life. i.e. after having advocated that christians be allowed a voice in a liberal democracy, here is what one influential christian has to say on matters of environmentalism, justice, finance and community.
What he has to say is well thought through, effortlessly sensible and immensely thought-provoking. That said, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Despite the back cover’s claim that he is “the finest theologian in Britain” there is very little theology here. This more ‘applied’ theology than ‘pure’ theology, to bring in a mathematical analogy. I suppose it is inevitable that the book would appeal to a christian secularist, such as myself, though I would be interested in reading the thoughts of an atheist secularist on the book.
on 13 April 2013
This is a book of collected addresses by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and it raises some very important themes. It is not a pot-boiler of popular hot-button topics, but needs to be read slowly, one chapter at a time and thought about carefully.
I think that it is an excellent book and well worth the investment of time and energy in reading it.