Archbishop Rowen Williams has never heard of me and he never will. However, I now believe I have done him an injustice in various thoughts and comments. I am fully aware that most people on Samizdata are atheists – but you do not claim to be Christians, and I am saying that I have been unjust by assuming a man who said he was a Christian was lying (i.e. was a fraud).
Archbishop Williams is a social gospel man and I have assumed that, like most such folk, he is a disguised atheist – someone who when they use the word “God” really means “society” or “the people” (or whatever code word for the state). However, this was an assumption on my part – I never bothered to do any background research (exactly the sort of failure I attack in others – when they make statements about the “moderate” Barack Obama, or whatever, without spending five minutes doing any research).
Recently I came upon an exchange between Bishop Spong and Archbishop Williams which leads me to the opinion that I have been unjust to Rowen Williams. Although the source is Wikipedia I have spent enough time reading this thing to have a good sense of when articles are false and when they are true. Bishop Spong is the “Save the bible from fundamentalism” person (a favourite of certain liberal people I know in York) – and by “fundamentalist” he really means this word in its original sense, i.e. the “fundamentals” of Christianity such as the empty tomb (although, of course, he would be happy if innocent minded people just thought he meant stupid-southern-redneck-preacher by “fundamentalist”, which is the impression the media love to give). In any case Bishop Spong assumes that, being a social gospel person like himself, Rowen Williams also does not believe in the basic doctrines of Christianity (i.e. that, like Bishop Spong himself, he is using religion as a cover for the service of the collectivist cause).
So Bishop Spong was rather taken aback by Rowen Williams teaching the doctrine of the empty tomb, so shocked that he stated that of course Williams can not really believe in such doctrines (he must just be pretending in order to get along with the ignorant scum who make up most church goers) – but it is Rowen Williams’ reply that interests me.
Archbishop Williams replies that he is not pretending to believe in things in order to get along with ordinary people – he actually does believe in these doctrines, “I do not know how to convince him [Spong] that I do, but I do”.
Of course Kim Philby taught a course on anti-socialism in the service (i.e. what people say need not be what they believe) – but I believe what Williams says here (it rings true).
The importance of the “empty tomb” doctrine is a basic one.
Was Jesus just a great “philosopher” or a “teacher” – or was he supernatural?
Actually if one takes what Jesus says as applying to this world as a way of life then not only is he not “great”, his words make no sense. If one removes the religious (the supernatural) interpretation from such things as they toil not, neither do they spin – then one just has an arsehole (not too strong a word) advising people not to bother either working or planning for the future. Actually (or so Christians believe) Jesus is speaking theologically – i.e. that death is not the end and there is a future state (which we do not create – but will experience, due to the intervention of God). He is NOT saying do not work and do not plan for the future – he is saying that this world is not all there is. Much like the line of the rich man and eye of the needle is saying “you can not take it with you – remember that” (as a camel had to be unloaded before it could squeeze through the eye of the needle gate in the city of J.), not “rich men are EVIL because they are rich” (which is the sort of thing Bishop S. would want us to take from the line).
Now Jesus’ claim about a future state of existence may be false (from the atheist point of view it clearly is), but it is an understandable claim. Whereas if we do not see Jesus as speaking of heaven (my Kingdom is not of this world), but rather as laying out how people should live on Earth – well then his words are senseless and absurd.
That is the “interpretation” that “Jesus as great moral teacher” or “Jesus as philosopher” leads to – God or fool, Jesus is one or the other (NOT a “great moral teacher” or “philosopher”).
This is why such things as the empty tomb are so important (as Bishop S. knows well).
If the body of Jesus physically vanished (without being, for example, carried away by followers – or whatever) that is pointing us in the religious direction, rather than in the direction of “teacher”, “philosopher”, “hippie cult leader” and so on.
What I have done is make the same mistake (in reverse) as Bishop Spong.
I assumed that because Rowen Williams takes a certain political line (the “beardy lefty” line, as he said himself) he must be a fraud – he must be a fake Christian. Cong hiding behind a dog collar, trying to deceive people into taking the left hand path (in more ways that one).
I now believe that I was wrong – and because my judgement was based on prejudice (see above), not research, I was guilty of an injustice.