I recently mentioned that I happen to rather like Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most prominent theologe of this country’s established church. I’ve been wondering if I should expand on that a bit.
Obviously there’s no single factor that determines whether or not I like someone. My approval isn’t a binary state; there are all sorts of things that will make me more or less interested in or impressed by a person. All told, Rowan Williams ranks fairly well.
The one thing you might suppose most seriously lets him down is that he does take the whole Jesus business quite seriously. Which is a shame, I’ll admit, and does have to count as a mark against him to some degree.
But there’s a lot he gets right. There are other things he values that are entirely secular in nature, even if he might not wholly agree with that description. While some use religion to justify indulging their own hatred and prejudice with the language of a loving god, he genuinely values kindness, love, understanding, compassion, tolerance, sympathy, and various other qualities associated with basically being a decent person. These were evident in his recent debate with Richard Dawkins, which was an entirely amiable and pleasant affair.
He’s also hardly anti-science. He understands enough about several different fields to have had an epistemologically interesting conversation with a professional biologist about the origins of life and the nuances of evolutionary theory. He was sincerely curious, and he listened with interest when he had the chance to learn something new.
I think he’s drastically wrong about God, of course. It’s a major blind spot that’s not to be glossed over. But there are atheists around whose own blind spot is “not giving a shit about other people’s feelings”. And I think I’ll take a vague, kind, well-meaning, misguided theist like Williams over a correct but cruel nonbeliever.