Archdruid Aneuri: Canterbury’s gain is Cambridge’s loss

In case you’re wondering, Rowan Williams, already the Archbishop of Canterbury, adopted the name of Aneuri when he became a druid. The monicker was chosen partly in honour of Aneurin Bevan, Dr Williams’s idol. Apparently neither his choice of a near-communist for the role model nor his urge to dance around Stonehenge on mid-summer’s day was seen as in any way contradicting Dr Williams’s ministry.

His announced resignation has prompted numerous comments, all following roughly the same pattern: an acknowledgement that Dr Williams is a brilliant mind and scholar, followed by a lament that he is regrettably misguided on whatever issue is the closest to the commentator’s heart. Add those diverse laments together, and one is bound to come to the conclusion that, in broad strokes, Dr Williams is misguided on everything. Thus the second part of the tributes refutes the first part, and you won’t find any disagreement in these quarters. After all, I still haven’t abandoned the view I expressed earlier, that lefties aren’t just misguided but actually stupid.

In this instance such an uncompromising view is supported not only by Dr Williams’s increasingly bizarre personal grooming but, more important, by his views and the way they are expressed. To wit:

‘In a church that accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous biblical texts, or on a problematic and nonscriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentation without regard to psychological structures.’

Excuse me? Can anyone please translate? First, biblical texts, from Leviticus (where homosexuality is described as an ‘abomination’) to Romans, are completely unambiguous on this issue. Second, natural complementarity isn’t at all problematic, for without it the human race — or indeed any biological life — wouldn’t exist. Third, linking this issue to contraception is a non sequitur whose sole aim has to be launching a veiled attack on Catholicism.

But above all else, how could an intelligent and educated man write such an English sentence? I understand that English isn’t Dr Williams’s first language, but surely he has had enough exposure to it by now not to put down unintelligible gibberish. Brilliant minds, which Dr Williams is universally credited to posses, don’t express themselves in such a crepuscular way.

His writing aside, even in his principal occupation Dr Williams is too busy being an Anglican to remember being a Christian. And whenever the two are in conflict (which these days they often are), the former trumps the latter hands down. For example, in 2009 he criticised the appointment of a lesbian assistant bishop in Los Angeles. Not on any Christian grounds, God forbid, but only because the appointment threatened the institutional cohesion of the Anglican church. However, he later realised that even such a meek objection called for a profuse apology:

‘There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them; I have been criticised for doing just this, and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression.’

The old stylist strikes again, as if to vindicate that old fox Talleyrand, who suggested that language is there to conceal our thoughts. Compare Williams’s muddled thought and speech with Dr Sentamu’s view on a related subject: ‘Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.’ No translation necessary, thank you very much.

If the style is indeed the man himself (it was Buffon who said that, now I’m in a name-dropping mode), then Dr Williams presents a sorry sight. This is confirmed by the views he has expressed on all sorts of other subjects.

As a younger man, he was an activist in the CND, demonstrating outside American bases and getting arrested in 1985 for making a nuisance of himself. Now the CND was a training ground for the extreme left, and its links with some foreign intelligence services deserve more attention than they have so far received. Williams was in his mid-thirties when he was associated with it, so this can’t be put down to youthful indiscretion.

His subsequent response to Al Qaeda blowing up public transportation in London was to suggest that terrorists ‘can have serious moral goals’, and that ‘bombast about evil individuals doesn’t help in understanding anything.’ This is a Christian speaking? Never mind a priest? Never mind a prelate? The terrorists’ ‘serious moral goals’, assuming they have them, are indeed evil, as they are themselves. Surely a man in Dr Williams’s job should be familar with the concept of evil? If he isn’t, I’ll be pleased to provide scriptural references.

One hopes his wishy-washy response to that monstrosity wasn’t caused by a general sympathy towards Islam, a suspicion that could arise on the basis of Dr Williams’s comments on the sharia law. According to him, ‘certain provisions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law,… we already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justified conscientious objections in certain circumstances in providing certain kinds of social relations.’ Sorry to be quoting at such length, but I’m always transfixed on fine English prose. As I am impressed by a priest’s dispassionate comments on something he should anathematise.

Dr Williams’s reputation for scholarly achievement rests on his book on Arius and his doctoral dissertation on the brilliant Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the dissertation, but I have read most of Lossky’s work, and he’d be disgusted by everything Dr Williams stands for. And Dr. Williams’s views on Arius, represented schematically, are centred around the proposition that denying the divinity of Christ is no big deal, a result of an unfortunate misreading of philosophy, rather than a deadly heresy. I’m not about to discuss this issue on merit, although one has to suggest that such a relaxed attitude can’t possibly be a job requirement for a leader of a Christian denomination — especially one that claims apostolic succession.

All in all, I’m unlikely to shed tears when Dr Williams finally leaves his post. Magdalen College at Cambridge, whose Master he is about to become, is welcome to him. Good job I haven’t got a son who could become his student.







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