Rowan Williams in the New Statesman

Rowan Williams writes 


But there is another theological strand to be retrieved that is not about “the poor” as objects of kindness but about the nature of sustainable community, seeing it as one in which what circulates – like the flow of blood – is the mutual creation of capacity, building the ability of the other person or group to become, in turn, a giver of life and responsibility. Perhaps surprisingly, this is what is at the heart of St Paul’s ideas about community at its fullest; community, in his terms, as God wants to see it.

David Ould, who writes for the traditionalist Episcopalian site, Stand Firm in Faith demands some kind of verbal hat tip to Jesus.  He implies that a prophet is a prophet only if they make a statement that is distinctively Christian.

I find this a little amusing.  It’s as if a statement cannot be Christian unless it has tacked on to it some kind of deliberate referent to Jesus.  It’s like a verbal magic spell (“support the poor, for Jesus.”  “Eat Veggies, for Jesus.”  “Don’t Kill Babies, for Jesus.”)  The numerous implied statements by Williams that invoke the Christian tradition are ignored or dismissed because they aren’t in the face of non-believers.

Can one can make Christian claims without making a distinctive appeal to Jesus.  This requires some mental work and imagination, but it is entirely possible and worthy to do.  And must what is valuable in the Christian tradition be distinctively Christian?  And why must it be so?

The archbishop has taken some heat from the conservative press, but he still asks some fair questions:

First, what services must have cast-iron guarantees of nationwide standards, parity and continuity? (Look at what is happening to youth services, surely a strategic priority.) Second, how, therefore, does national government underwrite these strategic “absolutes” so as to make sure that, even in a straitened financial climate, there is a continuing investment in the long term, a continuing response to what most would see as root issues: child poverty, poor literacy, the deficit in access to educational excellence, sustainable infrastructure in poorer communities (rural as well as urban), and so on? What is too important to be left to even the most resourceful localism?

The archbishop need not be right – but he can clearly speak on this issue as a person with moral authority.  He is justifiably speaking from his knowledge of a moral tradition of wisdom.  It makes some uncomfortable.  It seems political.  It may or not be prophetic.  It is worth reading and understanding.

On seeing pleasure and pain in others

I.  On the Propriety of Action; Section I O the Sense of Propriety; Chapter I.1 Of Sympathy.

When we see people in pain or joyful, we feel.  We may not get any direct benefit from their emotion, but we “derive sorrow from the sorrow of others”and  are interested in the their fortune.  This description of “sentiment” is seems to describe an empirical reality as such that it is universal, although some may feel it with “most exquisite sensibility,” and “The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society is not altogether without it.”

This is Smith’s understanding of sympathy – not necessarily approval or disapproval, but that we feel what others feel.    I am riveted by sentimental You Tube videos; I enjoy the winning of my favorite team; I am sad when a family member faces a disappointment.  Girard might consider this obvious as well, for we do imitate one another.  He might add that we learn from one another how to by sympathetic.

Are we blank slates?  Or is this innate?  Pragmatically, until babies can survive on their own, perhaps the question is moot.  We have to learn to survive from someone, so perhaps we are built to be excellent imitators of both action and emotion.  Still, are the captains of finance sympathetic to the needs of the suffering?

Adam Smith and the Theory of Moral Sentiments

I’ve decided that over the next year I’m taking on a new project:  reading Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments.  I first read parts in Divinity School, when it was praised by my professor of ministry.

Over the last three year’s I’ve also been a part of a study group that has been focused on Mimetic Theory and the writings of Rene’ Girard.   Both Adam Smith and Rene-Girard are helpful in understanding culture, I suspect; Adam Smith didn’t have an understanding of “mimetic theory” but does discuss “creative imagination.”

I’ll be taking it in very short segments, and although I hope to do this daily, I’ll be satisfied with three posts a week, one per section.