Rowan Williams on Spirituality

In an interview that included comments about some Christians’ persecution complex and his response to the question whether gays and lesbians might feel “let down” by him, Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury had some interesting things to say about “spirituality:”

Sharing a platform at the Edinburgh international book festival with Julia Neuberger, president of the Liberal Judaism movement, Williams launched a withering critique of popular ideas about spirituality. “The last thing it is about is the placid hum of a well-conducted meditation,” he said.

He said the word “spiritual” in today’s society was frequently misused in two ways: either to mean “unworldly and useless, which is probably the sense in which it has been used about me”, or “meaning ‘I’m serious about my inner life, I want to cultivate my sensibility'”.

He added: “Speaking from the Christian tradition, the idea that being spiritual is just about having nice experiences is rather laughable. Most people who have written seriously about the life of the spirit in Christianity and Judaism spend a lot of their time telling you how absolutely bloody awful it is.” Neuberger said she found some uses of the word self-indulgent and offensive. Williams argued that true spirituality was not simply about fostering the inner life but was about the individual’s interaction with others.

“I’d like to think, at the very least, that spiritual care meant tending to every possible dimension of sense of the self and each other, that it was about filling out as fully as possible human experience,” he said.

Asked by Neuberger whether he felt organised religion encouraged the life of the spirit, he replied: “The answer is of course a good Anglican yes and no”. While it can pass on the shared values of tradition, it can also operate as simply “the most satisfying leisure activity possible. It can also be something that you use to bolster your individual corporate ego.”

The entire report is here.

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