'Long life to the diversity of communities'
Monday 21st November 2011Archbishop Rowan Williams, speaking at the launch of Inter Faith Week 2011, said that society desperately needs to recover a sense of belonging. "To belong is to know that there is somewhere where you don't have to earn your position – it's guaranteed; you are at home and you don't have to work in order to be there. That level of belonging is one of the crucial things which our religious identity gives to us."
The event, arranged by the Inter Faith Network UK and held at Methodist Central Hall in London, began with formal reflections from Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, the Archbishop, and Secretary of State Eric Pickles, and then opened up to a wider discussion on "Living Well Together in Britain Today".
The Archbishop asked that people think about "the ways in which each of our traditions draws our attention away from just serving people who are like us, to putting ourselves lovingly, sacrificially, at the service of the whole of our environment ... meaning by that not just our fellow human beings but the very world we live in."
The healthy and well-functioning State, he said, is not an impersonal bureaucracy which relates only to individuals but instead works with the diversity of actual communities that exist in a society. "Power doesn't come downwards in a pyramidal way - power is managed and negotiated between a great variety of grassroots communities."
Dr Williams said he hoped for a "long life to that diversity of communities; long life to that sense of active, sometimes critical, sometimes affirming, exchange between us. Long life to that sense of building up an identity through understanding the different ways in which we belong with one another."
The full text of the Archbishop's reflection follows, or watch the video recording or listen to the audio file [12 MB, 13 mins].
The Archbishop of Canterbury's speech
at the launch of Inter Faith Week, 21 November 2011
Chair, Bishop, Lord Sacks, Secretary of State and distinguished guests, it's a great pleasure to be able to be with you this morning and to celebrate with you this Inter Faith Week.
As the Chief Rabbi has already underlined so very eloquently and effectively, one of the things we have good cause to be grateful for in this country is the warmth and spontaneity of relationships between leaders in the faith communities. And I would echo very closely what he has said in affirming that this is rather rare in the world these days, and something for which we can rightly be grateful and of which we can rightly be proud.
If we speak about wellbeing, one of the things which we come to realise more and more as central to the idea of wellbeing is belonging. A lack of wellbeing is very often closely connected with a lack of any sense of belonging, a sense of isolation. To belong is to know that there is somewhere where you don't have to earn your position - it's guaranteed, you are at home and you don't have to work in order to be there. That level of belonging is, of course, one of the crucial things which our religious identity gives to us. We are at home with fellow believers; we are at home with the truth, the reality, the God to whom we are committed.
And I would like us to think a little bit this morning about the different kinds of belonging in which we're all involved because belonging is a complex matter. We belong to our communities of faith, we belong to our families, we belong to our culture and our country. We belong to any number of other small communities and associations that make up the jigsaw of our lives or, if you want a slightly more positive image, the tapestry of our lives interweaving, not just bumping up against each other. Each one of us lives in the middle of that tapestry of different kinds of belonging, different layers of identity, and therefore also different levels of motivation and vision.
So to understand belonging in our society today is to try to come to terms with a very broad range of identities, motives, visions. The challenge is to take seriously that diversity of different sorts of belonging without just making them rivals to each other. Because in an integrated life for an individual and in an integrated life in society, these different kinds of identity and motive don't compete with one another - they actually support and flesh out one another. Whether it's in the life of a person or in the life of a whole society, I believe we're looking for a diversity and interweaving of different sorts of belonging that is positive for the common good, the common identity that we share, and positive for each one of us as an integrated adult person.
In history religious identity has sometimes been the cause of rivalry and competition and we can't deny it. It's been the cause of rivalry and competition between Church and State at times in the history of Europe. In my history book when I was a schoolboy there was a picture of the Holy Roman Emperor standing in the snow outside the Pope's castle to apologise to the Pope for getting in his way. That was a particularly pointed moment in Church/State relationships, and it reflects a sense - which was widely shared in the Middle Ages - that the Church and the State were rivals. The Church of England promptly rectified the balance by so identifying the Church and the State that it's taken us a little while to get out from underneath but that's another story.
The point is though that although we have a history that is sometimes one of conflict and rivalry, we have begun slowly but steadily to develop that much richer vision which allows us to say we help one another to be human in our difference. And because our religious identities are not just something that affects one little part of our lives but something that has to do with the most profound and definitive relationships that we have, our relationship to God, to reality, that surely is a reason for not seeing our religious belonging, our religious identity, as ever in competition with other things but rather as the context in which all our thinking, all our loving and all our hoping takes place.
I want to say further that if we have that sense that our most deep identity and belonging is with God, with the reality which is within and beyond and behind all things, then that's where our deepest motivation comes from and that's where our motivation comes from to relate not just to people like us but to the whole of reality. Which, I believe, is what Lord Sacks drew our attention to a few moments ago in underlining the importance of Mitzvah Day and the comparable enterprises that are undertaken in all faith traditions. Because I don't believe there is any major faith tradition which denies that we have an obligation to all of reality, to all of humanity.
I want us therefore to be thinking this morning not just about belonging, as I've said, but also about the ways in which each of our traditions draws our attention away from just serving people who are like us, to putting ourselves lovingly, sacrificially, at the service of the whole of our environment. And I use the word 'environment' deliberately, meaning by that not just our fellow human beings but the very world we live in. How does each one of our traditions nourish and sustain and motivate that profound commitment to what is there; the actuality of the people around, the world we inhabit, the universe we inhabit?
Because it's my firm belief that each one of our different languages and practices represented around these tables has such a motive profoundly within it. We need to quarry that, and work with the grain of it again and again and again without comprising the particularity of our convictions, without looking for some cocktail of convictions that will make everybody happy, but rather recognising that each of us is aware of an obligation to more than just our own little group.
In the ideal world and in the ideal society how do religious communities serve wellbeing? They do so by underlining the importance of belonging in the way I've suggested, belonging which is not having to earn your place but being granted a home and a security. And we do it by looking into the depths of our heritage to find there those themes, those motivations, that remind us we are responsible not just for our immediate neighbours but our human brothers and sisters and the world in which we live.
And finally that does, of course, suggest some models and some thoughts around what the healthy well-functioning society looks like. I have, for many years, been very deeply struck by a term which originates about a hundred years ago in some of the work of social thinkers and indeed Christian social thinkers at the time, that the healthy State is a community of communities, a community of communities.
The healthy well-functioning State is not an impersonal bureaucracy which relates to individuals and tries to control individual rivalries and conflicts. The State works with, holds the ring for, helps to interact with the diversity of actual communities that exists in a society. Power doesn't come downwards in a pyramidal way, power is managed and negotiated between a great variety of grassroots communities. The State seeks to make the best of that interaction, to support real exchange and the real quest for what is good for all of those communities together. It's anything but an easy task but it's anything but a boring task.
And what I sense at the moment in our country is that, more than for many generations, we have woken up to something of that vision of the State as a community of communities. Secretary of State, we've had some discussion on this in the past year and I know that these ideas are not unfamiliar to you. I think that if we are prepared to think of the responsibilities of the State in terms of that creative working with the diversity of actual grassroots communities, drawing out of those communities their most creative and most convergent motivations, we are indeed making a contribution to wellbeing, to the wellness of a society which at the moment often feels anxious, divided and fragile.
I believe very strongly that is a society which needs desperately to recover a sense of belonging. There are far too many people in our society who feel they have no stake in the public life of this country. The tragic disturbances in our cities in the summer showed how many such people there are around. Overcoming that is not just a matter of offering more material goods; it is, I believe, a matter of recovering a sense that there are relationships that we don't have to earn. There is grace, in fact - to use a nakedly religious word – there is grace available for people. They are able to belong.
And our own communities of belonging, our own communities of faith have an enormous role, I believe, not only for their own people but in reminding our entire society of the centrality in wellbeing, of belonging, and the way in which a proper belonging builds us up as mature, responsible adults and allows us the freedom to serve one another in that universal perspective that I've mentioned.
So I say long life to that diversity of communities; long life to that sense of active, sometimes critical, sometimes affirming, exchange between us; long life to that sense of building up an identity through understanding the different ways in which we belong with one another.
And above all long life to that sense which we share around these tables, that at the deepest level our relationship with gracious reality, loving intelligent reality with God, that relation inspires and sustains our service to the whole world in which we've been placed.
@ Rowan Williams 2011