Rowan Williams in Newsweek

The Cafe has been reporting all week on the Trinity Institute program held yearly in New York which this year featured the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of the keynoters. The irony of having the Primate of All England speak in a city where the Church of England has lost significant capital on ill fated real estate speculation has not been lost on many.

The thrust of the Archbishop’s remarks to the Trinity Institute have been summarized in a short essay published in Newsweek. If you’re familiar with William’s theological writing, you’ll recognize his main themes in this piece:

“In our culture, we have become used to an attitude in which economic motivations, relationships, and conventions are fundamental: the language of seller and customer has wormed its way into practically all areas of our social life, even education and health care. The implication is that the most basic interaction between one human being and another is the carefully calibrated exchange of material resources.

But we must hang on to the idea that not everything reduces to one standard of value. Treat economic exchanges as the only ‘real’ thing that people do, and you face the same problems confronted by the evolutionary biologist (for whom the only question is how organisms compete and survive) or the Freudian fundamentalist (for whom the only issue is how we resolve the tensions of infantile sexuality). Traditional religious ethics—traditional ethics of any kind, in fact—do not require you to ignore the hidden forces that may be at work in any particular setting. Being human is learning how to ask critical questions of your own habits and compulsions, and it’s learning how to adjust them against a model of human behavior—an idealized truth about the purpose of our humanity.

It is possible to see the various balancing acts we engage in—the calculations of self-interest and security, the resolution of buried tensions—as a means to finding our way to a life that manifests something, a life that doesn’t just solve problems of survival and profit. Our job as human beings is to imagine ourselves—using all the raw materials that science, psychoanalysis, and economics provide us—in the hope that the images we discover and shape will have resonance and harmony with the rhythms of what Christians, and others, call the will and purpose of Almighty God.”

Read the full essay here.

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