Rowan Williams. Faith in the Public Square. London/New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.
The Archbishop of Canterbury emeritus, Rowan Williams, is a scholar, a man of culture, a masterful teacher, a great thinker, leader and theologian who addresses the question of the role of faith in the marketplace of ideas and its relationship to people and the body politic. His book gleans from many of his lectures and presentations over the last decade clarifying the role of faith in a society that is becoming more secular and denies a place for religion in the public square.
Religion continues to be a cherished and influential value in the lives of countless people of every pesuasion, class and culture. Its right to a place in the world of ideas and social discourse is rightly defended and welcomed today as it has been in the past. While secularism (both procedural, as in India, and programmatic, as in France) gives a place in the constitutions of democracies, in the latter case it has been reduced to a matter of private preferences. On the other hand, where religion is esteemed and welcomed as a positive ally for social progress, it is seen as a power greater than oneself and what one can grasp or fathom. This recognition, Williams argues, should give pause to those who think it has nothing to contribute to the debate or to human progress.
Among the topics headlined by Williams are these: Secularism and its “discontents”, the limits to liberalism, pluralism and law, the limits of human beings on the environment, the economic challenge, justice in community, religious diversity and civil agreement, rediscovering religion (religion and spirituality).
This book is a strong advocate for pluralism and moderation. It does not endorse the idea that loyalty to “the state” trumps every other loyalty. Christians and people of other faiths believe that an absolute control of the state in all matters leads to tyranny. Such control relegates to private preference the role which faith assigns to an authority, power and law which requires that the state itself obey. Pluralism in the human exchange and social contract is required if justice and peace are to be shared by all.