a canterbury tale

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    Editorial: A Canterbury tale
    Mar. 5, 2003

    Welsh-born Rowan Williams is a quintessential child of the 1960s. At 53, he still sports a long beard and speaks of the days when he was a "hairy lefty" and "peacenik." A religious man, he was arrested in 1985 reading Psalms (compiled by King David, Jewish King of Judea & Samaria 3,000 years ago. This area includes the West Bank) on the runway of a US air base in Britain.

    Like other British leftists Williams is proudly pro-Palestinian (Does he still read the Psalms?): "In Gaza, we saw at close quarters the conditions in the refugee settlements, and experienced the extraordinary courtesy and hospitality of local people.

    We were taken around to some of the sites that have the most painful associations for the Palestinian people including Deir Yassin, where almost the entire population was massacred in 1948."

    To be fair, Williams is not completely unsympathetic to the idea of a homeland for the Jewish people. Still, "If you ask who are the real victims in the Holy Land, you have to think very carefully before answering.

    At present, the Palestinians suffer outrageous privations in the shape of restrictions on their movements, their access to fresh water, and their rights to social and medical welfare. There can be no dispute that they are the victims of day-by-day Israeli policy."

    If the name Rowan Williams doesn't ring a bell it soon will. On February 27, Dr. Williams arrived at the West door of 11th-century Canterbury Cathedral for his enthronement as the 104th archbishop of Canterbury.

    Williams is now the worldwide spiritual leader of 70 million members of the Anglican communion.
    The Church of England broke off from Catholicism in 1534, when the pope denied Henry VIII's request to divorce Catherine of Aragon.

    From this inauspicious beginning, and after many bloody schisms, the church would eventually give Christianity the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

    The new head of the Anglican Church is exceptionally bright. Williams attended both Cambridge and Oxford, is a scholar of divinity and philosophy, an author and a poet, and he speaks seven languages. He is also a moral relativist.
    He apparently believes that there is no proof one way or the other in politics or morality that one approach is better than another.

    Israel and the Jewish people have an interest in where the new archbishop leads his flock and much reason for concern. If, in the fashion of other religious leaders across the denominational divide, Williams lacks the philosophical language to distinguish good from evil, tyranny from democracy, repression from freedom, then his stewardship undermines the Judeo-Christian value system.

    He says that war against Saddam is morally illegitimate, and that bombing al-Qaida targets after September 11 was immoral. Not surprisingly, his appointment is greeted with glee by some Muslims. Saudi Arabia's Arab News calls him "the unquestioned moral leader of the movement in Britain against an attack on Iraq." More than that, says the paper, he is "holy."

    Nothing better illustrates Williams's moral relativism than his personal September 11 experience. He happened to be lecturing that day in downtown Manhattan. On the unprovoked slaughter of thousands, he says: "Now I know just a little of what it is like for so many human beings, Israelis and Palestinians now; and Iraqis a few years ago; and I could only thank God for the opportunity to find out something of this, giving room in my heart for the experience of those who live regularly under threat."

    For him, there is no distinction between a civilization that attacks and one that is under attack; and certainly not between unprovoked barbarism practised against civilians and retaliatory strikes against non-civilian targets. It is all relative.

    What a contrast Williams presents to an earlier archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who held that office from 1942 until his death in 1944.
    Together with British Chief Rabbi Dr. J. H. Hertz, Temple sought to rally British public opinion on behalf of the Jews in Hitler's clutches. He went on radio urging fellow European Protestants to intervene on behalf of the Jews in their lands.

    He recognized evil for what it was.

    In October 1942, Temple was prepared to warn that the Nazis had "a settled purpose to exterminate the Jewish people if it can be done." And on March 23, 1943, he pleaded for the Jews of Europe in the House of Lords. "We at this moment have upon us a tremendous responsibility. We stand at the bar of history, of humanity and of God."

    Sixty years later, a new archbishop arises who speaks a very different language. But he, too, stands at the bar of God.

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