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Archbishop's Liverpool lecture: Europe, Faith and Culture

Saturday 26th January 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, gave a lecture entitled 'Europe, Faith and Culture' at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool - Europe's Capital of Culture 2008.

A transcript of the lecture follows:

A lot of what gets said about Europe these days suggests that we are better at saying what it isn't than what it is. We say 'Europe' when we mean 'not Britain' or 'not America', sometimes 'not the Islamic world' or even 'not the developing world'. But we need from time to time to try and rescue a positive definition of some sort; which means a bit of history and a bit of political philosophy, and some of that will be around in this lecture. My main point, though, will be that to understand some of the most basic things for which the word 'Europe' stands when it's used positively, we need some thinking about religion as well – specifically about Christianity. And if the presence of Europe in the world hasn't been and isn't now exclusively a source of good things, it may be, I'll be suggesting, that we find the problems appear in proper perspective only when we've thought harder about these religious issues; and that therefore we may find a way forward from some of our world's most stale and destructive situations only when this work has been done.

Let me start by listing five things that are often associated with Europe when people seek to identify what it has contributed to world history and culture since roughly the early seventeenth century (the significance of this particular time scheme should be clearer as we go on). And I should add before proceeding that I'm treating a great deal of what the USA presents as its unique contribution to the world as derivative from certain trends that begin in Europe. First, then, is a doctrine about human rights. Gradually, from 1600 onwards, and most rapidly from about 1800 onwards, distinctively European political thinking developed the assumption that human beings were born with entitlements to certain kinds of freedom, more and more envisaged as freedom of access to what would make each human being content with their situation and would permit no potential in human beings to go without being developed. Recognising a right in this sense is recognising that people are properly seen as being able to claim the resources they need to make them both happy and in control of their lives. How exactly this has evolved into the contemporary idea of rights as claims that can be enforced in some sort of political tribunal would take a long time to spell out. But the fundamental point is that modern Europe – Europe after the Reformation and the wars of religion – came to take increasingly for granted this model of individuals as endowed with the right to win control of their environment as far as possible.

And this connects with a second feature of 'European-ness': the assumption that freedom understood as the absolute liberty to choose between alternatives is an unqualified good. If the goal is maximal control over the environment, then we need to be sure that everyone has an equal chance of selecting what they want from the possibilities that life in this world offers. To have your choices made for you is degrading and inhuman; the ideal human subject is one who has a clear view of alternative possibilities, a clear understanding of the pathways by which these can be made real and a clearly definable means of access to these pathways. And this of course involves the third European differential: democracy. If no individual or group or class has the right to define what is going to be possible for others, the organisation of social life has to be by means if the widest possible consultation about people's preferences, with the option of changing those who administer the law and policy of society when change is desired. Although monarchies of various sorts survived and still survive in Europe, what steadily disappeared was any conviction about a 'right to rule'.

But this creates something of a dilemma. Democracy seeks to consult everyone, but it cannot guarantee the enactment of everyone's wishes and preferences. It is bound to enact the desires of a majority, and this seems to threaten the universal liberty of access and control we have spoken of. What then emerges is a fourth feature of European public culture: the distinction between public and private. This means encouraging people to think in terms of a sort of contract by which the greatest benefit to the greatest number is assured by majority decisions, and individuals accept that their specific choices may rightly be limited when they have possible consequences for others that would limit the liberty of those others. But this is offset by the agreement of public democratic authority to allow an almost unqualified freedom in those areas where there are no obvious public consequences for choices. Modern democracy brings with it a pluralist assumption about personal morality.

All this takes for granted a certain sort of 'story' about human beings and how they behave and are expected to behave; and the last aspect of European distinctiveness I want to mention at this point is the character of modern European art and literary culture. This is something that focuses intensely on the complexities of the individual's awareness and emotion. It appears in musical Romanticism, in a variety of modernist movements in visual art, but above all in European (and American or Australian) drama and fiction. What people look at and think about when they read novels or watch plays and films is the records of specific individuals making their choices, experiencing the effect of their choices, battling often to secure the right to choose and so on.

Basic to all my five proposals for identifying what is different about modern Europe and its post-colonial legacy across the Atlantic and elsewhere is the belief that what is most uniquely human is a capacity for 'self-creation' – for the making of choices that will establish a secure place in the world and shape an identity that is not determined from outside, determined by social power that acknowledges no accountability or by doctrines and models that have no public evidence to support them. If an individual decides to allow their identity to be so determined, that is no doubt their business, but it isn't something that anyone can rightly expect public authorities, governments, to support or enforce. Public life organises the aspirations of individuals in such a way that they don't interfere with each other too dramatically, and leaves what is supposed to be a reasonable amount of private space in which various individual preferences can be exercised.

It is this sense that the essence of the human task is defining yourself that is at the heart of the modern European enterprise; and it is what sets it apart from both traditional societies and modern ideologically defined societies. In traditional societies, a human being would be defined in relation to other human beings and their given roles and tasks, and the whole complex of human relations defined in relation to a 'sacred order', the balance of things as defined by the will of God or the gods or the eternal harmony of all beings, the Tao of Chinese philosophy or the logos of the ancient Stoics. Within such a framework, there might well be a strong affirmation of the person's freedom to adopt or reject this or that way of living out the given order in which they existed; but there would be no assumption that each person would have to decide who and what they were and work out that decision more or less from scratch. And insofar as the project of 'self-creation' challenges the priority of an eternal creating purpose outside this universe, it looks as though European modernity is basically hostile to any religious sense of the world and of human destiny.

For many in the modern West, that is not of course a problem; it simply reflects the unstoppable advance of the demystifying of the world and the removal of authorities that work without any rational accountability. The obvious direction of human history is towards a world in which there is a level playing field, a universal space into which any individual may move and stake out their territory, while government restrains excessive bids or claims that threaten others within this territory. But this tidy summary conceals two major problems that we cannot indefinitely avoid looking at. The first is simple: the fact that this model remains the preferred world view of a prosperous minority of the human race, and shows little sign of being voluntarily adopted by others. Grace Davie has written of the 'European exception' in discussing the patterns of religious commitment and practice in our world. She is of course saying this in the light also of the statistically high level of religious practice in the USA; but I'd want to suggest that since religion in the USA is characterised by many deeply untraditional features, by a sort of market principle of maximum variety and choice, it is itself as untypical as Europe in the context of what the rest of the human race thinks about religion. If religious commitment is first and foremost an individual's private choice, then, never mind whether the choice is yes or no, the principle is the same.

But the second problem from which we are tempted to turn our eyes away is the internal strain that is manifest in the way in which the 'European' model works at home and – more significantly – abroad. Some recent historians of Christian mission have located the missionary movements within the context of what they call the great European migration – the immense cluster of social and economic processes which, from the late Middle Ages onwards, took Europeans to other parts of the world, most often as conquerors or colonisers. The emergent culture of Europe assumed that it had universal validity; but in practice this also meant that those who knew this culture as insiders, those who 'owned' it for themselves, had the right to decide how it should work, while those outside the European household had to be content with the structures imposed by insiders (occasionally with the promise held out that outsiders might one day become insiders).

The effects were dramatic. The slave trade developed as a major international commercial concern at just the time philosophers were becoming increasingly eloquent about the universal human birthright. Racial superiority was for the first time in human history defended on abstract philosophical grounds. The process began by which local economies were inexorably drawn in to the mechanisms of transnational business and the material resources of the globe came to be seen as a virtually limitless warehouse for development. And one of the deepest tensions in the modern mindset emerged as the pressure for national self-determination as an expression of the basic conviction about self-creation rubbed up against the pressures towards unfettered global competition in the market. European universalism ended up producing a world in which immense inequality was created and in which the degree of that inequality seems to become yearly if not daily more marked. The great European migration (which itself includes the rise of North America as a global power) has irreversibly altered the nature of the human world, bringing, undeniably, new levels of prosperity to some and new levels of political self-determination; but it has a massive shadow. And to understand what is going on here, I want to return to the question of Europe's religious roots to see if we can gain any perspective on the huge moral ambiguity of Europe's cultural exports.

As is widely recognised, the European mindset I have been describing has its beginnings in certain aspects of Christian language and belief – but also in the sheer social fact of how the Christian Church thought of itself in its earliest years. Christianity was always a religion of conversion: and that means that it has always proposed to human beings that what has been taken for granted about their identity, their possibilities or their relationships isn't necessarily fixed and final. Conversion is choosing to be different; it is a step out of the culture you once belonged in. And the early Christians had to wrestle a good deal with the question of how this could be announced and offered in the highly controlled and religiously policed environment of the Roman Empire without inviting the conclusion that Christians were automatically out to subvert the entire fabric of social morality.

What this involved in practice was, for many of the earliest generations, martyrdom – the ultimate counter-cultural statement. And what this came to mean was that, for Christians, choosing to be different might not make any instant and visible difference: martyrdom claimed that there was a hidden reality, deeper and more lasting than the culture that currently prevailed. The martyr witnessed to what was and remained true whether or not it could command a majority vote. And the ordinary Christian, living in this rather precarious setting, would have a sort of double vision – the world, the prevailing culture as it actually was, and the Kingdom of God by which the current order of things was judged. The cultural and political climate in which the Christian lived might be the reality for the majority, completely taken for granted, even regarded as sacred – but the Christian would know that it was still under judgement and that what seemed natural and beyond question in this environment was still open to question by the standards of God, the 'hidden God' who was at work in the most conspicuous human failures, in apparent defeat and death, as he had been at work in the death of Jesus.

Now the relevance of this for our main subject is in this aspect of Christian language that involves what I've called double vision. Christianity at first refused to allow believers to take things for granted, and it gave believers the conviction that their own choices could bring them into a different order of things, invisible but ultimately decisive for the whole universe. It encouraged questioning of certain kinds – the questioning of how things were done in the Roman Empire, but also the questioning of oneself: how far did a believer still act as if he or she were simply an inhabitant of the 'given' world of Empire? And even when Christianity became socially and culturally the majority view, the 'normal' position in Europe, the tension did not go away. Church and government still argued about who set the boundaries for public morality; and, very importantly, the monastic movement enshrined a degree of tension at the very heart of the church's life. 'Conversion' came to be the technical term for opting to become a monk or nun, because such a decision once again affirmed that you didn't have to live in the place where you were born, culturally and spiritually speaking. The Christianised world might go on its way fairly smoothly, but there was always a hidden and more drastic way of being a disciple. Even in a 'baptised' society, there were still questions to be asked.

Gradually in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, thinkers developed the implications of this. St Augustine at the very end of the era of the old Roman Empire had starkly denied that any social arrangements, even the most apparently Christian ones, could satisfy the radical desires of the soul for God's love and justice; the Christian was defined as someone always refusing to settle down. And a few centuries later, something not unrelated was being worked out by St Thomas Aquinas in his scepticism about the divine authority of kings. Christianity might have been the system taken absolutely for granted by the society of Western mediaeval Europe, but it still contained the seeds of deep cultural unease, an irony and a scepticism about existing situations and systems in the light of God's action in the cross of Jesus and the revelation of what God's justice really meant. At the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, this scepticism exploded as a protest about the institution of the Catholic Church itself.

But it was never a matter of Protestant liberty versus Catholic tradition and stability. Protestants sadly often ended up reinstating an uncritical veneration for the state, Catholics produced, especially in mystical writings, a profound analysis of the anarchic possibilities of the inner life of human beings. But what is hard to deny is the fact that after the Reformation, that unease and unsettlement, that sense of the 'homelessness' of the human self in a world where you couldn't take for granted that society (even Christian society) would tell you who you were and what your task was, became more and more sharply marked. The double vision of the early Church and of St Augustine was increasingly in evidence.

But – and here is the crucial twist in the plot – all this coincided, not entirely surprisingly, with a loss of focus and loss of nerve among many European thinkers where God was concerned. It is one thing to reflect on and to nurture a scepticism about the appearances and conventions of society when the other world of God's character and God's Kingdom is clear and compelling, however mysterious. But what happens when unease and scepticism spills over into this area as well? A double vision in which both aspects are equally questionable leaves the human spirit homeless in a far more radical and threatening sense. To question myself in the light of the mystery of God's justice revealed through the death of Jesus, to decide for self-sacrifice, whether as martyr or as monk, on the basis of the doctrine that self-sacrifice is the hidden law of all things, rooted in the self-forgetfulness of divine love, is a long way from questioning myself simply because nothing is secure, anywhere. To find out who I might be or become cannot rest on anything outside; it will require introspection, the exploration of what St Augustine had called the inner 'caverns' of the self.

This can be traced in the increasing anxiety among philosophers about how we can be sure that we know what we think we know; but it can also be traced in the growth of what I identified earlier as one of the distinctive cultural creations of the modern European mind – the novel.

Novels are records of how selves are shaped.  The earliest novels, especially in the English-speaking world, were very much focused on how individuals found their way to security – economic security, sexual stability, a sense of confidence in their worth.  The nineteenth century novel pushed out the boat rather further in exploring alienation from the roles prescribed by society and the consequences of nonconformity, and it increasingly offered diagnoses of the ills of society and recipes for its reformation.  The twentieth century intensified the ways in which alienation was understood, but also pushed the form of the novel into new territories as the whole idea of a unified self-evolving in time was confronted by new varieties of philosophical scepticism, with the 'death' of both author and subject being confidently announced.  Yet the novel remains one of the most persistent vehicles in the European and American cultural environment for understanding human decisions and conflicts.

Quite a lot has been said over the years about the origins of the novel in Puritan and Pietist journals, in the habit of self-examination and the laying-out in story form of how God's leading Providence might be traced in a life.  But, as I hinted a few minutes ago, this is not an exclusively Protestant story: the 'mystical' autobiography – the memoirs of a Teresa of Avila, an Augustine Baker or even the fragmented personal reflections of a Pascal – provides some of the background as well.  For an earlier age, introspection, looking at the inner world, meant essentially coming to understand what kind of thing a human being was; from the seventeenth century it meant coming to understand who this particular subject might be or becomeThe philosophical question, 'What can I be sure of?' was complemented by the psychological question, 'Where can I take my stand as a unique agent in the world?'  The Puritan writing his or her journal, the mystic writing an account of the discovery of God's overpowering darkness are both seeking a way of establishing that God is the foundation on which they stand, even when outside events don't instantly enforce this as a natural conclusion.  But the novel cannot take for granted that there is a foundation in God; and so it dramatizes the search for other sorts of security – or, later on, shifts the focus from the goal to the search itself.  And this shift of course is reflected in other art forms in the European context, in drama and eventually film as well (although it might be more accurate to say that European drama in its supreme phase in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had already set some of the agenda for the novel's development). 

So one way of understanding the ambiguous impact of Europe on our world is to see the modern European mind as the detached half of a complex reality that Christianity helped to bring to birth.  The homeless soul, uprooted from its apparently natural habitat in an inherited culture so as to be replanted in the soil of God's universal community, the homeless soul obliged in an imperfect world to look beyond appearances and to suspect the claims of culture and society to final authority – this soul once cut off from the narrative of God's action in the cross and resurrection will find a home nowhere in earth or heaven.  In the Christian context, self-questioning is the discipline of stripping away all external circumstance or internal habit that makes us simply feel good or safe for the sake of discovering a good that cannot be defeated by the world as we experience it or by our own failures.  It sets out for the human self a journey that is a sort of reflection of the definitive story of faith: the 'Son's Course', the journey of the Son of God into a far country and his return home (both phrases from great twentieth century Christian commentators) – this is the story that for Christian believers establishes once and for all the rhythm of the world's life.  God 'abandons' the life of an isolated heaven to work out and define what divine life might mean in the conditions of a compromised and tragic world; and this definition leads to the utter failure and darkness of the crucifixion, leaving only the bare fact of indestructible love; and that indestructible reality recreates the whole world in its refusal to be enclosed by death.  It is a story that insists that God is not to be found in the world except when human beings are ready to lose all that is less than God so that the indestructible may take root in them.  It is a story, therefore, that naturally generates its own culture of restlessness.

But if that restlessness is separated from any sense of the indestructible, then what in a Christian context is the motive power for creative irony, critical freedom and hope becomes a ceaseless, obsessive wondering whether I as an individual have yet understood my nature and my needs and whether I have yet found the resources to satisfy them.  Criticism will focus on the dissatisfactions of the individual; rights will be conceived in terms of the expectations of the individual; and, to pick up the controversial but immensely illuminating language of the American political historian and analyst, Philip Bobbitt, we end up with the 'market state' of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, drawing its legitimacy from its capacity to satisfy the consumer demands of its citizens.  In the global context, this brings with it just the tensions that we looked at earlier around the competitive and acquisitive models that have dominated Europe's engagement with the rest of the world.

But the past century – perhaps especially the past sixty years or so – has given an extra focus and an extra sharpness to some of these concerns.  The cultural world we have been thinking about, individualist, pluralist, absorbed in the analysis of the self and its multiple possibilities, has been brought up against two powerful alternatives to its certainties.  For a great deal of the twentieth century, the West was confronted by a philosophy and a social system claiming scientific foundations, completely irreligious, indeed anti-religious, in its understanding, yet having many of the characteristics of monotheistic faith - Marxism and its outworking in state socialism.  As the Cold War era ended, there were those who very publicly assumed that there could be no serious alternative to the North Atlantic worldview; but within a very short time indeed, a very different presence was making itself felt in a new way: Islam, the historic sibling and sparring-partner of mediaeval Europe, long ignored or despised by badly-informed Westerners as culturally and intellectually static, emerged again as a partner in debate – and potentially or actually a partner in conflict.

Both Marxism and Islam are in their basic conception morally serious and philosophically sophisticated visions which seem on the face of it to have relatively little place for pluralism or irony on the classical European model; both assume that the presence of a finally satisfactory human order sanctioned by God or by the objective forces of history is at least a possibility within the world we know, and both are critical of the 'interior' focus of Christian language and the pessimism or even passivity which this can, in their eyes, generate.  In both cases, the experience of searching dialogue with Christianity makes it quite clear that we are not talking here about worlds that simply can't communicate with each other; but there is no doubt that the divergences are plain and significant.  Even when the Marxist or the Muslim shares substantial aspects of the cultural inheritance of the European world, they will write very different kinds of novel or drama.

This is nothing to do with the clichés about clashing civilizations that we regularly hear, nor to say that Islam is always going to be 'other' to Europe: Islam has long been bound up with Europe's internal identity as a matter of simple historical fact, and it stands on a cultural continuum with Christianity, not in some completely different frame.  It is simply to underline that there is a genuine distinctiveness about the cultural mindset that most directly inherits the Christian perspective; whether this is good or bad, true or false, we ignore the distinction only at the cost of honest and effective conversation across boundaries.  More to our present point, we ignore the history of this distinction at the same cost.  If we want to know why Europeans and their cultural relatives take it for granted that appearances can be deceptive and that we always need to 'decode' even the most innocent-looking claims, why we take it for granted that even our talk about what is most sacred and serious carries a shadow of incongruity, the answer is in a theology that has encouraged us to think of the world around us as never being a place to settle down for good.  In this context, the challenge posed to the classical European legacy by Marxism or by contemporary Islam is important and constructive; a growing number of European thinkers in recent years have acknowledged that the pure pluralism of some sorts of postmodernist theory does not provide a very robust or compelling alternative to the 'monotheistic' certainties of other philosophies, even within the historic territories of Europe itself.  If Europe is to go on being culturally alive, it will need to ask if it has understood its own legacy too narrowly and exclusively.

And there, of course, lie some of the great risks of our day.  A completely fragmented cultural world, in which we no longer have any certainty about what is and isn't valuable and serious, will not generate cultural depth or excitement.  The long-term fruit of a purely postmodern climate is a world of imitation, endless self-reflection which doesn't do much to take forward the creative project.  It is tempting to react to this by looking for a style or a set of convictions that will liberate us from the maze of uncertainties and reinstate a clear view of how sacred or unchallengeable authority is present in history.  This is very unlikely now to be the old Communist scheme, morally and intellectually discredited as it is.  But it can surface in various ways within the West.  Apart from those who simply turn to religious systems of unquestionable security, to fundamentalisms of various sorts, the still powerful idea that we have reached or are in sight of reaching an 'end of history' is another form of the same thing – the idea that debates about essential moral, social and spiritual issues is really over and that the global market has won all the arguments by default.  Here we see two apparently diverse trends coming together – the radical individualism of our culture and the belief that there can be no rational argument about the sovereignty of the global market: consumerism and a kind of 'soft' totalitarianism go together.

Sixty years ago, in the wake of the Second World War, the Catholic historian and philosopher, Christopher Dawson, wrote, 'A society which has lost its religion becomes sooner or later a society which has lost its culture' (Religion and Culture, p.233).  When the processes I have been describing take over, what is lost is ultimately not only the culture of Europe and its cultural family but also the idea of culture itself.  The end of history is a situation in which nothing remains to be discovered about human nature and the possibilities of human relationships and language.  Like any other fundamentalism, it assumes that the interesting questions have been answered and what remains is only an assortment of ways for whiling away the time.  It is the mirror image of what many have found most disturbing in both the old Marxist world and the rhetoric of so-called 'radical' Islam today.  Communism in its heyday resisted anything that looked like innovative or questioning art and restricted the artist to work that would reinforce the social message of the Party.  Some of it was highly competent, and some of it managed to be skilfully subversive, but the political framework was designed to freeze out real creativity.  And to turn to the other great alternative to the Christianity-haunted West, one of the tragedies of our time is that an Islamic world which has historically produced a vastly sophisticated material and poetic culture is threatened from within by those who acknowledge only the bare word of the sacred text, divorced from learning and interpretation; the paradox about Islamic primitivism is that it seems to arise not from the strength of faith but from its weakness, by dismissing out of hand the capacity of faith to engage transformingly with the social and imaginative world.  A confused or weak faith produces a cultural loss of nerve, and that cultural loss of nerve impacts in turn on faith itself, generating the frantic anxiety that clothes itself in violence.

I've suggested elsewhere that for the European tradition of political liberalism to survive – the tradition of civic freedoms to criticize and reshape government and to allow for genuine public debate about what is good for a society – we need a clearer awareness of the Christian heritage that silently and in hidden ways has produced that tradition through its commitments to abiding human dignity and the possibility of justifiable dissent from a ruling philosophy.  When we reflect on faith and culture in Europe today and tomorrow, we need to think about a good deal more than just persuading European people back to Christian worship (though that would be a good start...).  There is something to be said about how Europe continues to contribute to the rest of the world a certain kind of moral awareness grounded in the critical spirit of Christianity and its conviction that conversion is possible and thus that the present organization and appearance of the world isn't everything.  But – and this is really the main point of what I have been arguing here – if this spirit is to be critical, a means of proper judgement, it can't be endlessly suspicious, it can't settle with the notion that there is nothing to trust anywhere.  Christian faith tells us that, because God is to be trusted, we can be very bold indeed about the degree of scepticism we give to what is less than God.  In the context of faith, this is the 'unbearable lightness' that is given us in relation to the systems and expectations of the world around, the irony that is still compatible with love and commitment in God's name.

It is something that may be a bit clarified by setting it alongside what Christians have called 'negative theology' across the centuries.  In this theological tradition, thinkers and writers have insisted that no human form of words captures what God is; but this doesn't lead them to conclude that nothing can be said of God.  What they affirm is that no form of words, however true as far as it goes, is going to be fully adequate; there is always more to say (even in heaven).  This is a theology that is hopeful because of the conviction that there is always more, and that this 'more' is always more compelling and wonderful — and so perhaps in the Christian's attitude to culture.  We want to say of human achievement and creativity not 'this is false and empty', but 'this is not yet all that could be'.  The Christian approaches culture, society, art, politics, not with a negation and a demand for a rival culture or society, but with the readiness to question in the name of a something more that God alone opens up and makes possible.  And even those who don't quite know what they believe may perhaps understand a habit of questioning that works not to dismantle all certainties and leave us isolated choosing machines in a market-shaped wilderness, but to open further horizons, further depths of understanding of both the comedy and the tragedy of human existence. 

Liverpool is a city renowned for a long tradition of iconoclastic irony, but also for a persistent radical and visionary note in its art and urban culture.  I hope that this year will see it communicating, with all the great energy it possesses, just such an image of real culture.  A European city of culture – and a city of European culture – should rightly be thought of as a place where a great deal of deflation goes on, a great deal of sceptical and unillusioned thinking that can penetrate the pretensions of all claims to final versions of the human comedy or tragedy; but a city will do this best when it recognizes, as this city has so powerfully done in its recent history, that the roots which nourish all this are Christian, the roots of a belief in change and growth, in the reality of hope in the heart of apparent failure, in the refusal to accept passively what others want to take for granted.  At the start of this lecture, I sketched out five features of European cultural distinctiveness, all of them to do with how the modern European soul sees itself as called to 'create itself'; and later on, we looked at the ways in which this could have crippling and ruinous effects on our world.  But when we see our souls as called to create because they come from the hand of a creator, as creative in the degree that they are aligned with a mysterious and indestructible loving purpose, we have something of immeasurable value to inform and sustain our culture.  And it may be that we shall discover a notion of human rights that is not just about enforcing my own claims but about the demands of dignity in all persons; a notion of freedom that sees it as freedom for the other not from them; a vision of democracy that is about the constant search for ways of ensuring that even the most marginal and deprived has a voice; a search for a convergent morality in public life, not a separation between minimal public order and private moral preferences; and a climate of artistic creation that evokes something of the richness of the human subject when it is opened up to the holy.  That would be a true culture of life; a worthy goal for this great community, this year and every year.

© Rowan Williams 2008

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