Friday, September 17, 2004


The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was interviewed by John Humphreys on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme recently, following the terrorist killing of around 350 people, mostly children, in Beslan.

He faced sharp questions on the meaning of belief in God in the light of such horrors. These excerpts were reproduced by the Church Times:

Where was God yesterday morning?
Where was God? Where was God in the Aberfan disaster? Where was God on 9/11? The short answer is that God is where God always is, that is, with those who are trying to comfort and bring light in any such situation. I would guess in such a situation - and how could one begin to imagine the nightmare in the school - there must have been older children putting arms around younger children. You might see God there.

But, in a world in which human decisions are free - even free for the most appalling evil like this - God does not dictate and intervene.

I suppose we all have the sense that some kind of line has been crossed here: that people can not only calculate that the death of children will serve their purpose, but actually sit with suffering children for days, watching in a calculating way. That is the kind of decision which, yes, you have to call evil.

[On the question of freedom of choice] Freedom is a word thrown around. It is a word that has big and dramatic resonances, but it often means very, very small things, a very small gesture.

But choice is denied to people who are victims?
That is what it is to be a victim: your choice is restricted; you are imprisoned.

That is what God allows; so he doesn't give us a choice, does he?
It is a fact that people exercise different levels of freedom. One person's freedom interferes with another's. That is why I do not believe that freedom is the essence of Christianity. It is one of those crucial aspects of it, but I would still come back to the question: what is it, in a situation of this dreadful captivity, that an ordinary child can still do with mind and heart?

Does the Church not preach that God is merciful?
Of course, this is nothing to do with God's mercy, it has to do with the kind of reality that the created world is in, which we make our futures in relation to God.

God calls us to co-operate with what he longs for; what he wishes to see, which is justice, which is love, and we are free to resist. Sometimes people resist violently and horribly, as in this case.

So what do you say to people who say: 'I simply can't believe any longer; this is not a good world.'
What I want to ask is: what is it that makes you find the torture and death of children so appalling? What is it that makes you value human beings?The faith that Christians hold, and other religious people, is that each person has that absolute value in the eyes of God, which means that it is impossible to treat them as a means to your own ends. It requires of us the most self-forgetful respect, the most generous, the most outgoing engagement with other persons.

If there is no eternal love focused on each and every individual, including the most vulnerable, including the most unimportant, then it is possible for persons to be used as tools, as objects. More.

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