David Hare talks to Rowan Williams in the Guardian (July 8th).
With thanks to Jason Goroncy at Per Crucem ad Lucem for the heads-up.
Williams speaks so gingerly about human beings, always unwilling to impute motive, that it’s shocking when you move on to theology and realise how uncompromising his version of God is. He rarely uses the word “faith”. He prefers the word “trust” because, he says, “it sounds less like product placement”. In print, he goes out of his way to emphasise that God doesn’t need us. “We must get to grips with the idea that we don’t contribute anything to God, that God would be the same God if we had never been created. God is simply and eternally happy to be God.” How on Earth can he possibly know such a thing? “My reason for saying that is to push back on what I see as a kind of sentimentality in theology. Our relationship with God is in many ways like an intimate human relationship, but it’s also deeply unlike. In no sense do I exist to solve God’s problems or to make God feel better.” In other words, I say, you hate the psychiatrist/patient therapy model that so many people adopt when thinking of God? “Exactly. I know it’s counterintuitive, but it’s what the classical understanding of God is about. God’s act in creating the world is gratuitous, so everything comes to me as a gift. God simply wills that there shall be joy for something other than himself. That is the lifeblood of what I believe.”
I say that’s all very well, but how then can he be so critical of self-absorption when he himself is a poet? Surely self-study is necessary to create art? “Ah, yes, two very different things. Self-absorption means thinking the most interesting thing in the world is myself. Self-scrutiny, on the other hand, is very deeply part of the Christian experience.” So is his religion a relief, a way of escaping self? “Yes. We are able to lay down the heavy burden of self-justification. Put it this way, if I’m not absolutely paralysed by the question, ‘Am I right? Am I safe?’ then there are more things I can ask of myself. I can afford to be wrong. In my middle 20s, I was an angst-ridden young man, with a lot of worries about whether I was doing enough suffering and whether I was compassionate enough. But the late, great Mother Mary Clare said to me, ‘You don’t have to suffer for the sins of the world, darling. It’s been done.’”