Friday, January 07, 2005

Clarity from Canterbury? 

In The Daily Telegraph today (not my favourite paper, by the way — that would have to be The Times), Tom Utley writes about Rowan Williams' recent article in The Sunday Telegraph:—

The archbishop's article in The Sunday Telegraph was an absolute disgrace.

It was so badly written that I found it almost impossible to hack through his forest of abstract nouns to make out what he was trying to say. I accept that Dr Williams is a good and thoughtful man. But it is no use his being good and thoughtful, if he is unable to communicate his thoughts clearly to the tens of millions of souls in the Anglican Communion who look to him for guidance.

What on earth does he mean, for example, when he writes: "Religious people have learnt to look at other human faces with something of the amazement and silence that God himself draws out of them"?

On a syntactical level, I have a problem with the pronoun "them" at the end of that sentence. Does it refer to "other human faces" or to "religious people"? Either way, the sentence reads like complete nonsense to me. In what sense can anybody be said to draw silence out of a face or a person?

No doubt the sentence meant something to Dr Williams himself when he wrote it. No doubt he, and perhaps a few others, knew what he meant when he wrote that believers had learnt "to be open to a calling from outside their own resources". Speaking for myself, however, I cannot get any sort of mental grasp on the concept of a calling being either inside or outside a resource.

I would not go as far as to say that Dr Williams deserved the headline attached to his article in the first edition of The Sunday Telegraph: "Archbishop of Canterbury - this has made me question God's existence." But I do feel a stab of sympathy for the poor sub-editor, scratching around to write a headline on an article so obscure that its meaning was almost impenetrable. What should he have written instead? "Archbishop of Canterbury - God draws amazement and silence out of faces"?


If I have misrepresented Dr Williams, then I blame him. He should remember that he is no longer at theological college, and try to communicate in language that the layman can understand.

What do others think? What does 'looking at other human faces with something of the amazement and silence that God himself draws out of them' really mean? Suggestions welcome.

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