LONDON-- It doesn't take much time in Britain to realize that one of the major reasons less than 2 percent of the population bothers to attend church is that people can't be bothered with the dreadful sermons preached in too many "white washed tombs." If you don't know what that means, you're probably among the non-attendees.
When Diana, Princess of Wales, died five years ago, the clergy I saw on television here spoke of her looks, her commitment to charities and all sorts of other things, but nothing an average pagan could not have thought up. There was nothing about fleeting beauty, the brevity of this life, or the life to come and how to live both.
Now, the soon-to-be-installed Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who happened to be inside Trinity Church in New York City during the Sept. 11 attacks, has offered some thoughts on those terrible events. (Trinity Church is located a few hundred yards from the site of the World Trade Center and was remarkably undamaged.)
One would think that having experienced evil up close and surviving it, Dr. Williams might have some insights that would benefit us all. He has some insights, but you be the judge as to how beneficial they are.
Speaking last week at Greenbelt, a Christian arts festival at the Cheltenham Racecourse, Dr. Williams said he did not view the Sept. 11 attacks as "an act of war," and that the West might even have somehow prompted the savage assaults.
"The only thing I could feel grateful for on that day," he said, "was of having some very slight sense of what it must to be like to live under bombardment, under threat of death."
This is classic theological and political liberalism. A murderer is not to be judged, but his victim should be condemned. If the murderer hadn't been provoked, he would not have killed. The murderer bears no true moral guilt for his action. The victim bears that burden in that he (or in this case the United States) goaded those poor souls to kill innocent passengers on the airplanes and thousands of others on the ground in New York City and Washington. D.C.
The role of religious leaders in the aftermath of such a terrorist act, Dr. Williams says, is to engage in self-criticism and persuade the community to examine where it failed and what mistakes it had made.
"What we perhaps needed at a time of crisis like that is for people to be able to say there is something we have not understood, something we have not done," said Dr. Williams.
Isn't that special? as comedian Dana Carvey's character, "The Church Lady," used to say on "Saturday Night Live."
I have reflected on Dr. Williams' remarks and I have sought to understand those who hate us. My conclusion is that the Sept. 11 attackers, these takers of innocent life, these deprivers of families of their loved ones, should be brought to justice, and the nations, warped religion and political fanaticism that spawn such evil acts should be fought with all the strength, righteous indignation and military might the United States and freedom-loving people everywhere can muster.
At present the archbishop of Wales, Dr. Williams exposed his leftist leanings in 1985 (if not earlier) when he was arrested for singing psalms in a protest organized by the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament at a U.S. airbase in Cambridgeshire, England. At Greenbelt, he combined his bad political musings with even worse theological ones. Kissing someone on the mouth, he said, could be compared with the intimacy of a relationship with God. (This may serve as the ultimate pickup line: "Kiss me, baby, because I want to get closer to God.")
People who must listen to such drivel and shallow theological and political declarations are better off sleeping in on Sunday mornings if they won't seek the few churches in Britain that preach a message which encourages one in this life and prepares him for the next. Dr. Rowan Williams is a poor descendant of the great Welsh Revival of a century ago, when thousands of people were transformed by a message worth hearing and a God worth knowing.