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Rowan Williams: Theologian, linguist, poet and former Primate (photo: National Assembly for Wales)

Rowan Williams opens the introduction to his new book by asking, "Does the way we talk as human beings tell us anything about God?", adding immediately, "This may sound a slightly odd question." The answer that his book would seem to suggest might be better understood as directed to the question of what our way of talking may tell us about what it is to be a human being and just why that way (or ways) may lead us to go on to talk about God, a God or even Gods. But, if I have understood that answer aright, my use of the word "just" in the preceding sentence may itself be taken to be a fair exemplification of a typically misleading linguistic habit, with its suggestion of an answer claiming to be more exact than, according to its own underlying argument, it could possibly be. It is remarkably hard to pin down in any very exact terms "just" what this centrally underlying argument amounts to. But that, paradoxically (or perhaps not so paradoxically) enough, would seem to be one of its own main points.

A significant part of this main point lies, then, in its insistence both on how our use of the meaningful symbols through which we are enabled to make thinkable the world which we inhabit, demands always to be understood in terms of our having to carry on from what has gone before linguistically, and as being always susceptible to moving, or being moved, off in different and hitherto unsuspected directions. In this Rowan Williams's sense of the irreducible indeterminacy of language, including its inherent lack of any determinate beginning, is strikingly reminiscent of that expressed by Jacques Derrida who, as just one among a remarkably wide range of thinkers and experts of all kinds with whom, as the blurb puts it, "Williams enters into dialogue," does indeed make a fleeting appearance on page 152 of the main text, but not, curiously enough and as do most at least of the others, in the index. A bibliography would have been helpful — but its lack must be accounted a relatively minor complaint in the context of a notably stimulating and remarkably wide-ranging discussion.

Rowan Williams's main contention, as I understand it, is that the practice of our engagements in language, and in our conceptualised and conceptualising interchange with the world in which we find ourselves, cannot in principle be understood and explained in terms of the causal structures of our existence alone; and this, he argues, carries with it the irresistible implication that the universe which we inhabit and about which we are able to think and to communicate our thoughts with each other has somehow to be understood as the manifestation or "representation" of an underlying and all-pervasive intelligence. Moreover — and this is a further and crucially important part of his argument — we cannot seriously suppose that the only way in which to record the true nature of this universe must be through the cumulative stating of facts about it or through hopefully accurate descriptions of its various aspects and workings. For one thing, the universe does not impose on us any one "true" way of formulating or expressing those facts; different "natural" — as indeed different "artificial" — languages carve them up and re-present them sometimes very differently.

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amcdonald
December 9th, 2014
6:12 PM
pbasch may be pleased to know his final sentence is also an actual neon sign work by Martin Creed (he of the empty room at the Tate with the lights going on and off). The question for Rowan Williams and the theists (to be really specific and empirical) is: What about the young artist Akiane Kramarik who physically disappeared into heaven and has the paintings and scientific intelligence to `prove` it? Nobody at the Vatican or any mosque or synagogue speaks from direct experience of God. Certainly they can`t paint as good as Raphael (as Akiane does) ! The Pope hasn`t invited her to the Vatican. The theological media feature her nowhere. But all her works are available to the world via her website and facebook 24/7. As a fascinated atheist myself I`m wondering why the theists are so oblivious to Akiane. I have a copy of her beautifully illustrated book. Standpoint had Nadya from Pussy Riot on a front cover. Why not Akiane next ? "The limits of my language are the limits of my world" wrote Wittgenstein. An artless theism or scientism is a very limited world. "God is man`s greatest idea" writes atheist Camille Paglia. Unfortunately she and atheist Zizek remain as oblivious as the Pope and Rowan Williams to Akiane. As if she doesn`t exist ! She`s only the most expressively astonishing individual alive or dead on the subject of God and Art. The opposite to all the gruel-propaganda. And only 18. Didn`t a young Jesus once astonish the elders in the temple? That was only with words.

pbasch
December 7th, 2014
6:12 AM
Well... wow. Whenever I encounter theological writing, I start shaking my head and wondering... If this were a scientific premise, then you'd ask how to disprove it. That would be the test of its solidity as a hypothesis. But how does a serious person even approach this ... this chin music? I mean, I love the guy's hair - he's right out of Central Casting. But if you seriously can say this, you can say anything. Why not the way we wear our hair and what it says about God? What about ... well, anything? Once you accept the premise of a God, anything goes. It's all just who can speak longest and loudest. And as for poor amcdonald... dude, put a nice cool cloth on your head. It's all going to be fine.

amcdonald
December 3rd, 2014
12:12 AM
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (a Christian) sorted all that decades ago. Quantum science easily explains the different religious and atheist cosmologies. Julie Burchil`s words "ring true". Islam rings false. Rowan Williams is perhaps cloth eared and tautological ? It was a tradition in the Church that a woman didn`t even have a soul. Now they can be priests with promotion to bishops being advertised. Although one fire-breathing whore has more truth to speak to power than all the holy joes put together. As do the 8000 women in the Kurdish Army destroying Islamic State pig nihilists. And the fifteen female bomber pilots in the Israeli Air Force ready and waiting for the call of duty. This is what feminists look like too.

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