Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Economic crisis a 'reality check'

By Robert Piggot
BBC religious affairs correspondent

Dr Rowan Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has said if anything good had come of the economic crisis, it had presented a society driven by unsustainable consumption with a "reality check".

The leader of the Church of England told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Britain had been "going in the wrong direction" for decades as people sought to make money rather than making things.

He suggested the economic downturn might lead to a new understanding of the true meaning of wealth.

"It is a sort of reality check, isn't it, which is always good for us. A reminder that what I think some people have called fairy gold is just that - that sooner or later you have to ask 'what are we making or what are assembling or accumulating wealth for?'"

'Unbridled capitalism'

Dr Williams and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu both denounced the workings of the financial markets three months ago, soon after the scale of the economic crisis started to become clear.

Dr Sentamu described those who had made money by deliberately underselling shares in banks as "clearly bank robbers and asset strippers".

Dr Williams questioned the way what he called "unbridled capitalism" had become - as Karl Marx suggested - a kind of mythology.

The archbishop warned people were investing their faith in markets, wrongly assuming they would work for the common good.

In the BBC interview Dr Williams questioned the government's plan to stimulate the economy with spending and a cut in VAT, warning that it was "a little bit like the addict returning to the drug".

He said people should not "spend to save the economy" but for "human reasons".

Although Dr Williams acknowledged he was not trained as an economist, he was at pains to convey what he evidently sees as wider truth transcending the current economic malaise.

By this he means the tendency of people to see making money as an end in its own right, rather than a means to provide for people's welfare.

Cutting ties

Dr Williams also restated the case for cutting the formal ties between the Church of England and the state - "disestablishing" the church.

As the official, "established," state church in England, the Anglican Church has the Queen as its titular head, and 26 bishops sitting in the House of Lords. The prime minister appoints senior bishops, including making the final choice of Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Williams has put the case for independence for the church before, and told the New Statesman on Thursday that abolishing the current need for the laws made by its governing synod to be confirmed by parliament would add to its integrity.

However, he is even more concerned about another issue - what he sees as the trend to push religion out of public life.

Dr Williams said that although he did not think "the church would be destroyed by disestablishment," there were strong reasons for maintaining its current position for the time being.

"At the moment the church....is a helpful umbrella for other faith organisations, a foot in the door of secular society, and I would be very loath to lose that. I think society would lose from it as well".



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