They say we get the leaders we deserve. We also get the bishops we deserve. And in an age of petty piety, where relativistic non-judgementalism coexists with new codes of personal morality, giving rise to a Mary Poppins State more than a Nanny State, it’s fitting that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a trendy schoolteacher type who dispenses hectoring ethical advice with a smarmy grin rather than with fire-and-brimstone relish.
In his Christmas sermon, delivered at Canterbury Cathedral, Dr Williams finally completed his journey from old-world Christianity to trendy New Ageism. His sermon was indistinguishable from those delivered (not just at Christmas but for life) by the heads of Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. Williams did not speak about Christian morality; in fact, he didn’t utter the m-word at all. He said little about men’s responsibility to love one another and God, the two Commandments Jesus Christ said we should live by. Instead he talked about our role as janitors on planet Earth, who must stop plundering the ‘warehouse of natural resources’ and ensure that we clean up after ourselves.
Williams has clearly been reading the Good Books – not the Bible, but those Carbon Calculator tomes that are clogging up bookshop shelves around the country, and which instruct people on how to live so meekly that they leave no imprint whatsoever on the planet or human history. He said that Earth does not exist only for ‘humanity’s sake’; it also exists ‘in its own independence and beauty… not as a warehouse of resources to serve humanity’s selfishness’.
Williams warned that our greed – presumably our insatiable lust for warm homes, cars, cookers and other outrageous luxuries – is killing the planet. He welcomed the fact that mankind is ‘growing in awareness of how fragile [the planet] is, how fragile is the balance of species and environments in the world and how easily our greed distorts it’. In 2008, we must take more seriously our ‘guardianship’ of the Earth, he declared (1).
Williams isn’t the only leading Christian who has sold his soul to Gaia and traded in Christian morality for the pieties of environmentalism. The Reverend John Owen, leader of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, said in his Christmas sermon that everyone should remember his or her ‘duty to the planet’. He urged people to recycle leftover food, and ‘redouble [your] efforts to take action and campaign against climate change’ in the coming year (2). Meanwhile, the Vatican is taking steps to become the world’s first carbon-neutral sovereign state by planting trees in a Hungarian national park to offset the CO2 emissions of the Holy See. Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, says that in 2008 there should be the ‘dawn of a new culture, of new attitudes and a new mode of living that makes man aware of his place as caretaker of the earth’ (3).
The reduction of man to an eco-janitor, a being who creates waste and thus must clear it up, is more than a cynical attempt by isolated Christian leaders to connect with the public. Yes, Williams, Owen, the Holy See and Co. no doubt hope and believe (mistakenly, I’m sure) that adopting trendy Greenspeak will entice people to return to the church. But the move from focusing on love for God and one’s neighbour to focusing on ‘respect for the planet’ represents more than a rebranding exercise: it signals a complete abandonment by the Christian churches of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. And in this sense, it is not only God that is being downgraded by the new nature-worshipping priests; so is humanity itself. And that’s enough to make even a committed atheist like me worry about the current direction of the Christian churches...