Thinking Anglicans

Rowan Williams in the Telegraph

Final Update Friday
An even more ridiculous attack on RW’s article by TE Utley in the Telegraph
Simple English for the Church of England

Update Thursday
The Guardian has published this attack on the Telegraph for what they did:
The bishop who believed. An extract:

The sensational headline was simply a lie. The story beneath it, though clumsy, was not blatantly false. Of course – Dr Williams was quoted as saying – terrible events like these shook people’s faith. But Christians must face the challenge, and focus on a passionate engagement with the lives that were left. Nowhere at any point did the story suggest that Dr Williams was questioning God’s existence. Inside, for those who cared to look for it, was the text of what the archbishop had actually written. I cannot see how any literate person reading this piece could honestly have drawn the conclusion that the Sunday Telegraph headline did.

…The Daily Telegraph here was asking us to accept not just that the headline writer honestly thought the sentence about upsetting faith could be equated with Dr Williams doubting the existence of God, but that various higher editors, culminating in whoever was in charge of the paper, were dozy enough to share the same delusion. (And you don’t need to read the archbishop’s piece “several times over” to notice the difference. A single swift reading will do.)

Update Monday
The Daily Telegraph carries this editorial leader concerning the matter reported below:
Faith in plain language. An extract:

We have some sympathy with the archbishop. Those who had time on their hands to read his article several times over will realise that he was not in fact doubting the existence of God. The headline writer had clearly been misled by the sentence: “Every single random, accidental death is something that should upset a faith bound up with comfort and ready answers.”

The archbishop’s purpose here, it now appears, was to say that the Christian faith should not be upset by natural disasters, because it is a faith that is not “bound up with comfort and ready answers”. But what a convoluted way of putting it.

If Dr Williams was indeed misrepresented by our sister paper’s headline, he himself must accept much of the blame. His prose is so obscure, his thought processes so hard to follow, that his message is often unclear.

The Sunday Telegraph carried an article by Rowan Williams and a news story about it.

The article was published under the headline:
Of course this makes us doubt God’s existence

and the news story was headed
Archbishop of Canterbury admits: This makes me doubt the existence of God

Lambeth Palace issued the following release concerning this at 11 pm on Saturday evening:

1st January 2005
For immediate use

Lambeth Palace has issued the following statement in response to the Sunday Telegraph’s first edition story with the headline ‘Archbishop of Canterbury admits: this makes me doubt the existence of God.’

“Whilst the Archbishop’s article itself has been transcribed faithfully, the headline reporting it is a misrepresentation of the Archbishop’s views.
“As any reading of the text makes instantly clear, the Archbishop nowhere says that the tsunami causes him to question or doubt the existence of God; rather that the Christian faith does not invite simplistic answers to the problem of human suffering”.
“It is extremely disappointing that what is a thoughtful response to the challenge posed by events of these kinds to the mind and heart of the believer has suffered in the search for a headline.”


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Mark Sides
19 years ago

Is it just me, or does the Telegraph’s editorial reproduced at the top of this post sound about as disingenuous as anything ever written? Williams’ article only take one reading to get the gist. I suspect the real problem is that neither the authors of the story nor the editors of the paper took the time to confirm what they were saying.

Margaret Robb
Margaret Robb
19 years ago

Only a fool would not understand that in the face of the geatest natural disaster in living memory, reporting would, of necessity, be reduced to “sound bites”.
That the erudite pontifications of the Archbishop would be reduced to an equally devastating “soundbite” was a given.
The worldwide Anglican Communion flinched as it resounded around the world via BBC, Sky,CNN, etc.

Jim Tweedie
19 years ago

If the editor of the Telegraph cannot understand the simple, straightforward prose of the Archbishop perhaps he should ask one of the janitors at the newspaper office to explain it to him. Both the headline for the opinion piece and the even worse headline from the accompanying article about the opinion piece were so bizarre that I knew they were a misrepresentation of the Archbishop before I even read what he wrote!

Mark Sides
19 years ago


I agree that reporting on the news of the tsunamis and the aftermath necessitates getting information out quickly, at the risk of some sloppiness. However, the original Telegraph article was not a fast-breaking piece of news. It was a story about an opinion piece that the authors had right in front of them. Sorry, but that’s inexcusable and, I suspect, less the result of sloppiness than other motives.

Andrew Conway
Andrew Conway
19 years ago

This whole episode is enormously revealing of the way that Rowan Williams is regarded by many journalists. They recognise his obvious intelligence; but they cannot understand how such an intelligent man could possibly be an orthodox Christian believer; so they assume that he must be a covert unbeliever, or at the very least struggling with his faith. They therefore attempt to construe his public utterances in such a way as to draw out the loss of faith which (they assume) must be lurking somewhere underneath. The subtlety and complexity of his comments only reinforce their conviction that he must have… Read more »

Joe Spillman
Joe Spillman
19 years ago

Events such as the recent Tsunami inevitably prompt a spectator syndrome. We are horrified by the seemingly capricious nature of the massive number of deaths. Do we think that we will always be spectators of death? Death is a tragedy of equal magnitude whether it is someone dying suddenly in an automobile accident, a tsunami or of old age. Perhaps the headlines should have read Thousands Die in Tsunami and Someday You Will Also Die.

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