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John Humphrys and the Archbishop

John Humphrys is currently interviewing three prominent religious figures. This week it was Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and he will be followed by a leading Muslim and the Chief Rabbi. Humphrys is a non-believer and his stated purpose is to see if he can be persuaded to change his mind. It's well worth while listening to the first interview, which is available in full on the BBC Radio 4 site.

Williams chooses his words carefully, with little self-deprecatory laughs at times. It's all very English (even though Williams is Welsh). Humphrys is of course an enormously experienced interviewer, and he pressed Williams politely but firmly and didn't let him get away with too much vague waffling, though there was a certain amount of that at times.

Humphry's loss of faith was connected with the perennial question of suffering. How can a good God allow it? Williams conceded that this was an insoluble problem that can only be approached via faith. "So you don't have a complete answer?" Humphrys asked. Williams admitted that he didn't. Can you live with that? Humphrys wanted to know. "Only just," was the reply.

They then moved on to discuss the value of prayer and whether or how God intervenes in the world. Williams seemed to be saying that God did affect what happened in the world although not by direct intervention. I found this pretty obscure, as did Humphrys. I imagine.

Later the discussion went back to Humphrys and his loss of faith. How could he regain his belief in God? Why do you want to? the Archbishop wondered. Because it would make sense of the world and of suffering, Humphrys replied. Williams's advice was to sit silently and wait, and also to associate with other people (Church members) who had already gone further on the path.

The concluding minutes of the interview were concerned with other religions such as Buddbism and Islam. Williams conceded that adherents of these faiths had some access to God but he insisted, as indeed he had to, that Christianity was more true than the others.

I don't imagine this conversation can have done much for Humphry's unbelief, but I enjoyed listening to it and I kept thinking how fortunate we are here that such a discussion could take place and be broadcast. I cannot imagine that it could have happened in the USA.

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