I loved Rowan Williams. Still do, in fact. I know that might seem over the top. But intellectually, it was true. He could do no wrong. And perhaps that was part of the problem. I was one of that generation of students at Oxford who were taught by him. Looking back, it is now clear that many of us massively overinvested in his charisma and intelligence. And when he later objected that there was an almost childlike dependence that many Anglicans had on the archbishop of Canterbury, he was absolutely correct. As Justin Welby will soon discover to his cost, being the subject of projection is no fun at all. First they build you up. Then they knock you down.

Archbishops of Canterbury no longer have any real executive power. Even Rowan Williams’s modest idea of creating a pan-Anglican legal body to deal with doctrinal dispute in the communion came to nothing. The CofE may be both Protestant and Catholic; but it is Protestant enough not to do popes or anything like them. But like many religious organisations, it still thinks in terms of “Papa” – to spell it out: both the pope’s nickname and the child’s word for father. Which is why no guide to surviving the church is complete without a serious study of Freud. All too easily, the church can be emotionally and spiritually infantilising. For some, that almost seems the point.

November 9, 2012

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