Being Human – Review

Being Human, by Rowan Williams, March 2018. SPCK, ISBN: 9780281079759, 128 pages. RRP £9.99 (paperback)

‘This book completes a sort-of unintended trilogy”, Bishop Rowan explains in its introduction. The previous two are wonderful. The first, Being Christian, 2014, reminded me of that little classic once written by one of his predecessors as Archbishop of Canterbury, The Christian Priest Today, 1972. Both are simple, lucid, and go to the heart of a truly catholic appreciation of the Christian faith. Rowan’s second, Being Disciples, 2016, I have just read with a candidate preparing for Confirmation and found no less helpful myself in re-affirming a thoughtful but engaged way to live Christianly in the 21st century. This third offering is a little more demanding than the previous two, he warns us. I found it just made me think more, but that it usefully connected with certain underlying questions which had been prompted as I read the previous books. The five chapters deal with the nature of human consciousness; what our personhood might be; how we are embodied, with minds that need to operate in both a left and right-brain way; and how faith can be the way to flourish rather than keep us in a state of dependence. Rowan concludes, characteristically, with an invitation to find our human freedom in silence and openness before God: “we do not have to be afraid of letting go of the need to be in charge, to be explaining and organizing all the time”.

We are Green and we are Christian. Can anything now save the world from the effects of climate change? Is a global response, sufficient to mitigate the worst forecasts, the best we can hope for? As Greens that might be the realistic outlook. Must we simply accept the tragedy, anticipating loss and suffering on an apocalyptic scale? As Christians we may yet have access to a source of hopefulness in and through it all. And for that this valuable little book is offered as a primer.

You do have to concentrate in reading Being Human, but it is nothing like some of Rowan Williams’ notoriously denser writings. He encourages us to see that our relationship with God is at the heart of everything and this “is one reason why there’s a good Christian ground for being concerned about the environment”. Another reason is that, seen through the eyes of faith, we might realise that the world resists human control: “We repeatedly act as if control and digestion were the only things that mattered; and this, of course, explains a lot about the ecological crisis that we currently face”. It is surely important that we have our spiritual convictions securely rooted in wise guidance, such as offered here.

Andrew Norman


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