Ethical Economy is Built on Ethical People, Archbishop says

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams delivers closing remarks at the Trinity Institute's 40th National Theological Conference "Building an Ethical Economy: Theology and the Marketplace," on Jan. 29, 2010 in New York City. (Photo: The Ecumenical Press)

Formation of an ethical economy is dependent on the formation of ethical people, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams said at the close of a conference at Trinity Wall Street Church on Friday.

"Moving through the question of how we define 'economy' and 'ethical,' we find that we are actually discussing what we mean by building persons at the end of the day. Which implies that a critique of economics is always also a cultural critique," Williams said, speaking to a crowd of nearly 400 at the Wall Street Church, and several hundred more via webcast, for the Trinity Institute's "Building an Ethical Economy: Theology and the Marketplace."

"What sort of persons are needed to make economies work well and constructively is a question that leads to what sort of persons we think ourselves to be and want to be - and that's an important warning against simply offloading blame onto the places where it seems to sit most easily," he added.

Williams went on to speak of the importance of shaping education as a "humanist enterprise" that "carries with it commitments about what kind of humanity we're interested in."

"That can open some very interesting doors to reflection on what we would like to see in our schools in terms of educating children in economics. What would a humanist education look like that would produce that blend of financial and cultural and moral literacy that we'd all like to see?"

Continuing on, Williams delved deeper into the matter of "formation of persons," saying that answering the question of how we define the "self" as even more fundamental than education, and noting that Christian theology defines the self as "always and invariably invested in the good of the neighbor."

"Faith carries with it the vision of the social self, and the sense also of humanity overall as a community of communities. The language of Christian theology says that we are created in the image of a God who is eternal, relational, good. Christian theology speaks of the optimal form of global society as organic and mutual," he said.

Williams then issued a charge to those gathered to "share that mutuality" and to "transform the assumptions about the self that are around starting with the assumptions you and I recognize in ourselves."

"Challenge yourself, as I try to challenge myself with the question - who's interest am I ignoring or obscuring here? And ask that most basic of questions - why should I be trusted and how do I set my life on a course that makes it trustworthy."

Williams concluded with an explanation of the reason why Christians trust God, saying, in an attempt to "boil down a great deal of theological reflection into a couple of sentences" that "Christian theology at its best has always said that we can trust God because God has made us when God didn't need to."

"God has created what is other to the divine life so that it may be loved, because nothing we can do can make God happier, safer, richer or anything of that kind," he said.

"We know that God is not in the business of creation and redemption because of God's interest, but because of ours. And so because of that selfless outpouring at the root of our very being, we trust God."

"And the challenge for any believer in the God of that kind is if we, in some small measure, can also reflect that selfless outpouring that we may be trustworthy and trust in turn neighbor and stranger."

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