Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Shirley Williams' religious beliefs

One of my personal models, and someone I deeply admire, is Shirley Williams. Politician, writer, and now Liberal Democrat peer, she is the author of God and Caesar, Personal Reflections on God and Religion (2003). She talks with Joan Bakewell. Her mother is Vera Brittain writer of Testament of Youth. Her father read Aquinas to her at the age of 5.  Her parents were always at the forefront of what was going on. Black political leaders were welcomed into their family home.

Raised Catholic, she says, "I wear my faith lightly and always an activist. My faith works itself out in action. Every individual is divine from the homeless person to anyone else. An awareness of the world motivates me. What the church called 'the option for the poor' in the 70's and the movement for liberation theology: this is the best of the church."After taking her to church, coffee with her father dissected the sermon and what had happened that day in church. He was ludicrously ambitious for her, socially and politically!

Her mother met Dick Sheppard, rector of St Martin in the Fields in London, and she was persuaded that the right thing to be was a Christian socialist.

1951-2 Shirley Williams was in America as a Fulbright scholar and experienced slavery and racism in the south. After the second Vatican Council in 1962, Pope John 23rd's encyclical "Gaudium et Spes" brought about a renaissance from which, she says, the church now differs. The best things about her church, she says, are represented by that Vatical council. Catholicism is not racist and always global. In the late 50's in the UK, the welfare state and the Atlee revolution blossomed. In 1948 the health care service started at the point when the British country was racked by debt. The vision was in many ways a Christian vision.

She speaks about the 11+. There is a huge amount of research showing that where a child is at the age of 11 should not be determinative of future education and as someone who failed the 11+ I certainly agree.

She separates her Catholicism from her reading of the New Testament and the life of Jesus. Christ's teachings ought to be distinguished from the Catholic Church. The Anglican church is moving closer to Jesus' inclusion. The narrative of Jesus's life and particularly Jesus' teachings that including women and Samaritans and what encourages her. Salvation comes through grace and deeds.

There is much in this interview to enjoy and ponder. 

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