Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement

Article excerpt

Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement. By Rowan Williams. London: Morehouse Publishing, 2000 (reprinted 2002). x + 190 pp. $15.95 (paper).

Lost Icons is a sobering inquiry into the structures that support (or fail to support) the development of authentic selfhood and the maintenance of a just society. Williams contends that North Atlantic culture is suffering from the loss of rubrics for interpreting human behavior, which he refers to as "icons." These icons represent "some of the basic constraints on what human beings can reasonably do and say together if they are going to remain within a recognizably human conversation" (pp. 2-3). As their force in our culture wanes, that culture risks becoming a backdrop for escalating rivalry among disconnected individuals.

The argument begins in chapter 1, with examples of the erosion of childhood in North Atlantic societies. Corporations such its Disney, which market vigorously to children, make children into consumers. The act of committing capital is inherently limiting, Williams argues, and this act intrudes upon the freedom of children to experiment and learn through play without their words and actions having consequences outside of the terms of the game (pp. 22-23). As consumers, children are forced prematurely into the adult world where individuals compete with one another for limited resources. The examples of the "right to choose" in the matters of education and abortion serve to illustrate the further point that, in North Atlantic societies, individual choice is exercised without recognizing the limitations that choice imposes upon the freedom of others.

A society structured by the posturing of individuals or special interest groups to protect their claim to resources bespeaks the loss of corporate charity. In chapter 2 Williams contrasts the posture of rivalry with an analogy for charitable relationships based upon the model of conversation, which he defines as "an activity that need not be productive, that presupposes mutual recognition, an activity in which 'success' is measured simply by the maintenance of the activity itself" (p. 58). Unfortunately, relationships based upon such a mutual recognition are difficult to envision in a society where our sense of the need for remorse has become dulled. …

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