Tony Blair’s PC Political Christianity
One moulds one’s faith to conform to one’s character, one’s proclivities, one’s idiosyncrasies, sometimes so much so that God ends up reflecting one’s own likeness to such an extent that He appears to have no function but to affirm one’s prejudices and to do one’s bidding; permitting what one admits and prohibiting what one rejects. There are those who would say that this is the very foundation of the Church of England. There is a Christ for every personality; a christology for every narrative.
Christians, of course, are exhorted to change their characters into the likeness of the One who redeemed them; to be transformed into His likeness.
But since Tony Blair converted to Roman Catholicism, he has been doing God an awful lot and doing his damnedest to transform Rome into his likeness: to infect the Papacy with New Labourisms; to make a Blairite of the Pope; to put a postmodern spin on the ancient creeds; to transform the Vatican into a branch of the ecumenical, multi-faith Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
Cherie Blair has been getting in on the act as well.
Humility does not appear to be among the Blairs’ nurtured fruits of the Spirit.
Ruth Gledhill has commented briefly on Tony Blair’s latest sermon, noting his reference to the ‘dark side’ of religion. She conveniently provides a link to the whole speech HERE.
It is illuminating for a number of reasons, not least of which is his admission that he has gained greater insight into the Israel-Palestine issue since being out of political office, which ought to concern those Israelis and Palestinians who pin their hopes on Barack Obama or Gordon Brown (if any should be so deluded as to do so). The reality is that one cannot grasp the political complexities of this conflict without a sincere appreciation of the theological roots and the spiritual forces at work. And there really is only one man equipped for the task.
Clearly, Tony Blair has had his sixth sense activated. Of course, much of what he says is tedious pantheistic waffle. But there are a few gems of insight which are worthy of reflection, and one or two religio-political truths which David Cameron and the Conservative Party must grasp if they are engage with the new context at the deepest level.
Mr Blair says: ‘Faith matters. It matters, in fact, whether you are religious or not, or even anti-religious. It matters because it inspires people to act. That can be for ill, as we see when extremism captures parts of the faith community. Or it can be for good, as with “Making Poverty History”. But the point is, to ignore the role of faith is to be blind to a dimension of the world that plays a part in the thinking and attitudes of billions of people.’
When politicians grasp this, they will not only have a deeper appreciation of human motivation, but a potential key to the resolution of a myriad of intractable global problems. While theocracy must be discouraged, England has shown that there may be a benign expression in public doctrine which enhances democracy.
He continues: ‘Yet it also clearly presents dilemmas and can cause feelings of mistrust and opposition. This can be because of positions of some religious people on issues such as gender equality (especially in relation to issues like maternal mortality on which DFID is rightly running a big campaign), sexuality or contraception. It can also be because some think that people of faith have always some ulterior motive to their “good work,” through evangelising or proselytising or even conversion.’
This swipe at his own adopted religion is unsurprising, though it reveals a profound ignorance of its traditions and perceived raison d’être. And one is left wondering why he converted to Rome at all when his former spiritual home was far more conducive to his religio-political priorities. The Church of England has embraced gender equality to the extent of ordaining women priests and admitting them to the episcopate; it actively encourages gay marriage (or ‘blessing’) and has endorsed mass contraception since its invention.
If these are Tony Blair’s religio-political priorities, why did he depart from the church which accords with such obsessions?
The speech, from a Roman Catholic, is quite remarkable for not mentioning Jesus once, or even quoting from the Bible. Yet there is a quotation from what he refers to as ‘the Holy Qu’ran’ in relation to ‘vying with each other in good works’.
One wonders why he did not quote from the Holy Bible the words of the Lord or St Paul on this very theme.
And then he wanders to ‘the dark side of strong belief’, noting ‘People who hold deep convictions about life and its purpose necessarily can be prone to holding those views to excess or to the point of prejudice’.
And the same may be said of political ideology. But Mr Blair has transfirgured: he is no longer concerned with temporal matters. He has become a Lord Spiritual, imbued with great enlightenment. He reveals that ‘in recent years, most mainstream religious faiths have been prey to the influence of extremist groups who see faith as a badge of identity in opposition to those of a different faith’.
While ‘extremist’ is relative, one has to wonder at a convert to Roman Catholicism who asserts that it is somehow unacceptable to ‘see faith as a badge of identity in opposition to those of a different faith’.
Faith is intrinsic to identity, and conversion is an ‘extreme’ manifestation of religious identity as it involves the repudiation of one ‘badge’ and the adoption of another. Conversion is offensive. There are those who might assert that Mr Blair has himself become an extremist – an apologist for his particular brand of Catholicism, a zealot for inter-religiosity and a prophet of climate change.
There is much to commend in this speech, not least because it is essentially an exhortation to love one’s neighbour. But it is irritating that the Light is hidden under a bushel of flattery towards Islam. No Muslim would have been offended if Tony Blair had quoted from the Bible the words of Jesus, not least because ‘The Book’ and Isa constitute part of the history of Islam and its canon of scripture.
Towards the end of his speech, he reveals: ‘When I began my Foundation, I would from time to time say we needed it to promote greater tolerance between those of different faiths. I now don’t use the word “tolerance” in this context. We shouldn’t “tolerate” those of a different faith. We should be humble enough to accept that we cannot either circumscribe or define adequately God’s will. So though we may disagree with those of another faith, though we hold true to our own faith we should not have the arrogance merely to tolerate a person whose faith is different; but instead respect them as an equal.’
While it is wholly right to treat people of all faiths as equal, this is to be distinguished from treating all faiths as equal.
When Tony Blair has found the courage to articulate this truth, of which his own conversion is the very incarnation, he might just understand that God’s will is most adequately revealed in the Holy Bible, from which it is no sin for the Christian to quote.