I have been perusing the words of the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, as they were delivered in a recent address at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Westminster.
His words are hard to disagree with and, yet, I feel this is a person with whom I would not wish to be in agreement.
I find myself in whole-hearted concordance with a statement such as this: I then go further and argue that religious faith is a good thing in itself, that so far from being a reactionary force, it has a major part to play in shaping the values which guide the modern world, and can and should be a force for progress.
Mr Blair proceeds to a discussion of why he was coy about his "faith" when he held the highest office. He states: In fact at no time since the Enlightenment has religion ever gone away. It has always been at the very core of life for millions of people, the foundation of their existence, the motive for their behaviour, the thing which gives sense to their lives and purpose to their journeys – which makes life more than just a sparrow’s flight through a lighted hall from one darkness to another, in that memorable image of the Venerable Bede.
He refers to "the rich tradition of religion as a force for good in history."
I cannot but agree, Mr Blair. He refers to the commitment of loving service of many believers and he mentions the perils of extremism. I cannot but agree...and yet I am ready to disagree.
Mr Blair proceeds to discuss what is now called "globalisation", which, I understand, is a reference to free trade. He makes a thesis that religions can help the word tolerate free trade and even adapt to it because they, too, are global movements.
He proceeds then to call for a "sensible long-term partnership" with the nations of China and India. The world has advanced since Palmerston and Disraeli sought to bully these nations with gun-boats and cannon and it is a matter to be welcomed and yet....China is as much a tyranny as it was in 1850 and it is now a nation without any official religion, where religions may be suppressed at whim. Indeed the world is aflame now over the travails of Tibet at the hands of its Chinese conquerors. Should we succumb again to the lure of the Chinese market when the price is our dignity and the freedom of millions, nay, billions?
Mr Blair, it seems, proposes to establish a foundation which will entice faiths of all kinds to pursue what are known as Millennium Development Goals. These sound worthy matters to me, matters that should be held to the heart of those concern about global justice and poverty. Indeed they encompass primary education and the health of mothers and children.
But is not the former Prime Minister, in prescribing that these goals are a worthy joint objective of faiths that may worship different gods, or different names of the same God, is he not seeking to set boundaries on the work of God himself?
Indeed it is noticeable that Mr Blair has not detected that democracy itself is missing from the Millennium Development Goals, the very same democracy and liberty for which Mr Blair assured his population he was fighting wars in foreign countries and, yet, which he is willing to trade with the Chinese.
It is also remarkable that when in his references to the proud traditions of "faith" - at no point does he use the word "Christianity" - he omits to mention the strand of this faith, excluding the wickedness of the Crusaders, that has deplored and resisted war and violence. Indeed he fails to mention St Augustine who formulated rules of Just War, rules which would have precluded many of Mr Blair's bloody adventures had he consented to consult any Bishop or Archbishop in his deliberations.
Our Lord stated there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous. And indeed St Paul turned from being a great persecutor of the church to being its greatest advocate. But there is no whisper, no hint of repentance in Mr Blair's words, however much he may choose to cast himself as a modern-day St Paul. There are many worthy and agreeable words here but they are as clanging bells without a broken heart, a broken and contrite spirit, as the Psalmist describes it.
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