Tony Blair wants more “respect” for “faith” February 19, 2011Posted by Ezra Resnick in Belief, Politics, Reason, Religion.
Tags: Tony Blair
Tony Blair loves the words “faith” and “respect,” and he especially loves using them together. He established the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, whose mission is “to promote respect and understanding about the world’s major religions and show how faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world.” What Blair actually means by “respect” is refraining from criticism — because, don’t you know, the world’s social problems are caused by not being understanding enough of other cultures and not being open enough toward their traditions:
A new type of debate is taking shape… In the Middle East, it is about whether the West fundamentally respects or does not the religion of Islam; and the Israel-Palestine dispute is caught up with it…
In meeting this challenge, democracy and even economic change are not enough. There is a social challenge too. Do we want societies that are open to those who have different faiths and cultures to our own traditions; or do we want, in the face of insecurity and economic crisis, to close down, to look after what some would call “our own” first and foremost? And if we want open ones, what are the conditions for such openness to prevail? The one lesson we learn unequivocally from Europe’s past is that when we close down, we lose…
The missing bit of Middle East policy is inter-faith. Because if the concern is that Muslims feel Islam is disrespected by the West, the answer is to engage in a dialogue that proves it isn’t. This begins in school, should be analysed and debated in university and should be grounded in political, social and cultural exchange…
But though the circumstances of the Middle East may be unique, the same necessity of understanding the importance of religion, can be found everywhere. In China… Faith shapes many lives. It is true of course of India. The same could be said in Latin America and even if the numbers of practicing worshippers in Europe is lower, the importance of Judeo-Christian culture is palpable. In the USA who could say religious faith doesn’t count? Would an atheist be elected president? Probably not.
Americans probably wouldn’t elect a homosexual president either, or a non-Christian for that matter, but what does that show? No one is denying that religion is widespread in our world, as is human prejudice, but that doesn’t mean that the former is any more a “force for good” than the latter.
Blair doesn’t seem to understand the distinction between respecting people’s rights and respecting their beliefs. He says that “Religious awareness is as important as gender or race awareness” — implying that saying something bad about a person’s religion is equivalent to sexism or racism. But you don’t choose your gender or race, while you do choose what to put your faith in. And rational argument can cause people to change their minds: if no one ever challenged bad ideas, we’d still be burning witches.
Why, then, should I respect a belief system that treats women as chattel, homosexuals as abominations, blasphemers and apostates as criminals — and wants to impose its irrational rules on everyone? Moreover, why should I respect faith at all — why should I respect the willingness to believe things for which there is no good evidence? That willingness is the true root of so many of the world’s conflicts, and that’s why Blair is on a fool’s errand. There is no way for a devout Christian and a devout Muslim to ever resolve their differences: they hold mutually incompatible dogmas. And once you give up reason as a method for solving disagreements, the only alternative is violence.