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Tony Blair wants more “respect” for “faith” February 19, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Belief, Politics, Reason, Religion.

Tony BlairTony 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.


1. Fatpie42 - February 20, 2011

Why, then, should I respect a belief system that treats women as cattle, homosexuals as abominations, blasphemers and apostates as criminals — and wants to impose its irrational rules on everyone?

Are actually referring to the same Tony Blair who said this:
‘The reason we are finding it hard to win this battle is that we’re not actually fighting it properly. We’re not actually standing up to these people and saying, “It’s not just your methods that are wrong, your ideas are absurd. Nobody is oppressing you. Your sense of grievance isn’t justified.”‘

The man is an opportunistic hypocrite. If we haven’t learnt not to trust a word he says by now, we never will.

2. GordonWillis - February 20, 2011

Blair doesn’t seem to understand the distinction between respecting people’s rights and respecting their beliefs.

It is possible, I suppose, that he is genuinely confused. I think it unlikely, however. It seems more likely to me that this is a deliberate attempt to sow confusion. Blair wants to cut a figure in the world, and religion is a handy means. The trouble with claiming that religion is nice, really, is that you have to lie about it. And if he actually believes his own lies, that makes him all the more dangerous.

I’m sure Blair thinks he knows what he is doing, but he doesn’t see that he can never win. He’ll never beat down the old orthodoxies or win the hearts of rigid conformists and literalists. In trying to revamp religion he will find himself at loggerheads with all the doctrines he chooses to ignore. It is difficult to believe that he is unaware of how religion deprives men and women of their rights and dignities, and it is incredible that he thinks that his prissy sentimentality (or his charismatic personality?) can overcome and replace thousands of years of scripture and dogma and theology and ingrained habits of mind. In the end, he will present the “authorities” of religion with another opportunity to gain greater control, just as soon as they work out how to use him.

But I still think that all he really wants is a place in the sun.

3. GordonWillis - February 20, 2011

Fatpie42, I think Blair would argue that he is attempting to convince religious extremists that they don’t really understand their own religion, and if they did we would all be friends. Why can he not see that the Gospel According to Blair is not going to look well to those who already have their own scriptures, thank you very much, and see his own doctrines as heresy and blasphemy? “…Blair is on a fool’s errand”. His well-meaning efforts, such as they are, will be undermined by his own blind arrogance.

4. GordonWillis - February 20, 2011

Forgetting my manners. This is a very good post, Ezra Resnick. Thank you very much.

Ezra Resnick - February 20, 2011

Thanks for the kind words, Gordon, and for your comments!

5. bobbytg - February 21, 2011

I told my boss I couldn’t work today because I believed I was an anteater. He didn’t respect my beliefs though.

6. GordonWillis - February 21, 2011

Glad to hear of someone who isn’t fooled by an anteater who can use a telephone. Perhaps, bobbytg, you should come back when you are human again.

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