Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ex PM Blair: 'Why we don't do God'

I'm a huge fan of Ruth Gledhill, she's such a great religion reporter for the Times, and I suppose it's something unique about the British National Mindset that comes thru her writing all the time that makes it to our gruff American English always seem rather pithy. Today her post is no different.

Her post is on former British PM Tony Blair and the speech he gave at Westminster Cathedral as a part of the innauguration of his Faith Foundation. According to Mr. Blair's website "The purpose of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation is to promote respect, friendship and understanding between the major religious faiths; and to make the case for faith itself as relevant, positive and a force for good in the modern world."

The Secularization of Inter-religious Dialogue

As Ms. Gledhill pointed out one of the most provocative aspects of Mr. Blair's speech was to address a statement by his former Press Secretary, Alastair Campbell - who once famously said: ‘We don’t do God’.

He says:

In our culture, here in Britain and in many other parts of Europe, to admit to having faith leads to a whole series of suppositions, none of which are very helpful to the practising politician. First, you may be considered weird. Normal people aren’t supposed to ‘do God’.

Second, there is an assumption that before you take a decision, you engage in some slightly cultish interaction with your religion – ‘So, God, tell me what you think of City Academies or Health Service Reform or nuclear power’ i.e. people assume that your religion makes you act, as a leader, at the promptings of an inscrutable deity, free from reason rather than in accordance with it.

Third, you want to impose your religious faith on others.

Fourth, you are pretending to be better than the next person.

And finally and worst of all, that you are somehow messianically trying to co-opt God to bestow a divine legitimacy on your politics.

So when Alastair said it, he didn’t mean politicians shouldn’t have faith; just that it was always a packet of trouble to talk about it.

And underlying it all, certainly, is the notion that religion is divisive, irrational and harmful.'

Where as Ms. Gledhill seems to find confusion IMHO it's a brilliant introduction to the aforementioned theme of secularizing inter-religious dialogue.

That last line is key and is the mindset of his humanist audience, the religious illiterates who composite Europe's glitteratti of Democrats and Intellectuals, who are as yet still boggled over the fact that "at no time since the Enlightenment has religion ever gone away." He argues, 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."

But, "Faith is problematic when it becomes a way of denigrating those who do not share it, as somehow lesser human beings. Faith as a means of exclusion. God in this connection becomes not universal but partisan, faith not a means of reaching out in friendship but a means of creating or defining enemies."

So the answer for the secularists is to get over the fact that religion isn't dead, join in the market place of religion and realize that secularism or humanism, whatever your epithet, doesn't exclude you from that realm of 'problematic' it implicates your ideology as well to be a means of exclusion if one is unable to at least listen. At the very least for those who can't swallow that particular pill:
Now, you may say, this is all very well. If you are of religious faith, all this may be of interest to you. But if not: Why should I care? So, there are these competing strands of vision about faith in the modern world. So what? Why does it matter in the world beyond the faith communities? The answer is this.
Accept the premise that faith is not in decline. It isn’t disappearing inevitably under the weight of scientific and technological progress. It is still here with us, not just surviving but thriving.
After all, In an era of globalisation, of political interdependence, where the world is ever more swiftly opening up and the cliché about a global community becomes an economic, political and often social reality; in this new world, how religious faith develops will have a profound impact. And what does that mean to Mr. Blair, what does that swiftly opening up, that ever shifting of people and information mean?
Today, precisely because all the fixed points of reference seem unfixed and constantly in flux; today is more than ever, when we need to discover and re-discover our essential humility before God, our dignity as found in our lives being placed at the service of the Source and Goal of everything. I can’t prove that religious faith offers something more than humanism. But I believe profoundly that it does. And since religious faith has such a strong historical and cultural influence on both East and West, it can help unify around common values what otherwise might be a battle for domination.
So that's the point Mr. Blair ultimately would like to make, that by understanding the not only the historical context of religious experiences of people but understand that the fact that they are historical and despite the progresses that man has made that religion isn't dead that religion is a source for constancy in our world.

The Foundation will expressly not be about chucking faith into a doctrinal melting pot. It is not about losing our own distinctive faith. It is about learning about, living and working with others of a different faith. But it will also be concerned with promoting the idea of faith itself as something dynamic, modern and full of present relevance.
For religion to be a positive force for good, it must be rescued not simply from extremism – faith as a means of exclusion; but also from irrelevance - an interesting part of our history but not of our future.

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