Friday, November 26, 2010

Tony Blair Doesn't Speak for Me When He Speaks of God

DAVOS-KLOSTERS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN09 - Tony Bla...Image via Wikipedia

For the benefit of my four-and-a -half regular readers, and those others who stumble here unintentionally, here's my take on the
Tony Blair-Christopher Hitchens debate taking place this week at the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto on the question, "Is religion a force for good in the world?"

As a Christian believer myself (I hope I am a real one, converted to Christ from a secular background) it may be assumed that I will be pleased to support Mr Blair's case for God.

But I am not.

For a start, I do not support "religion" as a whole, as if the essence of Buddhism is essentially the same as the essence of Christianity, as the essence of Islam, etc.

They are not all the same. Any superficial consideration of the matter will reveal that religions vary greatly, from the brutal sun-worshiping religions of pre-Colombian America, to the Salvation Army, the Catholic crusades, and the nature-worshiping Druids. Lumping them all together and assessing whether they are "good" or not seems analogous to lumping together one-state Marxism, participatory multi-party democracy and market-anarchism, and asking whether or not "politics" is a force for good.

Clearly, the devil in such a question is in the detail.

More significantly, however, is my objection to the participation of Tony Blair in such a high-profile debate. Although I am unqualified to comment on the reality of his Christian faith, and would not presume to do so, I am sure of this: the action of invading Iraq in 2003 set in motion a chain of events which, by 2010, has had catastrophic results for the Christian churches in Iraq - including the Roman Catholic wing of the church to which Tony Blair converted in 2007.

Christians are required to exercise discernment in their lives, and part of this discipline includes an assessment of the consequences (the "fruit") of a course of action, not only its abstract theoretical dimension. The fruit of the invasion of Iraq for the Christian believers in that nation has been to make them significantly more vulnerable to brutal attack and persecution than was the case before 2003.

The murderous Jihadists who cut off the heads of church leaders in Iraq, and who blow themselves up inside churches, were not committing these acts inside Iraq before the invasion. The same tragic story is unfolding in Pakistan, where Jihadists forced out of Afghanistan by NATO forces, have added to the volatile religious and political mixture in the country and have increased their violent attacks upon Christians and their churches.

The professing Christian Tony Blair, as Prime Minister, was a prime mover in these terrible events which have unleashed such harm onto the church, not to mention the wider non-Christian population. President Bush, also a professing Christian, was of course the senior partner in this folly.

In light of such harm that has been caused, to those the Bible encourages me to see as members of my extended spiritual family, I cannot passively accept that the man who helped to create the conditions which have allowed such suffering to the church, should be accepted in any way as a spokesman for "the faith" that we both profess to share, or for "faith" in general.

There was a time in history when a warrior-ruler who professed faith would be taken kindly but firmly in hand by a bishop and led on a path of repentance and humility. The phenomenon of a king abdicating in order to enter a monastery was not an uncommon occurrence in the pre-modern era. Today, the path for such a man appears to consist of book deals, speaking tours, six figure salaries and endless justifications for indefensible actions which have had catastrophic consequences.

Would it be too much to ask for Mr Blair to choose to lower his personal profile, to repent of his presumption in acting as apologist for God, and to head the words of the ancient prophet:

He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Or to heed the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

In the meantime, as a Christian, I can accept Tony Blair as a repentant sinner, if that is what he is. I am one too and God knows my own need of forgiveness. But I cannot identify with Mr Blair's role as a religious apologist and, not for the first time, I am reluctantly left to say of his actions, "Not in my name."

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Tom Foster said...

thank you Al. A very thought-provoking response. I heard ex-police commissioner Sir Ian Blair recently offer a similar perspective on the good of 'faith' and 'religion' as a whole in its contribution to public order.

To talk about 'religion' or 'faith' as a single united force driving in one direction seems so crazy that I wonder if I've missed something. It is very likely that they are followers of Jesus - certainly Ian Blair's account of how the book of Acts affected his life would suggest so, but the platform on which Tony Blair speaks is one built on terrible decisions and fruit.

I hope the passages from Jeremiah and Micah stay in my own head for a little while longer. If others reference Tony Blair in any discussion on Christianity, Islam or religion and politics, I feel a little more well thought-through on this now myself.

Al Shaw said...

Thanks Tom for your comments.

My position is not that there is no value in speaking about "faith" or "religion". We just need to appreciate that it is a very multi-faceted phenomenon.