Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Blair says religion should provide "values" for globalisation

From Ekklesia...

Former British prime minister Tony Blair has completed his first semester as a visiting lecturer at Yale University, an experience he says has strengthened his belief that religious faith and economic and social globalisation are partners - writes Chris Herlinger.

In his final appearance on 11 December with students at a seminar he co-taught, and addressing the Yale community, Blair said his time as a part-time academic has convinced him that "globalisation requires values to succeed".

Arguing that the process of "pushing people together" has made multicultural and multi-religious societies, Blair argued that "spiritual capital" and "human capital" now need to link.

That, combined with an increased need for multi-faith dialogue, he told reporters after he spoke, "will in time be seen as a defining question, and perhaps the leading question of the 21st century".

Blair also touted the need for the United States, Britain and its allies to emphasise the efficacy of social values in the fight against terrorism.

"It's the force of argument, and not of arms, that will cause us to succeed," the former British prime minister said in an address at Yale's Battell Chapel.

Blair was an Anglican but in 2007, after stepping down as prime minister, he converted to Roman Catholicism. In a BBC television document after he left office, Blair acknowledged that his belief in God played a "hugely important" role during his 10 years as prime minister.

As a Howland Distinguished Fellow at Yale, Blair has co-taught a seminar on the theme of faith and globalisation with Professor Miroslav Volf, a Croatian-born theologian and the director of Yale's Center for Faith and Culture.

The final session of the seminar, seen by video hook-up, indicated that while Blair did not mind students asking probing questions about the war in Iraq, he held his ground, saying he accepts responsibility for the decision that British forces go to war.

And while acknowledging many things have wrong in Iraq since the 2003 invasion by U.S., British and allied forces, Blair told students he believes the Middle East is still better off without Saddam Hussein at the helm in the country, particularly in a region where, Blair said, some positive effects of globalisation are being felt.

"Do I think today, that looking at the region, it would be better off with Saddam? No I don't," Blair said.

The seminar has been a joint offering of Yale Divinity School and the Yale School of Management. Blair has said he expects to return to Yale for an additional two years of teaching.

Blair has formed his own London-based foundation (www.tonyblairfaithfoundation.org), to promote interfaith dialogue. He and Yale officials are working on a joint initiative to address issues of religious faith and globalisation. Blair said the current faith and globalisation course might be "spun off" and taught elsewhere in the world.

Though Blair said the emphasis he has made on global respect for religions and that President George W. Bush has made about respecting human dignity are linked, when asked by reporters to comment further on Bush's views of religion and politics, he said, "That's not for me to say."

[With acknowledgements to ENI and Ekklesia. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

12 comments:

Paul C said...

It's like a festival of wrongness, isn't it?

Rob A said...

Somebody throw your shoes at him, please.

anticant said...

He then walked back home across the Atlantic.

Anonymous said...

Why is religion needed for globalisation? Isn't this just finding a topical problem that he thinks it can solve?

Note that TB's religion claims that homosexuality is an intrinsic disorder that gives rise to a tendency to perform gravely immoral acts. Admittedly this is nothing to do with globalisation, but it's not a value I'd feel happy sharing.

Ophelia Benson said...

So where in the article does Blair actually say that "religion should provide 'values' for globalisation"? Ekklesia said that in the headline but didn't provide an actual quotation where Blair says that. The closest it comes is the silly bit about "spiritual capital" and "human capital" needing to link - which means pretty much nothing. I wanted him to say it in so many words so that I could contradict him, but in the waffle provided in the article there's nothing to contradict. Drat the man - is he too sly and careful to say anything one can actually dispute?

Of course, as Anonymous demonstrates, we can always point out the 'values' of the Catholic church, but it would be more satisfying if Blair had actually spelled out what he meant by 'spiritual values.'

Paul P. Mealing said...

I'm not against 'interfaith dialogue' per se: debate, argument, discussion is all very healthy in my view. But any such multicultural discussion must also include humanism and secularism as part thereof.

Without actually knowing what Blair said, it's hard to make a judgement on how 'liberal' his point of view is in this respect. In other words, how far is he willing to go in expanding the audience and the participants in this hypothetical dialogue.

My views on the entrenched immorality of the Catholic Church are pretty much the same as Anticant's, but Blair's personal views on the Vatican's attitude towards homosexuality, birth control and sex-education, is not spelt out.

Regards, Paul.

anticant said...

Oddly, Blair's personal attitude to homosexuality is relaxed and tolerant. It is largely due to him that British law has been updated towards more equality, and civil partnerships introduced. This just shows what a muddled thinker he is.

The serious issue here is the nature and origin of conscience, and its reliability as a guide to conduct.

The Cambridge philosopher F.M. Cornford said that there is only one valid reason for doing anything - that it is the right thing to do: all others are reasons for doing nothing.

Blair says he knows it was right to invade Iraq, because the Middle East is a better place without Saddam. This is true, but completely ignores all the 'collateral damage' - the many thousands of ended lives and even greater number of ruined ones, and the ongoing chaos. Do two wrongs make a right?

And would Mugabe still be clinging to his tattered and disease-ridden perch if there had been oil in Zimbabwe?

The reason I am so mistrustful of 'faith' as a moral guide is that its advocates are capable of convincing themselves of anything which suits them.

Whether he likes it or not, the description of Cromwell as "that man of blood" fits Blair to a tee.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Anticant,

"The serious issue here is the nature and origin of conscience, and its reliability as a guide to conduct."

Few people seem to realise that conscience is largely a product of social conditioning, roughly equivalent to Freud's 'super ego', not God whispering in your ear. In other words, you can be made to feel guilty about anything (like masturbation for example) if your parents bashed you often enough for it, and that's when your so-called conscience kicks in. Conscience is arguably the most unreliable of moral compasses for this very reason. And, of course, the Church has the best historical success in its manipulation.

Regards, Paul.

anticant said...

Exactly, Paul. The Jesuits say "Give us a child until he is seven, and he is ours for life".

Stephen, Rev Sam, and Ibrahim Lawson [where he these days?] please comment.

Kyle said...

The trouble with including humanists or secularists in discussions is that it is not clear that it is a well-defined system of beliefs.

What is it that all humanists agree about? Who are their leaders? How many people do those leaders represent?

I'm not saying that individual humanists are inconsistent or don't have well worked through beliefs, but to what extent is there a wider movement in anything but name.

In order to get a seat at the table more is required than to declare yourself a new movement. New movements are being started every day, you can't give them all a place in RE lessons.

anticant said...

This is really the most hilarious comment I've seen in ages, coming as it does from Kyle of all people who's own belief system is anything but well defined and indeed appears to be vacuous and as he himself admits defies explanation.

His ostentatious ignorance of organised humanism is depressing, though unsurprising. He could start by Googling for IHEU, BHA and NSS.

anticant said...

What appals me about Blair is his utter moral vacuousness and his unshakeable conviction that he is a highly principled, God-led person.