Tony Blair on Faith and Public Policy
I found this article in the Yale Alumni Magazine about Tony Blair’s new Faith Foundation absolutely fascinating. Tony Blair is now teaching a course at Yale with the eminent theologian Miroslav Volf on the subject of “Faith and Globalization.” According to the article, Blair is trying to use this foundation to encourage interfaith tolerance and dialogue. Given that religion is a major source of conflict in international relations, it is surprising that diplomats and heads of state don’t make a greater effort to understand religion and seek to use it as a source for good. When he left office Blair decided to devote himself to faith and globalization because, in his words, “globalization obliterates borders and frontiers and pushes people together. Faith can become a reaction to it and pull people apart…. Even if you are of no religious faith and don’t even like religion, you should be interested in this…. My view is globalization needs strong values to guide it and make it equitable and just.”
The mission statement of Blair’s new foundation puts the matter succinctly,
“Faith is vitally important to hundreds of millions of people. It underpins systems of thought and of behaviour. It underpins many of the world’s great movements for change or reform, including many charities. And the values of respect, justice and compassion that our great religions share have never been more relevant or important to bring people together to build a better world. But religious faith can also be used to divide. We have seen throughout history and today we still see how it can be distorted to fan the flames of hatred and extremism. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation is a response to these opportunities and challenges. We will use the full power of modern communications to support and step up efforts at every level to educate, inform and develop understanding about the different faiths and between them. At the same time, the Foundation will use its profile and resources to encourage people of faith to work together more closely to tackle global poverty and conflict. By supporting such inter-faith initiatives, the Foundation will help underline the religion’s relevance and positive contribution.”
I think the issue is particularly important in our dealings with Islam. From my perspective, it is a basic matter of empathy. I perceive the absence of respect for, and understanding of religion in the West–particularly in Europe–to be a major stumbling block in improving relations with Islamic countries. If their entire worldview is shaped by devotion to their religion, how can we have any hope of peace in the Middle East if we do not even attempt to genuinely understand their perspective? Conversely, how can we hope to earn their respect if they approach all of life through a religious lens and yet we treat religion as utterly unimportant?