Sunday, 15 June 2008

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation

This is an article by Tony Blair from the Independent of 14th June. In it, Blair outlines his ideas for unifying all faiths. It shows almost incredible naivety in several different areas.

Here are some of them:

1. He begins with a grand design of changing the world for the better and uniting people on an unprecedented scale. When he starts to talk about his plans, however, they are lame beyond belief. He's basically going to set up a few seminars. Oh, and produce some propaganda to put into schools, enragingly.

2. He mentions a Gallup poll that he claims suggests that: "most Christians want better relations between Christianity and Islam but believe that most Muslims don't. Most Muslims want better relations too but think most Christians don't." (no other faiths or atheism were mentioned).
Well, perhaps, but this seems actually to be two separate questions. I think what the average Christian means by 'better relations' is probably very different to what the average Muslim would mean.

3. Religion is inherently divisive. It has as irrevocable dogma the principle that all other gods are false and that people who believe in them will be punished, always in the afterlife, but often in this life too. When someone looks at a person of a different faith, they must surely see someone who deserves the eternal punishment they will receive. In many cases (Christianity and Islam being prime examples), the holy texts command adherents to take action in this world to destroy other faiths and their acolytes, generally with violence. In any case, faiths inherently teach the inferiority of other faiths and their believers. This seems to be an immutable and fundamental quality of these religions (among others) and it isn't clear that they can be just conveniently cherry-picked out of the way.

4. Blair's main conviction seems to be that faith itself - regardless of variety or origin - is (or has the potential to be) a universally good thing, binding us together in ways that lack of faith presumably cannot. Not only does he present absolutely nothing in the way of evidence or even argument to this effect, but he ignores the obvious point that it is absolute nonsense. Faith is about clinging blindly to what we inherit from previous generations. Faith has no mechanism for picking out and adapting the good bits or for abandoning the bad. On the contrary, it is specifically opposed to this: faith is belief despite lack of evidence or in the presence of contrary evidence. Faith that some practice is good or useful will therefore persist regardless of whether it is or not. For this reason, I'm a little confused about why Blair thinks that encouraging faith will help to solve the world's problems. He cites malaria as an example: I cannot imagine what possible impact a person's faith could have in the combating of malaria. In fact, faith is one of the things that prevents diseases of many types being eradicated around the world. Naturally, Blair doesn't explain why he believes that faith can help in this or any other area: he merely states that it can and, moreover, that it should. Why should it? Because it is faith and faith is automatically good. Except when it isn't. Which is almost all the time. I don't find this a very convincing argument.

5. He is under the impression that it is reasonable to speak about 'children of faith'. This is a sickening concept, since children are not sufficiently well-informed to have a faith. What he means is that their parents have a particular faith and so their children also share that faith by tradition. If this isn't itself a divisive concept, reinforcing a 'them and us' mentality, then I don't know what is.

The entire article is astonishingly weak. Blair's argument seems to be that if faith could be used as a tool for social cohesion, then that would be a good thing. Since perhaps faith can potentially be used in this way, then it automatically should be, since faith trumps non-faith. Faith should therefore be encouraged, just in case any of these things turn out to be true.

I'm sure you can see what is wrong with this argument. It is not at all clear that faith can be used in this way and Blair provides no evidence. In fact, the only evidence he does offer seems to contradict it. Second, it is not clear that even if faith can be used in this way, that it should be. Faith is the direct cause of many other problems and it isn't clear whether this is too big a price to pay for social cohesion. I rather suspect that it is. Finally, encouraging faith just in case any of these things turn out to be true is begging the question.

Blair seems highly confused and badly-informed throughout the article. Many people would say this shouldn't come as a surprise, but even if it is unsurprising, it is a chilling thought.

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