Why the world needs faith

There will be no peace in our world without an understanding of the place of religion within it. The past … Continued

There will be no peace in our world without an understanding of the place of religion within it. The past decade has seen many convenient myths which disguised the importance of religion, stripped away. Many thought: as society progressed, religion would decline. It hasn’t happened.

Then there are those that insisted that as the Arab Revolution knocked over long established regimes and created movements for democracy, so those societies’ religiosity would take second place to the new politics. It hasn’t happened. Religion is fundamental to those societies and if anything, in the foreseeable future, will become more so. And do we seriously think the issue of Jerusalem can be resolved without at least some discussion of its religious significance to all three Abrahamic faiths?

The virus of terror based on a perversion of the proper faith of Islam, shows no signs of abating. But it is not only the acts of terror that should alarm us. It is the extremism that promotes persecution of religious minorities too. The challenge is that much greater where human dignity is not respected and freedom of religion denied. This results in a general oppression of people of faith. It means we must support Muslims in Gujarat, India; non-Orthodox Christians in Moldova; Bahai’s in Iran; Ahmadis in Pakistan; all Christians in North Africa; Hindus in Sri Lanka; Shi’a in several Sunni majority countries, and other places.

The basic point is this: On every side, in every quarter, wherever we look and analyze, religion is a powerful, motivating, determining force shaping the world around us.

For some, this is final proof of the iniquity of religious faith. The answer they say is to abandon it. But for millions of people, faith is not measured in prejudice, intolerance or violence; but in love, compassion, a desire for and a striving for a more just and humane world.

It is this belief in a higher purpose, and in an era of globalization particularly in the aftermath of the financial crisis, makes them assert the civilizing force of faith in the modern world. But for this to happen, religious, secular and political people need to start talking with each other to build peaceful co-existence.

The correct and welcome push towards greater democracy round the globe increases the urgency. We need religion-friendly democracy and democracy-friendly religion. I offer here a third way. Those of us inspired by our faith must have the right to speak out on issues that concern us and in the name of our beliefs. At the same time our voice cannot predominate over the basic democratic system that functions equally for all, irrespective of those of faith or of none.

In turn, this should lead to a vital debate about the nature of democracy, a debate all the more critical as we witness the Arab Revolutions. I find it hard to define democracy by reference to one faith. The essence of democracy is that it is pluralistic. It is inherently secular, even if rooted in cultures that are profoundly religious. This is where democracy-friendly religion really means something very important in the way society is governed.

It is about free media; freedom of expression; and about freedom of religion. It is also about an independent judiciary and the rule of law and even about free markets albeit with appropriate government intervention and regulation. Political pluralism and religious pluralism go together.

The challenges are thus made very clear. Religion matters. Faith motivates and compels. If democracy is to function effectively therefore, religion itself has to embrace the open mind not the closed mind.

This open attitude of mind cannot be inculcated by politicians alone. It has to be undertaken, in part at least by those of faith. They have to provide a) the platform of interfaith understanding and respect; and b) the theological and scriptural justification for the open mind.

With the best will in the world, protective constitutional provisions will remain paper aspirations if religious and government leaders do not educate their constituencies in religious minority rights. A commitment to human dignity means concrete action: training law enforcement officers to uphold these values, teaching from primary school upwards of respect and understanding for people of other faiths, religious literacy for national leaders.

This undeniably presents an enormous challenge to religious leaders: to draw from their own traditions and sacred texts the values and vision that will create a culture of democracy. The defence of the rights of people of other beliefs should be a routine part of their work, just as they defend the rights of their own community. Otherwise how can they stand as champions of universal values?

The question whether the truth-claims of the monotheistic religions draw them inevitably into intransigent, non-negotiable, positions is a real one. But it is the interpretation of these truth-claims that is the problem; the repeated human desire to claim that God is on our side, that we have formed the Party of God, that our human frailty, cruelty and inhumanity is sanctioned by God. The arrogance behind that is surely the true meaning of blasphemy.

The first is the reason I began my foundation. Without inter-faith understanding, the exclusivist and closed-minded attitude is allowed free occupation of the religious space in politics. The second is where I, and others like me in politics, need help. Religious leaders must step forward and engage.

How faith impacts us all must be a question for universities and schools, where education about others is so crucial; and a political question.

Finally, were this to happen, there would be one major and positive consequence for faith itself. It would open up the potential of faith to many who at present search for spiritual meaning but have come to regard the practice of faith as the preserve of the irrational, the superstitious and the prejudiced. It would allow a true and rational belief in God to direct the path of the 21st Century. That is where faith belongs. And why the world needs it.

Tony Blair is founder and patron of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

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  • ontheotherhand…

    Wow. Tony Blair is speaking about faith. WAIT! LET ME RUN TO THE CHURCH, ANY CHURCH WILL DO!


  • WinstonDixon

    This editorial will make one more nice pavement stone on the road to Hell.

  • ALHumanist

    What a load of sanctimonious twaddle. There’s no question that religion motivates people. The problem is that it’s pretty obvious that it just as easily motivates people to do evil as good. It’s the last thing the world needs. Can we try to work with some non-religious ethical systems that are a little more robust and that don’t have don’t have all the pre-modern baggage and hocus pocus? What is it about religion that has such a hold on people anyway?

  • BlackYowe

    Tony Blair likes to play God . His shameless courting of Qaddafi was disgusting as was his brown nosing of Bush. Blair is a hedonistic purveyor of conspicuous consumption.and feeds at the trough of the oil barons. As a Christian I find this man unbearable. I think the world needs faith but it sure does not meed Blair’s opinion on it.

  • morrowmm

    Speaking as an Englishman who has returned to the UK on several occasions during the past twenty years and seen its severe decline in nearly every moral, financial and cohesive sphere, I find it morally reprehensible that this very dishonest and very greedy person should be proselytizing in this newspaper.
    Blair’s standing in the UK is lower than low. He, and his malevolent sidekick Brown, managed to bankrupt Great Britain over his period in office, so much so that when the new Coalition government entered the treasury, they found a single sheet of paper in the Chancellor’s office which said “the money is all gone”.
    Mr Blair, with the millions he has made in his post political life, is universally loathed and despised in all social strata in the UK.
    I hope you did not pay him for this load of hypocritical garbage.

  • elfraed009

    “The virus of terror based on a perversion of the proper faith of Islam,…”

    Terror is terror.
    Jihad, which is proper to the faith of Islam, can be a stepping-stone to violence.
    A Christian has no religious stepping-stone and so terrorism would be a perversion of church teaching. To my mind, a Christian must step outside of his religion to commit violence.

  • kloanchoyss

    Philosophical advice from the Twin Butcher of Iraq?

    The Great Conundrum–which is more parlous, jingoism or religion?

  • DenisJonnes

    This guy is a murderer and war criminal. For him to be talking about “faith” is absolutely obscene. This guy should not get the endorsement of any media outlet anywhere. Shame on CNN!!!

  • bloggersvilleusa

    A Christian has no religious stepping-stone and so terrorism would be a perversion of church teaching. To my mind, a Christian must step outside of his religion to commit violence.

    And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,

    And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:

    And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

    And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

    And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.

    The above describes actions that today would constitute terrorist violations of the USA PATRIOT act, were they committed in the US. Christians indeed have their “stepping stone” to violence.

    Moreover, Christianity teaches cannibalism to children, eating the living flesh of Jesus and drinking his living blood. No wonder Christianity is the most violent religion in the history of the world.

  • hegel1

    Wow. The world needs faith, like it needs clean water and cereal crops and pig iron. It’s a personal hygiene issue – wake in the morning, floss, then take two doses of faith. It will help your digestion. Perhaps we should sell boxes of it at Wal-Mart, next to the greeting cards and the oat bran and the exercise videos. (Perhaps we already do.)
    And all the world’s religions are just so many brands of faith. The particulars are unimportant, which leaves us with a vague, smiling spirituality.
    And if I have faith, what am I supposed to do with it? Will my lifestyle change, or will I just wear the badge of faith on my lapel, perhaps with a grin on my face: “Have a nice day.”

  • elfraed009

    Your example, with the moneychangers in the temple, may well point up the importance of keeping secular and religious separate.
    Rather than violence, it could be seen as meting justice.

    A better example might be that of a Christian “getting Old Testament on somebody”.


    The unfortunate thing is that Blair ruined his career by his own foolish actions. He did not engage in a just war, and neither did George W. Bush. Both men, based on what the Jews and Christians found out about the Nazis should be applied here: both men should be tried Nuremburg-style as deeply disturbing war criminals. The US is quick to judge people like Hitler, Stalin and Milosevic (and rightly so), but give itself a pass. Americans don’t want to accept that they are mass murderers and have a history of supporting such. These men, along with their Himmler and Cukas (sp) and Mengele counterparts like Cheney should be held fully accountable.

  • ssiva

    Do we need a lecture from a failed politician?

    Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes and human rights abuses and he is a failed leader who made the world more dangerous than it was!

    Tony Blair was a poodle with George Bush, invaded Iraq and made an advanced nation into ruins and hundreds of thousands of innocent people perished.

    Blair was supporting George Bush who branded freedom fighters as terrorists, Dictators as good governance, puppets as friends and even had good relations with Gaddafi.

    Those who believe in God are waiting for God’s punishment!

  • sux123

    The world needs REASON far more than it need religious faith or myth. Religion is un-reason. There is no reason that we cannot have tolerance, peace, values and all other positive human values without religion. Keep the wheat and throw out the chaff. Religion is the seat of Intolerance and ignorance.

  • ssiva

    The man who is responsible for ruining many innocent peoples’ lives all over the world is trying to preach us about faith.

    Blair may have a Psycho-path faith and should not be allowed to comingle with ordinary citizens.

  • ccnl1

    From the Land of Loading More and More and More Comments:

    From: guidestar.org’s UK website. Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation’s income for 2010 was over $6 million. Now that is good change for huckstering the mumbo jumbo of religion.