The 21st Century is up for grabs and there are many individuals or groups, thinkers and ideologues who would have us buy in to their own vision of how the current mass hiatus of certainty can best be addressed for the world’s future.
Compass, for example, the UK campaign group of the democratic left, has growing support from both high profile politicians and respected journalists, and has made steady inroads into the disaffected ranks of Labour or would-be Labour supporters since its inception in 2003. In a sweeping gesture of the group’s democratic principles, it has thrown its own policy-crunching process wide open in a review encouraging the submission and debate of progressive ideas, with a spectrum of contributors ranging from academics and wonks to NGOs and unaffiliated individuals.
The emphasis from Compass and its contributing thinkers is, as you would expect, on the development and encouragement of greater justice, equality and sustainability, values consistent with survival on a planet faced with unprecedented threats of overpopulation and diminishing resources.
Unfortunately, not all new movements staking their claim for a place on the global platform seeking influence in the times ahead are so rigorous, unpartisan and rational.
Having first done his own bit in the neo-liberalisation of the western economic system which has gone so awry, Tony Blair has now set up the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, and with so much damage already done from one sphere, now purports a radically different approach to world problems.
In a recent article in New Statesman, the ex prime minister worryingly suggested that religious faith “could be of the same significance to the 21st century as political ideology was to the 20th”. Well let’s hope not.
At a time defined by the hardening of religious fundamentalism and its tendency to impose itself suppresively upon social and political systems, the notion of humanising the globalised world which Blair invokes, would surely be better served by extracting personal faith from the business of running things altogether.
Contrary to this, however, the Faith Foundation seeks to promote religion as a force for good, convinced that economics, politics and society, together with the issues of globalisation and the environment all need more input from the faith community rather than less.
All well and good as far as the foundation’s relief programme is concerned, bringing different faith communities together to help tackle malaria in Africa. It’s the encroachment into educational circles which is more of a concern.
With both an interfaith schools programme and the establishment of a university course at Yale, which is now seeking to expand its presence elsewhere, the Blair-branded “we must do God” school of thought is very much up and running.
Thankfully, there are signs of a response to this mission creep from the theists. The recent launch of The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies is a clear recognition that to be non-religious can be a considered position with a developed set of ideals and values, and in a world where the gains of the enlightenment can no longer be taken quite so for granted, these secular infrastructures are a crucial counterbalance.
In fairness, Tony Blair’s motivation is based on all the conviction and benevolence of a missionary. But the idea of using religion, however well-intended the efforts to create a multi-faith front, as a tool to overcome intolerance and extremism seems inherently contradictory.
A faith is a faith is a faith, and at least part of that consists in absolute and exclusive certainty of the cause. The modern day dilutions and polite accommodations of other beliefs and dogmas by western liberal countries are another expression of political correctness and strongly resisted by those who see themselves as staying true to the essence of their faith. Just look at the current Pope. For all the vatican spin and diplomatic gesturing, nothing can conceal the pontiff’s fundamental resistance to other faiths and instinct to discredit the opposition.
Blair’s stated position is that religion can be a force for good and that interfaith co-operation and initiative are the planet’s best hope, but the flagship of his own foundation is to be a London-based centre oriented around the three Abrahamic faiths. He insists that Abraham House will be open to all, but despite his talk of creative thinking, fresh action and deeper understanding, it is difficult not to feel the fearful breath of the Abrahamic God on your neck. The one, to quote Richard Dawkins, who is “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”.
In summing up his vision for the 21st century, Tony Blair speaks of spirit, ambition, social justice, conscience and the common good as if all these noble human characteristics would be compromised without a “full and proper recognition of the role that the great faiths can and do play”. That will be the Abrahamic faiths then. The ones with the scary God, as described above. In which case, God save us all….