There are some out there who obviously have it in for Tony Blair. Fair enough. He was a political leader, and you are allowed to have it in for political leaders. Look how many people had it in for (and still do have it in for) our own Little Johnny Howard.
But some Catholic bloggers and commentators are still very hesitant to give Blair “a fair go” even though he has a whole new identity as an private citizen and as a Catholic to that which he had as a politician and a protestant. One example is Fr Tim at the Hermeneutic of Continuity) in reference to a recent and significant speech Tony Blair made in Westminster Cathedral as part of the “Cardinal’s Lectures” last Thursday.
As a political leader and before he entered the Catholic Church he and his government did things and supported things that Catholics would have a right and duty to question. There was probably a large dose of “Real Politik” about all that. I find his explanation of that famous comment by his press secretary (“We don’t do God”) most interesting, and if you are looking for an explanation of why he did what he did when he was Prime Minister, you could probably find it there as clearly as anywhere.
We need to remember too that our brother in Christ, Tony, has chosen to enter the Catholic Church. That he chose to take that action only last December, and not years ago when he first married his Catholic wife, is an indication that his conversion is an honest one, and not just done for convenience. One presumes then that over the years he has gone through some process of development. One also needs to remember that he retired from his office of Prime Minister–he wasn’t voted out. The reasons for his retirement may have been many, but at least one of them appears to have been so that he could enter the Catholic Church without creating a legal furore in England.
So I think we should give the bloke a fair go, as we say in this country.
And (apart from his citation of Karen Armstrong), I believe that he has put it about as clearly and as straight as he possibly could have done in his speech. You will find little that he said that was not completely in line with documents such as Nostra Aetate, “Dialogue and Mission”, “Dialogue and Proclamation”, or even the recent CDF statement on Evangelisation.
Here are some snippets:
One of the oddest questions I get asked in interviews (and I get asked a lot of odd questions) is: is faith important to your politics? It’s like asking someone whether their health is important to them or their family. If you are someone ‘of faith’ it is the focal point of belief in your life. There is no conceivable way that it wouldn’t affect your politics.
Let me be clear. I am not saying that it is extreme to believe your religious faith is the only true faith. Most people of faith do that. It doesn’t stop them respecting those of a different faith or indeed of no faith. We should respect humanists too and celebrate the good actions they do. Faith is problematic when it becomes a way of denigrating those who do not share it, as somehow lesser human beings. Faith as a means of exclusion.
Reading the Dawkins book – The God Delusion – I am struck by how much the militant secularist and the religious extremist need each other. The God Delusion is a brilliant polemic but rests entirely – as does the more reasonable The Blind Watchmaker – on the view that those who believe in God believe in Him as a means of exclusion, as a frightening, irrational piece of superstition and mumbo-jumbo which then justifies the unjustifiable.
I could quote many other fine passages of his speech.
He wasn’t preaching a sermon–he was speaking to all people of goodwill (“people who have religious faith and those who have none”)–so you can’t expect him to have used “church speak”. There is a certain “diplomacy” that is appropriate for us to adopt as Christians in the public square. It has nothing to do with going “soft” or “flakey” and everything to do with being as “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”, to quote Someone. In other words, if this was a “political” speech, it was political in that Blair was using every trick in the political manual to persuade as many of those who listened to him as possible.
And what he is trying to persuade us to do is so very important. Like it or not, the people’s of the world are divided by religion as much as by race or nation. I hope that you, like me, believe that the evangelising mission of the Church is our essential Christian calling. Learning the skills to co-exist in harmony with those of other religions (and none) is no enemy to this evangelising mission. In fact, I would say, the evangelising mission will not progress without it. The only way you can convert someone with whom you live in enmity is by force, and to seek conversions by such means is completely against God’s will.
So let’s give Brother Tony a fair go. I think his speech was a fine example of the way in which this new convert intends to live out his Catholic apostolate.