Understanding or Freedom of Conscience?
Tony Blair concluded his quartet of themes in his
speech to the Global Ethics Foundation at Tubigen University, Germany on June
30 with a section on "religious faith and understanding".
His thesis in this section was: "There is a
contradiction between trying to renew the doctrine of community politically;
and ignoring the dimension of inter-faith understanding. Faith and
reason," he said, "are not opponents but partners."
We have already seen how his doctrine of
"community" means the denial of the responsibility of society and
government nationally for the claims of all the members of society;
internationally it means the negation of the rights of all peoples to chose
their own path of social development, being subject to the dictates of the
values of "progressive governance" and big power hegemony. What Tony
Blair is now proposing is that his doctrine of "community"
necessarily entails a dimension of "inter-faith understanding". This
demonstrates how stuck is Tony Blair in the thinking of 19th century
liberalism. This liberalism encompassed a doctrine of "religious
tolerance", while upholding the established church with the monarch as
"defender of the faith". Thus, rather than regarding religion and
belief as a matter of individual conscience, there was an official state
religion while all other religious minorities were "tolerated". These
official state values were then imposed on the empire, while the subject
peoples were subject to genocide and slavery.
Together with "inter-faith understanding" goes an
identification of "community" with religious faith. Then, Tony
Blair's argument goes, "All our faiths make up our global community."
This then leads the way to the conclusion that since "it is only by clear
commitment to shared values that we survive and prosper in a world of
change", then "surely religious faith has its own part to play in
deepening such commitment". The exclusion of all those who do not
subscribe to such "shared values" is complete, and religious faith,
far from being a matter of conscience in which the state has no business
interfering in any way, becomes an indispensable requirement to "manage
change". Religious faith becomes a tool in such logic to maintain the
status quo and define community and communities. Tony Blair even goes so far as
to say, "Religions can help to make our communities communities of values.
The inevitability of globalisation demands a parallel globalisation of our best
ethical values." Freedom of conscience is denied, while communities are to
be identified with religions on the one hand, and all individuals are denied
their inalienable right to be equal members of the body politic and be the
agents of change, of the making of history.
According to Tony Blair, all faiths are "different
ways of pondering the same fundamental question: the nature of existence".
But the nature of the world and the nature of social existence are not
questions of faith and cannot be equated with questions of values, and to do so
violates both the right to freedom of conscience on the one hand and the
objectivity of scientific knowledge on the other.
How far Tony Blair goes to deny the right to freedom of
conscience is clear from his conclusion that what were traditionally
"religious values" - "solidarity, justice, peace and the dignity
of the human person" - are now "universal values". He explicitly
equates these in the political sphere with "communitarianism or civil
society". He goes on, "Wherever you find a group that has managed to
break free of the encircling bonds of poverty and deprivation, there you will
invariably find strong families, associations and communities of faith."
So his argument is complete - the blame for poverty and deprivation lies not
with the social system and globalisation but by implication with the
abandonment of family values, of community and of religious belief. The results
of the breakdown of the social fabric of society, rather than underlining the
absolute necessity for the revolutionary transformation of society are made the
premise for the retrogression to outdated conceptions which have the aim of
maintaining the status quo, of "managing change".
The new world that beckons is not, in Tony Blair's words,
"a new world, global values, reaching out beyond national frontiers and
ideological horizons, that will guide us to our destination: a more peaceful,
secure and prosperous world for all". It is rather a new world of the
elimination of the exploitation of persons by persons, nationally and
internationally, where the people are sovereign and can decide their own
destiny, where the rights of all are recognised by virtue of their humanity, of
being human. Only then will it make sense and be progressive to speak of
building a global community, with an international community which will indeed
be the human race.