Some extracts from Tony Blairs lecture today at Westminster Cathedral. BBC report here, but its much more productive to actually read the lecture: full text here. Lots of good and interesting stuff, from someone who's clearly done a lot of thinking. I hope people engage with the substance of the lecture, rather than focusing on a few soundbites.
religious faith is a good thing in itself, that so far from being a reactionary force, it has a major part to play in shaping the values which guide the modern world, and can and should be a force for progress. But it has to be rescued on the one hand from the extremist and exclusionary tendency within religion today; and on the other from the danger that religious faith is seen as an interesting part of history and tradition but with nothing to say about the contemporary human condition.
....Today, precisely because all the fixed points of reference seem unfixed and constantly in flux; today is more than ever, when we need to discover and re-discover our essential humility before God, our dignity as found in our lives being placed at the service of the Source and Goal of everything. I can’t prove that religious faith offers something more than humanism. But I believe profoundly that it does. And since religious faith has such a strong historical and cultural influence on both East and West, it can help unify around common values what otherwise might be a battle for domination.
....For religion to be a positive force for good, it must be rescued not simply from extremism –faith as a means of exclusion; but also from irrelevance - an interesting part of our history but not of our future. Too many people see religious faith as represented in stark dogmatism and empty ritualism. Faith is reduced to a system of strange convictions and actions that, to some, can appear far removed from the necessities and anxieties of ordinary life. It is this face that gives militant secularism an easy target. It mocks certain of the practices and traditions of organised religion which they define as ‘faith’. ‘Faith’ is to be found in the cassocks and the gowns and the rituals.
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.
...Faith is not something separate from our reason, still less from society around us, but integral to it, giving the use of reason a purpose and society a soul, and human beings a sense of the divine.This is the life purpose that cannot be found in constitutions, speeches, stirring art or rhetoric. It is a purpose uniquely centred around kneeling before God.
Actually, looking at the line-up of speakers and topics, every single lecture will be worth a look. Maybe it is worth living in London after all.
(Update: a few blog links: Cranmer is not convinced, Theos today links to some of the media response, Stephen Bubb was there but it sounds like he spent most of his time picking up the names he carelessly dropped ;-), New Humanist also posts on the story and links to various media stories. Ruth Gledhill , who seems to get younger with every new picture of herself, picks out Blairs reasons for not 'doing God' as PM, something he now seems to be liberated from. )