Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Blair's Calculation

Ophelia Benson answers the claim that Tony Blair converted to The One Truth Faith -- you know, Catholicism -- after much "thought and reflection:"

Wouldn't you think it requires something more like the avoidance of thought, the abdication of thought? To say you believe all that the 'Holy' Catholic Church proclaims to be revealed by God is to say you believe something very all-encompassing, very broad, very dogmatic, and very evidence-free. What does that have to do with thought? Dogmatic belief is not the same thing as thought, and in many ways it's the negation of it.
True. But maybe the "thought and reflection" is a self-serving calculation, the sort that is encouraged by Pascal's Wager, in which the convert is looking to avoid a very scary hell. Maybe he recently read James Joyce's depiction of Catholic hell or had a terrifying dream featuring an eternity of 24 and American Idol reruns?

But no, the calculation appears to be rather more sublunary than fears of the afterlife. Joining a high-profile "faith community" will, he seems to have calculated, further the street cred of his new initiative, the Faith Foundation:
He has set his Faith Foundation two tasks: producing educational material and bringing together different faith organisations to work towards the UN Millennium Development Goals. The latter is particularly ambitious. The goals can be seen as a to-do list entitled “achieving world peace”. Combat extreme poverty and hunger — check. Achieve universal primary education — check. Combat HIV and Aids — check. The list goes on.
From there the Times article, showing every sign of not having originated in an American newsroom, poses some rather sticky questions:
However, is this where Mr Blair’s Faith Foundation will come unstuck? Once the priests, imams and rabbis get together to discuss how best to tackle Aids in Africa, will there be a tricky argument about whether distributing condoms is a better method of tackling the epidemic than promoting “abstinence-only” programmes?

He gives a very Tony Blair sigh. Such questions miss the point of his foundation. “Irrespective of what your position might be on Aids and the use of condoms and so on, actually to get the faith communities to work together to deal with the killer diseases, is going to be tough enough as a thing to do . . . but that’s not where I’m starting from.” He says that he does not wish his foundation to get bogged down in arguments about doctrines.
No amount of sighing removes the force of these questions. I'm willing to concede that Blair does not wish his foundation to get bogged down in arguments about doctrines; arguably no religious believer wishes to be bogged down in disputes over doctrine (which are disputes about what god wants, expects, and hates), but this is only to say religious believers want all the other doctrines to vanish. But since they're all just assertions and counter-assertions that lack all the benefits and burdens of supporting evidence, these disputes do and will persist so long as people find it necessary to wish god into existence and divine his druthers.

Faith, considered as a verb rather than a noun, doesn't unite people. It divides them by the ideas they hold and denies the usual standards by which conflicting ideas might be compared. I don't know what secret unity Tony Blair spies behind all the heated damnations and counter-damnations of this faith-addled world, but if looking for it keeps him out of George W. Bush's lap, it is not totally useless.

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