Blair (the baptist or the eunuch?) pulls them in at HTB

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23rd July, 2009

THE PULLING POWER OF THE WORLD’S PRIME COMMUNICATOR

nickygumbel_interviewsTonyBlair_21july09_HTB

Tony Blair spoke to 1200 people at the Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London on Tuesday evening.  For Britain, that’s some church gathering, believe me. It is almost half the entire congregation of the largest Anglican congregation in the country. And they turned out in those numbers for a Catholic convert!?  Why? Because he is still a Christian? Perhaps.

But if he had converted to Islam or Judaism their numbers, if only for curiosity’s sake, might have been even greater.

No, it is clear to me.  Mr Blair, the political leader and most sought-after communicator in the world is missed more … far more than we are led to believe. It seems, Middle East ‘eunuch’ or not, Mr Blair still has pulling power.

You could have a field day with some of the quotes from Tony Blair’s words at the Holy Trinity Brompton on Tuesday night, as the Londoner’s Diary shows. (I’ve provided the heading below, as that site considers Nigella Lawson more interesting!)

Click here if you can’t wait to jump to the Holy Trinity’s report

PLEASING THE PEOPLE  – ON THE ROAD TO GAZA

Wondering if  “I pleased any of the people any of the time”, the former prime minister referred to – (presumably with a wry Blair smile) –  the eunuch who inspired him. Or rather, for the sake of accuracy, the inspiration he gets from the Bible story of Philip the Evangelist meeting the Eunuch on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza as referenced here, excerpt below:

It was Philip that The Lord sent to introduce the Gospel to the Ethiopians, and hence to Africa:

“And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship … Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.””And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:26-27,35-39 KJV)

Your guess is as good as mine or the Londoner’s Dairy writer as to whether Tony Blair, whose “optimism is severely challenged” in his Middle East role, identifies with the eunuch or with Philip the Evangelist? Possibly both, on a good day. (Of course he COULD be referring to another peace negotiator, the hard-pressed President Mubarak.)

The Londoner’s Diary here, quote:

Tony Blair is “doing God” with a vengeance these days and pitched up to Holy Trinity Brompton on Tuesday night to mingle with the Happy Clappy Old Etonian Anglicans. But while his religious faith sounded secure enough his faith in his own legacy seemed a bit more shaky. “When I started out as Prime Minister I wanted to please all the people all the time,” he says. “By the end I was wondering if I pleased any of the people any of the time.” Blair was also finding his role as Middle East peace envoy heavy going saying: “My optimism is severely challenged.” He found reading in The Bible about Philip the Evangelist meeting an Ethiopian Eunuch on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza a source of inspiration. He then offered a keen interpretation of The Parable of the Sower that it showed “the duty to use your ability.” Blair also made plain he was still keen on modernisation. He commended HTB for eschewing the “dead hand of traditionalism.”

FAITH IN FAITH?

Personally, I have long felt an itch of discomfort over Mr Blair’s ” faith in faith”, even though in principle I support the idea of bringing religious faiths closer together. Who couldn’t or wouldn’t?

That rhetorical sounding question is NOT actually rhetorical. I will expand on that later.

The main reasons for my unease are twofold:

Firstly, religious faith to me, as someone who chose as a child (and not through parental encouragement or family habit to be a regular churchgoing Christian) is above all associated with God and Jesus as written in the Bible.  Despite the ‘one-ness of God’,  a phrase so oft-repeated by those who can’t work out what the hell else to say to neuter religious differences, I found as a young adult in my religious studies that at root there was little monotheistic “one-ness” evident, but plenty of “me-ness” in all major religions.

For instance, Christians have faith in Jesus as God’s son, thus “Christianity”. Muslims believe in Allah and in Mohammed as Allah’s prophet, and from whom Allah’s message came the Q’uoran.  Jews believe in the Abrahamic covenant. But they all profess to want to do good and to love they neighbour, “do unto others” etc. And on the whole they do.  But that does NOT equal rational thinking on the place or power of even validity of all religions or even of any particular religion in this world. It answers no questions either as to their historically uneasy co-existence.

A little ASIDE for a quick comparison of these three Abrahamic religions:

a) Christianity: A monotheistic religion, like the other two, the American Heritage Dictionary defines a Christian as “one who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or lives the lifestyle based on the life and teachings of Jesus; one who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.”[5].

A wide range of beliefs and practices is found across the world among those who call themselves Christian. The Nicene Creed was established in the 4th century as an expression of Christian faith in the face of heresy.[6][7]

b) Muslims too believe in the “oneness of God”. They also seem to insist that ALL those of other religions are Muslim, despite Islam being the youngest of the three. Rati0nal, or what? (See Wikipedia.) Their holy book, the Qur’an describes many Biblical prophets and messengers as Muslim: Adam, Noah (Arabic: Nuh), Moses and Jesus and his apostles. The Qur’an states that these men were Muslims because they submitted to God, preached his message and upheld his values. Thus, in Surah 3:52 of the Qur’an, Jesus’ disciples tell Jesus, “We believe in God; and you be our witness that we submit and obey (wa ashahadu bil-muslimūna).”

c) Jews believe in the Covenant between God and Abraham (ca. 2000 BCE), the patriarch and progenitor of the Jewish nation.  Wikipedia. In modern Judaism, central authority is not vested in any single person or body, but in sacred texts, religious law, and learned rabbis who interpret those texts and laws. The ethnoreligious nature of Judaism makes it an unwilling proselytising religion, unlike the other two. But is their ethnoreligious endogamy any the better for its exclusiveness?

Of the three only Christianity seems to be comfortable with marriage across religions. And none of them has come to God without the help of a “middle-man”.

So I keep returning to this question: isn’t it a NEGATION of all one believes in, if religious, to have a general umbrella-like faith in faith? A denial of Jesus, of Mohammed, of Abraham? Of God?

The second reason for my unease in the Faith in Faith quest is this:

The emphasis on religious togetherness seems to see an all-encompassing answer to the world’s problems reachable when all come to their religious senses. And this despite the fact that MANY in the west have NO religious beliefs. I realise that many of the world’s wars have had religious differences at the root and this therefore obligates religious people to at least LOOK at the possibility of ending these differences. But, and you may think I am hitting my hero where it hurts now, I see it in the same category as the idea that “sort out the Israel/Palestine problem and you sort out the rest of the Middle East.” (I am permitted in this secular British democracy to express my own thoughts, even on someone I admire profoundly. He is NOT Jesus Christ,  and above criticism, despite rumours.  Apart from that I consider myself fortunate to have faith in people and Mr Blair still heads that list.)

Religion is only PART of the problem, though a major part. The floating of the idea that religious re-balancing may be all it takes is to disregard the fact that many secular, but non-religious people too have some major input into today’s societies. And they do NOT, as a group, bomb the life out of Christianity or any other religion.

I know that Mr Blair himself does not mean to send this message. Indeed he has often said that non-religious people should try to understand that faith is important for many if not for them, and involvement in religious togetherness does not and never should exclude unbelievers.

But sometimes I sense an attack on those who have no faith  – the secularists, atheists, even agnostics as though THEY are the problem. As though ALL who have ‘faith’ have good intentions despite the extremists on all sides, and the ‘ungodly’ are to be feared above all.

That, if I sense correctly, I reject wholeheartedly.

NON-BELIEVERS ARE NOT ‘THE ENEMY WITHIN’

People who have no belief or at least a very tentative acceptance of any kind of deity or external ‘spiritual’ presence are NOT the ‘enemy within’.  They are often the strongest advocates of liberal democracy, interpreted in all its variations. But the non-religious have absorbed and treasure the cultural secular weather from their usually Christian faith-based nation states.

They are to be found in the west more than anywhere else in the world, China excluded, and personally I identify with them.

Unexpectedly, I found myself defending Christianity some time back when Mr Blair seemed to me to lose the plot slightly when he said he could not understand what the fuss was about over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s words on the “inevitability of sharia law” in Britain. (See here for my questions and here for the transcript of Blair’s Church of England interview.)

I never heard him repeat that remark, so perhaps it was a bad day for clear thinking.

This brings me back to the ‘rhetorical’ nature of the question I posed earlier:

Personally, I have long felt an itch of discomfort over Mr Blair’s ” faith in faith”, even though in principle I support the idea of bringing religious faiths closer together. Who couldn’t or wouldn’t?

At least ONE major religion seems to want nothing to do with bringing faiths closer together if the writer quoted here is accurate. Its aim is seemingly for all of us to see the world from its perspective. And it has heavy-handed ways of persuading us. Another of the three Abrahamic religions is warmer but still coolish to the idea of togetherness fearing subjugation or even complete destruction as turmoil in various parts of the Middle East threatens to submerge its identity altogether.

So that leaves Christianity as the moving force for togetherness.

Is that how it should be?


HUT’S APPROACH TO “INTER-FAITH”?

Jihad Watch reports here on the anti-Semitic and Anti-Christian propaganda on display at  the recent Hut meeting in the USA. Excerpt:

“Interfaith Deceit” blared a front-page headline about such programs in the April 2009 issue of The Shield.

“Just what is the meaning of ‘interfaith’?” the newsletter asked in a front-page commentary. “It means to exchange, to come to a mutual agreement with one another, to reciprocate, share, join, belong equally with each other in common, to trust, accept, etc. In other words, it is an attempt to get Muslims to compromise their Deen (Way of Life).

If Muslims used such interactions to speak about the superiority of Islam and persuade non-Muslims to convert, then dialogue with non believers would be acceptable:”


JESUS’S LEADERSHIP & LEGACY TO FREE PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD

Leadership is lacking at the top of Islam and even at the top of Judaism. Neither are constructed in that way. And the Pope only leads part of Christianity. That always needs to be borne in mind when we are working out who or what are the authoritative decision-making voices in religious quarters.

But Mr Blair thinks it is worth the effort to try from the bottom up, and he may well be right.

But not, Mr Blair NOT at the dilution or even the cost of the west’s Christian-based cultural heritage.

  • THAT is what has brought us liberal democracy.
  • THAT is what has brought us capitalism, for all its faults.
  • THAT is what has made the west the invention and discovery basket of the world in the last several centuries.
  • And above all THAT is what has brought us freedom of choice and the resultant freedom to live as free men and women, religious or not.

Nothing … no attachment to a faith in faith or a belief in a deity, common or uncommon, must be allowed to get in the way of living as we know we should, and as it happens as Jesus would have wanted us – as FREE peoples.

That is Jesus’s legacy to us.

From an unbeliever to a believer – don’t throw it away.

I have faith in you.


BLAIR AT THE HOLY TRINITY CHURCH, BROMPTON, LONDON, 21st July 2009

Pasted below from the Holy Trinity Brompton website.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of his personal Christian faith, his work in the Middle East and his vision for his Faith Foundation at a church event attended by 1,200 people on Tuesday night.

Mr Blair was interviewed by the Rev’d Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of the Alpha course, at Holy Trinity Brompton, London, as part of a series of interviews with prominent people run by the 3,000-member church, the largest Anglican congregation in the country.

Mr Blair spoke of how his faith came alive at university and the influence it had upon him both as prime minister and since, adding that he was convinced that vast numbers of young people in Britain today were searching for some spiritual input in their lives.

His comments included:

ON HIS PERSONAL FAITH

‘If you have religious faith, it is in the end the most important thing in your life, so it is not an adjunct. It is at the core. So prayer and re-reading the bible I find really important. Every single time I learn something new…’

He spoke about the story of Jesus calming the storm and how he went back to it time and again in difficult times. He said, ‘That’s a passage I used to find a lot of comfort in when things – as they often did – looked really grim. Then you would go back and draw comfort from it…’
‘It was always difficult to talk about this when I was in office because it was very hard to get a sensible hearing on it…’

‘Because I’m a Christian doesn’t make me better. I think it may make me more aware of my own sinfulness… It doesn’t make me a better person. People sometimes think when you say “I’m a Christian”, you are saying “I’m superior to you”.

THE CHALLENGE FOR CHRISTIANITY

‘I think that all parts of organized Christianity face the same challenge… I think the danger for our faith today is that you get a quite aggressive secularism from without…’
‘Tradition is a good thing to have but it mustn’t be a dead hand. What we actually need to do is to be in a position where you can enthuse and get young people interested in it – talk to them in the right way and explain to them how we feel and so on. And the interesting thing is that when you do that it works.’

ON HIS FAITH FOUNDATION (which works with all the major faith communities to bring aid to the poorest in society):

‘We are supporting the United Nations in particular with the anti-malaria campaign. Malaria kills about a million people in sub-Saharan Africa a year. We know what prevents it. If we take the right measures with bed-nets and medicines and health workers, we can significantly reduce deaths. In the places we have done it we have reduced deaths by half…’

‘The faith communities in the wealthy parts of society like ours can raise awareness and raise money and so on… But here’s the other thing: in some of these remote parts of Africa there won’t be a health clinic or a hospital for many miles so people can often not access health care – but every community has a church or a mosque. So the idea is to use the church and the mosque as the distribution centre for the bed-nets, the medicines and for the health workers to give advice. I think it is a great ambition for the Christian church. I think it would be wonderful if we could involve the world of Islam in it as well…

After the hour-long interview, Mr Blair received a sustained ovation from the 1,200-strong audience, who were almost all members of the congregation at Holy Trinity Brompton.

Nicky Gumbel has been Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton since 2005. He has pioneered the Alpha course, a 15-session introduction to Christianity, which has grown from a single parish to 40,000 churches of all denominations in the last 16 years.

Further information about Holy Trinity Brompton can be found at htb.org.uk; the Alpha course at Alpha.org and Alphafriends.org; and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation at tonyblairfaithfoundation.org.

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I promise to sit up and pay REALLY CLOSE attention when Mr Blair is interviewed by an Islamic leader.

Visit the Tony Blair Faith Foundation website AND his Face to Faith link for young people of all religions.


RELATED

And …

“Rabbi David Rosen is on our advisory council as is the Chief Rabbi here. I think for obvious reasons in a way Jewish people know the dangers of faith being seen as a reason for excluding somebody, persecuting them,” he said … “I think the Jewish community has been really helpful to us in interfaith dialogue.”




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4 Responses to “Blair (the baptist or the eunuch?) pulls them in at HTB”

  1. Caela Says:

    So I keep returning to this question: isn’t it a NEGATION of all one believes in, if religious, to have a general umbrella-like faith in faith? A denial of Jesus, of Mohammed, of Abraham? Of God?

    A good question, one that depends entirely on what one believes in. Is faith really about the names, the personalities of a religion or the symbols it carries? Or is it something else. Something more powerful than that?

    I’m writing a series of articles on tribal mindset and group identities over at WYBITFAQ under The Walls of Division.

    • keeptonyblairforpm Says:

      Thanks, Caela. Will add your link to the above post.

      I don’t know the answer, having long ago decided that agnosticism was the only intellectually sound position to take in the absence of evidence of a deity. I just ask the questions in order to pinpoint the comparative positions taken by the three major religions, as I see them.

      If you don’t automatically or instinctively or intellectually or spiritually swallow the idea that there is a ‘GOD’, how can you expect to follow a “religion” of any sort if it is based on that acceptance, even if through a well-meaning middle-man such as the aforementioned Abraham, Mohammed or Jesus?

      The contradictions in today’s religious groups are too obvious for me to take any comfort from them. Having said that I am most definitely a secular, cultural Christian, as my western values have been shaped by that religion. So I will defend it to the bitter end. I DO hope Mr Blair will too.

  2. Ken Campble Says:

    23. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I do not know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

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