Tony Blair Faith Foundation
Comment at end
UPDATED 8th September, 2008
4th June, 2008
The speech by Tony Blair at the launch of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation at the Time Warner Centre, New York on Friday, May 30th, 2008
TONY BLAIR’S SPEECH ON HIS FAITH FOUNDATION & ITS GOALS
[Ed: The hyperlinks added are at my sole discretion, hopefully to expand on various issues mentioned in Mr Blair’s speech]
“Last month in Westminster Cathedral, I set out the purpose of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. It will concern itself with the six leading faiths: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jewish. Today we launch the first of a series of partnerships to give effect to that purpose.
Let me describe the reason for this Foundation. The world is undergoing tumultuous change. Globalization, underpinned by technology, is driving much of it, breaking down boundaries, altering the composition of whole communities, even countries and creating circumstances in which new challenges arise that can only be met effectively together. Interdependence is now the recognised human condition.
So, the characteristic of today’s world is change. The consequence is a world opening up, and becoming interdependent. The conclusion is that we make sense of this interdependence through peaceful co-existence and working together to resolve common challenges.
In turn, this requires an attitude, a state of mind, an emotional as well as an intellectual response consistent with this conclusion. A sentiment that we are members of a global community as well as individual nations means we must be global citizens as well as citizens of our own country.
All this sounds impossibly idealistic.
But if the analysis of the nature of the world is as I set out, then it is in fact the only practical way to organise our affairs. Idealism becomes the new realism.
This is especially so since the world is changing in other ways too. Power is shifting east. The centre of gravity of political interest and political power is moving. The emergence of China and India, has been obvious, in prospect, for years. Now it is here in our lives, in practical impact. And not just in the Far East, but the near East too.
Just think of an institution like the G7; think of when it was founded and its members; think if it were invented today and how different that membership would be. The 20th Century order is history. There is a new reality. We have to come to terms with it. And it implies, at its fundamentals, peaceful co-existence or catastrophe.
Into this new world, comes the force of religious faith. Gallup have kindly made available for me today, the latest polling information in their rolling poll of religious attitudes, which is a hugely important source of analysis.
Here is what the polling shows.
Most Christians want better relations between Christianity and Islam but believe most Muslims don’t. Most Muslims want better relations but believe most Christians don’t. Most Americans think most Muslims do not accept other religions. Actually most Muslims say they want greater and not lesser interaction between religions.
In answer to the question: “is religion an important part of your life”, many Muslim countries’ citizens answer in the high 80’s or 90’s as a percentage; in the US it is around 70%; in the UK and mainland Europe it is under 40%. Interestingly, though, even in the UK over a third of people say it is important.
So: religion matters and there is a lot of fear around between the faiths.
In summary, you cannot understand the modern world unless you understand the importance of religious faith. Faith motivates, galvanises, organises and integrates millions upon millions of people.
Here is the crucial point. Globalisation is pushing people together. Interdependence is reality. Peaceful co-existence is essential. If faith becomes a countervailing force, pulling people apart, it becomes destructive and dangerous.
If, by contrast, it becomes an instrument of peaceful co-existence, teaching people to live with difference, to treat diversity as a strength, to respect “the other”, then Faith becomes an important part of making the 21st Century work. It enriches, it informs, it provides a common basis of values and belief for people to get along together.
I believe, as someone of Faith that religious faith has a great role to play in an individual’s life.
But even if I didn’t, even if I was of no faith, I would still believe in the central necessity of people of faith learning to live with each other in mutual respect and peace.
That is the “why” of the Foundation. Now for the “what”.
There are many excellent meetings, convocations, conferences and even organisations that work in the inter-faith area. We do not want to replicate what they do.
We do not want to engage in a doctrinal inquiry.
We do not want to subsume different faiths in one faith of the lowest common denominator.
We want to show faith in action.
We want to produce greater understanding between faiths through encounter.
We want people of one faith to be comfortable with those of another because they know what they truly believe, not what they thought they might believe.
There will be four specific aspects to our work on which we concentrate today.
First, the Foundation aims to educate. We begin today with the association with Yale University. Yale’s School of Divinity and School of Management will help design a new course called “Faith and Globalisation”. It will run over three years.
I will lead a series of seminars each Fall, starting in September 2008. The idea is to create a course which, over time, can become an enduring part of Yale’s teaching; can be spun off to other universities in different parts of the globe; can stimulate original research and be a resource for those working in this field.
We are going to use new and interactive media to engage young people of different faiths. Annika Small, who has done such a brilliant job with Future Lab in the UK bringing together software and education, has agreed to head up this part of the Foundation’s work.
We are in discussion with leading publishers about a specific publishing imprint for the Foundation and with others to create a set of programmes explaining the world of faith. We will make announcements of these partnerships later in the year.
We will use the material we design not just for young people and faith communities but also for business and the worlds of commerce and politics.
We cannot afford religious illiteracy. No modern company would today be ignorant of race or gender issues. The same should be true of faith.
Secondly, we are announcing the first of our partnerships to mobilise those of faith in pursuit of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Today we call on the 4 billion people of faith in the world to help do more to end the scourge of malaria that has killed so many millions of our fellow human beings and will kill many more unless eradicated.
We are joining with the Malaria No More Campaign, a wonderful organisation whose mission is to end death through malaria in the next 5 – 10 years. Saleema will talk more about it. Put simply over one million people die of malaria each year. Their deaths are preventable. In Africa, 40% of victims are Muslim. But across much of Asia, malaria continues to strike and combating it is a huge opportunity for people across the faiths – Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist as well as the Abrahamic faiths – to act in unison.
The solution lies in distributing bed nets and medicines. The resources are becoming available. But the need to get the bed nets and medicines to the people and see them properly used, is where the faiths, who are present in each of the affected communities, can help. Our purpose will be to help mobilise the different Faiths in pursuit of this goal.
Thirdly, we believe that inter-faith interaction can benefit from a physical structure to which people can come, to learn, to discuss and to contemplate. We have agreed to partner the proposal initiated by the Co-Exist Foundation to establish Abraham House in London.
Though expressly about the Abrahamic faiths, it will be open to those from the wider faith community. It will be a standing exhibition, library and convention centre for the inter-faith world. The extraordinary success of the “Sacred Texts” exhibition at the British Library last year shows the potential for such an initiative.
Finally, we will help organisations whose object is to counter extremism and promote reconciliation in matters of religious faith. Though there is much focus, understandably, on extremism associated with the perversion of the proper faith of Islam, there are elements of extremism in every major faith. It is important where people of good faith combat such extremism, that they are supported.
To summarise, the possibilities of a world of change are enormous.
This is a century rich in potential to solve problems, provide prosperity to all, to overcome longstanding issues of injustice that previously we could not surmount. But it only works if the values which inform the change are values that unify and do not divide. Religious faith has a profound role to play.
For good or for ill.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation will try to make it for good.”
Blair tells Time of his hopes for his Faith Foundation