Monday, November 26, 2007

Should Tony Blair have talked about his faith?

Alastair Campbell famously said he didn't do God. The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, thinks he should have done. The former Prime Minister himself, in Part Three of The Blair Years to be screened next Sunday, explains that while there is no point pretending he doesn't have a personal faith, he didn't want to come over as a "nutter."

This raises a difficult question for me. As a Christian, I not only approve of politicians who are influenced by Jesus's teaching, I would have difficulty voting for one who wasn't. The main reason I could never bring myself to vote for Neil Kinnock even though he made possibly the greatest speech of the last 30 years was that he was a self-confessed atheist.

But at the same time, I also dislike politicians who claim, or appear to claim, that they have some sort of "hotline" to God that influences not just their general political thinking, but individual political decisions. Mr Blair has clearly implied this in the past in relation to Iraq, for instance.

Whether or not this made him look like a "nutter," it certainly brought Christianity into disrepute by making it appear as if the Christian "viewpoint" on Iraq was pro-war, when in fact the question of whether the Biblical commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill extends to military conflict has always been a hotly-disputed theologically issue.

So I am not entirely sure I agree with Dr Nazir-Ali on this, although it doesn't entirely surprise me to see him criticising Mr Blair. He was, after all, George Carey's chosen successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, but the former Prime Minister went for Dr Rowan Williams instead.

The problem with Tony Blair was not that he was a Christian, nor even that he occasionally made references to the fact, but that he too often allowed himself to sound as if he, alone, had the mind of Christ. The truth is none of us can claim that - at least, not this side of Heaven.

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skipper said...

I think you are mistaken to feel you could not vote for an atheist- though accept this may be a faith based view on your part. Surely it is what someone actually says and then does which are ultimately the most important evidence of a person's qualities?

Liam Murray said...

You're being a little unfair on Blair by trotting out that 'God will judge' story from Parky. If I recall at the time he was asked directly how his religious faith sustained him in the face of difficult decisions. He explicitly says that the public make a judgement and, if you're a believer, so does God. It's a fairly non-contentious observation that by the following day was contorted into 'God will judge me- - a gross distortion of what he actually said...

Anonymous said...

I think the real issue here - and presumably one you were trying to bring out, Paul - is whether politicians ought to make such blasé decisions about whether and when to wear their "I'm a Believer" t-shirts.

Surely sincere religious faith isn't something that can be turned up, or muted, like the volume on a TV set, depending on the circumstances?

I would rather trust the word of a declared atheist than a politician who is happy to let his apparent* beliefs play second fiddle to his career.

[*No matter what they say, you can never know what someone else really believes, can you?]

Anonymous said...

You'll only support a politician who shares your religious views!? I really wonder who put this foolish idea in your head. What amazes me is that you seem so proud of your foolishness.

Politaholic said...

I had no idea you were so narrow minded Paul; I am an atheist myself but I would vote for a religious believer if I thought he was a decent guy whose political views were at least close to my own. I would regard his religious beliefs as foolish but - to me (not to him, of course) - irrelevant. Is it your view that a person without religious beliefs cannot be decent or honest, or have reasonable political opinions? Very strange.

Paul Linford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Linford said...

I think this post seems to have been slightly misunderstood. If that was because it was rather badly worded, then I accept responsibility for that.

Anyway, I did not say, and did not intend to imply, that I would never vote for someone who was not a Christian, merely that I would prefer to vote for someone who was, or who at the very least acknowledged the debt to Christian teaching in their political thought (many socialists do this without actually acknowledging Jesus as a personal saviour.)

I gave the particular example of Neil Kinnock in my post, which was perhaps not the best example I could have given that in the '92 election he was up against two opponents in John Major and Oaddy Ashdown who both turned out to be adulterers, but if I am honest I have to admit that Kinnock's self-proclaimed atheism did put me off voting for him. Maybe in retrospect this was a wrong call on my part, but I included the story simply to demonstrate that religious beliefs are an important, if not necessarily always a defining factor in determining how I cast my vote.

I hope this explains my position slightly better.