Christianity and Europe: Tony Blair's View at Yale University - Part I

In 1996, the year before he became prime minister, Tony Blair published a collection of his speeches and articles under the title New Britain: My Vision of a Young Country. In that book Blair inserts the history of Britain within the larger context of the history of Christianity and very much in the tradition of Christopher Dawson, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and George Santayana, underlines the fact that one will understand precious little of Great Britain and even less of the whole of Europe’ s history and development, on every level, unless one manages to learn well the history of Christianity. To do that one need not be necessarily a believer. And in fact, the approach in that book is analytical and intellectual revealing little of Blair’s personal relationship with the divine. Nevertheless, we do know that Tony Blair, the son of a militant atheist began his exploration of Christianity while at Oxford in the early 1970s and subsequently embraced Anglicanism in 1974 and later on Catholicism; this too was in the tradition of C.S. Lewis, G.K Chesterton, and Christopher Dawson.

Here are a few excerpts from chapter 7 of the above mentioned book (titled “Why I Am a Christian”):  “First a politician’s health warning: I can’t stand politicians who wear God on their sleeves; I do not pretend to be any better or less selfish than any-one else; I do not believe that Christians should only vote Labour; and I do not discuss my religious beliefs unless asked, and, when I do, I discuss them personally. Of course, they influence my politics, but I do not wish to force them on anyone else…Easter, a time of rebirth and renewal, has a special significance for me, and in a sense, my politics. My vision of society reflects a faith in the human spirit and its capacity to renew itself…I am often asked how my religious convictions have played a role in the emergence of my political thinking. First, my view of Christian values led me to oppose what I perceived to be the narrow view of self-interest that Conservatism—particularly its modern, more right-wing form—represents. But Tories, I think, have too selfish a definition of self-interest. They fail to look beyond, to the community and the individual’s relationship with the community. That is the essential reason why I am on the Left rather than on the Right…Christianity is more than a one-to-one relationship between the individual and God, important as that is. The relationship also has to be with the outside world. Second, Christianity helped to inspire my rejection of Marxism….The problem with Marxist ideology was that, in the end, it suppressed the individual by starting with society. But it is from a sense of individual duty that we connect the greater good and the interests of the community—a principle the Church celebrates in the sacrament of communion.”

During his lengthy tenure as Prime Minister, Blair seldom revealed to his constituent the kind of private compass to his life that faith represents for him. Now that he is no longer directly involved in politics and the constraints of high office and voters’ opinion, he has made religion the center piece of this new phase of his life. He has established the Tony Blair Faith Foundation whose mission is to foster greater understanding among people of various religions by involving them in collaborative projects, such as development efforts and dialogue. It is a simple yet vast undertaking: to make religion a force for good as globalization mixes together people of different cultures and faiths.

The US operations of the foundation will be headquartered at Yale University. In the fall of 2008 Blair has co-taught a course at Yale, with the eminent Christian theologian Miroslav Volf. The course’s theme was the intersecting forces of faith and globalization. It was the first of three seminars that Blair has committed himself to teach at Yale and it immediately followed the unveiling of his Faith Foundation in the summer of 2008. A press conference launched the foundation at the Time Warner Center in New York was hosted by Christiane Amanpour and Bill Clinton who provided the opening remarks.

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