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

Continued from Christianity and Europe: Tony Blair’s View at Yale University - Part II

The 25 students who took the course co-taught by Blair (chosen from 270 who applied; a microcosm of globalization from various cultures and faiths) describe his teaching method as Socratic; one of probing questions and tentative answers. He has discarded the air of seasoned authority on the subject. He appears to be exploring the truth himself rather than delivering it. His co-teacher has said that Blair gives the impression of moving toward something without being completely sure yet, what it is.

The course basically explores the extent and causes of religious resurgence, also situations in which religion has proved to be an oppressive force, as well as situations when it has been largely positive. As per the syllabus of the course: “the conditions under which robust religious allegiances can constructively be employed in the pluralistic environment of an increasingly interconnected world.” Which is to say, the aim is to arrive at a holistic picture; not a cherry picked or biased one, for or contra religion wherein caricatures abound and few insights are garnished. The course was developed in concert with the Yale Divinity School (a school across which I resided for the four years of my residence at the Yale Graduate School in the 70s when I was studying for my Ph.D. in Italian humanism) which has been working hard lately on Muslim-Christian reconciliation. Also with the Yale School of Management which has highlighted the work of religious groups to bring about debt relief for African nations. Blair hopes that the course will serve as a template for similar courses at other institutions and to that goal he has made a three year teaching commitment to Yale.

It ought to be noted here that Blair, as mentioned above, has further converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism but only after leaving office because he did not wish that action to be misunderstood. His wife and children were already Catholics and now he can take communion with them when they worship together. As he put to his students in a class in October:

If you are a person of faith and are engaged, people seem to think that everything you do is because of some special relationship you are claiming with God. But, for example, if you take a decision, as I took on several occasions, to engage in military conflict, to go to war—leave aside whether you agree or disagree with individual decisions—there isn’t a transmission where your faith tells you that this the right way to decide this issue. But if you are assessing of whether you are going to do it or you are not going to do it, the issue of right or wrong is important, and actually in my view should outweigh the issue of constituency—or indeed, I would even say, constitution. I put that up as a question. I think that faith in that sense can be progressive. Not—and you must understand what I am saying here—not because the decision is necessarily the right decision. But progressive in the sense that issues to do with right and wrong are part of the decision-making progress.

Now, if I understand Blair, he is saying that the classical universal ethical criteria to judge right and wrong, which are not purely religious but go back to Plato and Aristotle, ought to be applied in arriving at momentous decisions and not simply judge whether or not they are in the interest of one’s country in a relativistic mode.

Be that as it may, those 25 chosen students will eventually disseminate those ideas found in the seminar’s syllabus by developing curricula for secondary school students. To be sure, the cynics, believers and non-believers, whom we’ll always have with us, have decried the futility of such an enterprise against the rage and the violence perpetrated in God’s name and will continue confusing freedom of religion with cults of various stripes which enslave and coerce. But Blair has a different view and remains adamant insisting that “what most people want is a sense of purpose derived from spirituality in their lives.” Ultimately his fight is against those who’d like to use faith to shut themselves off from other people and against the religion bashers who’d like to reduce religion to a mere caricature. Like President Obama, he is gambling on the idea that there is an immense constituency for peaceful coexistence among all nations and all people. In fact, Obama’s recent inauguration may be seen as a symbol and emblem of such an idea.

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