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Tony Blair at the National Prayer Breakfast

During the National Prayer Breakfast, which itself causes some consternation among atheists, former Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a speech stating that “restoring religious faith to its rightful place” is crucial to our world’s future.

There’s a clip on YouTube of part of his speech. I listened to it today and was saddened. While his speech was definitely appropriate for the venue, it highlighted some things that many atheists (and some non-atheists) feel are huge barriers to civil, benevolent behavior and scientific progress in our world.

I believe restoring religious faith to its rightful place as the guide to our world and its future is itself of the essence.

The 21st century will be poorer in spirit, meaner in ambition, less disciplined in conscience, if it is not under the guardianship of faith in God.

I beg to differ. I think recent history has demonstrated, rather vividly, just the opposite. From the atrocities in Iraq (before and after the U.S. invasion) to the situation between Israelis and Palestinians to the oppression in Saudi Arabia to the sexual indiscretions of Catholic priests, religious faith has undeniably demonstrated its function as a catalyst for mean-spirited ambition, inexcusable behavior, subjugation of human rights, and horrid acts of violence.

Continuing his speech, Mr. Blair tries a bit of appeasement to Humanists, but fails.

Neither do I decry the work of Humanists, who give gladly of themselves for others and who can often shame the avowedly religious.

Those who do God’s work are God’s people.

I only say there are limits to Humanism and beyond those limits, God and only God can work.

The first sentence is nice to hear, but the following sentences turn it into a slap in the face. Evidently, because Humanists do good things, they are doing “God’s work” and are therefore “God’s people.” I think there are plenty of Humanists who would stridently object to that classification.

Then Mr. Blair continues by saying that, even though Humanists can do some nice things, they are inferior players to those who maintain a faith in God. What seemed to start as an attempt to include non-believers turned into a degrading insult.

I suppose the limits of Humanism are those limits which keep us from torturing fellow human beings, stifling religious freedom, wantonly killing those with opposing beliefs, and oppressing women. To do those things without limits, you need faith in God… and the overdeveloped sense of indignant self-righteousness that comes along with it.

The phrase “Fear of God” conjures up the vengeful god of parts of the Old Testament, but “fear of God” means really allegiance to God, humility before God, acceptance through God that there is something bigger, better, and more important than you.

I was immediately struck by the inclusion of the words “parts of” in that phrase. The Biblical god is only vengeful in “parts” of the Old Testament? What comes to mind is a quote by Richard Dawkins about how the God of the Old Testament is, perhaps, the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Perhaps Mr. Blair needs to go back and read his Bible to get a better perspective.

I’m also puzzled about his new definition of the word “fear.” The first entry at Dictionary.com says “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.” The fourth definition is “reverential awe” but I don’t know that that can translate to allegiance, humility, and acceptance, especially given the primary definition of fear. The Old Testament is a horrifying testimony to the use of fear as a coercive method of strong-arming followers into obedience, but Christianity is certainly not the only religion to use fear as a marketing tool.

I don’t need a god to show me that there is something bigger, better, and more important than myself. I can take one look at my daughter and know that there’s something better and more important. I can look at my friends and know there’s something bigger. I can look at society, country, and world and know that I’m but a small part of a larger whole… a whole that exists without a supernatural entity.

And it is that humbling of man’s vanity, that stirring of conscience through God’s prompting, that recognition of our limitations… that faith alone can bestow.

As I started to state above, faith in a god is not necessary for any of those things. One look at the world makes me humble. One look into the expansive, star-filled evening sky makes me feel both insignificant and elated at the overwhelming complexity of the universe in which I live. One look at a suffering child, and my conscience stirs, even if that child is half a world away. One look at a ballet dancer, a soaring hawk, a sprinting cheetah, or a seemingly mile-high sequoia immediately lets me recognize my limitations. God is simply not involved in that process.

We can perform acts of mercy, but only God can lend them true dignity

We can forgive, but only God forgives completely in the full knowledge of our sin.

And only through God comes grace and it is God’s grace that is unique.

I would just let these statements go as Mr. Blair’s faith-based opinion, to which anyone is entitled, but they are more than just opinions. They are insults. They trivialize the actions of benevolent human beings to a degree that is astoundingly reprehensible and all but dismiss any benevolent actions by non-believers. The implication is that no act of kindness means anything without God… that forgiveness of a fellow human being is invalid… that no kind, gentle person in this world can give and receive happiness without God’s interference…

…that no non-believers are valuable.

2 Comments

  1. Patricia Saunderson says:

    When and only when a person has truly experienced God in relationship, does that person understand the Grace and magnitude of our Heavenly Father. It is hard to impossible for others to understand what Tony Blair was saying at this time because they lack that experience.

    To have this experience of God as Father, Saviour, deliverer is the most awesome secure and only place that I and many others want to be in this world of pain and misery.

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