Saturday, December 22, 2007

On Tony Blair's Conversion to Catholicism and the Religious Character of States

It appears that Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and sometime representative of the Global elite in its perpetual management of the war between the People of Israel and Islam, has left the Anglican Church to embrace the religion of his wife and children--Roman Catholicism. Glen Owen and Nick Pisa, Blair DOES Do God--And Becomes a Catholic The Daily Mail, Dec. 22, 2007; Patrick Hennessy and Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Tony Blair Turns Catholic in Private Ceremony, The Telegraph, Dec. 23, 2007; Garry O'Connor, The Cherie Factor on the Road to Rome, The Daily Mail, Dec. 22, 2007; Vatican Hails Blair Church Switch, BBC News, Dec. 23, 2007. The whole affair has been well known and transpired in slow motion. Blair will be welcomed into Catholic fold via his ‘baptism of desire’, Times Online, May 17, 2007.

The progression from Anglican to Catholic faiths was marked by good manners all around. The Vatican apparatus, which had known of the conversion plans for some time, expressed satisfaction with the event. "One senior Vatican source said: "The Holy Father and the whole of the Vatican are delighted with the news. It is always a great joy to welcome a convert."" Glen Owen and Nick Pisa, Blair DOES Do God, supra. Another paper reported that "Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, who is the head of Catholics in England and Wales, said he was "very glad" to welcome Mr Blair into the church. "My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together," he said. Chief Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Catholic church in Rome shared Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's "satisfaction"." Vatican Hails Blair Church Switch, supra. ""The choice of joining the Catholic church made by such an authoritative personality can only arouse joy and respect," Fr Lombardi added." Vatican Hails Blair Church Switch, supra. Blair's wife was happier still it seems. "His wife Cherie, who, like the couple's four children, is already a Catholic, was her husband's sponsor on Friday night." Patrick Hennessy and Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Tony Blair Turns Catholic in Private Ceremony, supra. " Blair has always privately had plans to convert. It won him approval in the eyes of Cherie Booth and it indicates the depth of her influence over him." Garry O'Connor, The Cherie Factor on the Road to Rome, The Daily Mail, Dec. 22, 2007.

The Anglicans wished him well on his spiritual journey. "
Head of the Anglican church, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, bade farewell to the former Prime Minister with a more ambiguous tribute. He said: "Tony Blair has my prayers and good wishes as he takes this step in his Christian pilgrimage."" Glen Owen and Nick Pisa, Blair DOES Do God, supra. The one fly in the ointment, at least as developed by the media reporting this event almost uniformly, was the sour grapes of a fellow convert--"Ann Widdecombe, the Tory MP who converted to Catholicism in 1993, spoke out about Mr Blair's "delay" in following the same path." Patrick Hennessy and Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Tony Blair Turns Catholic in Private Ceremony, supra. She was quoted as saying: "If you look at Tony Blair's voting record in the House of Commons, he's gone against Church teaching on more than one occasion. On things, for example, like abortion," she said. “My question would be, 'has he changed his mind on that?'" Vatican Hails Blair Church Switch, supra.
Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, who converted to Catholicism in 1993, said: "At the point you are received you have to say individually and out loud, 'I believe everything the church teaches to be revealed truth'. "That means if you previously had any problems with church teaching, as Tony Blair obviously did over abortion, as he did again over Sunday trading, you would have to say you changed your mind. "And I think people will want to know that he did go through that process, because otherwise it will seem as if the church did make an exception for somebody just because of who he is."
Glen Owen and Nick Pisa, Blair DOES Do God, supra. And the Telegraph enjoyed frightening its readers with a reminder that the Church of England has been diminished of late--hit on one side by the rise of evangelical Protestantism and on the other by a resurgence of Catholicism brought over by Catholic citizens of the E.U. from other parts of Europe. Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Britain has Become a 'Catholic Country,' Telegraph, Dec. 23, 2007.

The papers did not report on the reaction of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist communities of Britain. I am sure they also would wish the man well.
These communities were assessing the effects of this conversion, especially as they might affect their own interests. At least one commentator in Israel viewed the conversion as a positive sign, especially with respect to Blair's work for the Middle East Quartet:

Blair's obvious religious side has long been viewed with suspicion, even hostility, by the largely agnostic or secular British intellectual and media elites. . . . Perhaps that is why, among Western leaders, he has shown the greatest comprehension of and most justified concern about the threat that radical Islam- "an arc of extremism now stretching across the Middle East," in his words - now poses to global civilization, not hesitating to call it the key conflict of our age, a battle of values as much as force. No one hoping to bring peace to this region, including in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, can do so without that understanding. . . .
In Blair's conversion, a relevant message of faith and politics for the Middle East, International Jerusalem Post, Dec. 22, 2007. But more importantly, Blair's conversion is viewed as pivotal in Israel's efforts to be recognized as a Jewish majority state--the way that the United States is a Christian majority state and Malaysia is a Muslim majority state.

Another particularly ironic aspect of Blair's post-premiership conversion is worth noting in relation to the situation here. Israel's insistence that it be formally recognized as a Jewish state, albeit a democratic one, has been sharply criticized in many arenas abroad, especially in the "chattering classes" of Blair's native England, as some kind of outdated, even primitive religious nationalism. . . . When Israel insists on its right to be recognized as a Jewish state in any final-status agreement with the Palestinian, at least Tony Blair should understand all too well that there is nothing exceptional for any democracy - even the oldest one - to insist that religious heritage still be a major part of national identity, even in this day and age.

In Blair's conversion, a relevant message of faith and politics for the Middle East, supra. There is a sense, at least among a segment of the Israeli media class, that the conversion is good for those who view the post-Christian secularism of Europe as a threat to national identity. A return to a religious foundation of European state organization might signal a greater willingness to tolerate a religious foundation for democratic state organization for states other than Muslim states. More on this below.

One American commentator has an interesting perspective, one that was raised in the months before the conversion:

Why is Mr. Blair abandoning the Church of England? The answer is probably that, like many Anglicans, he feels as if his native church has abandoned him. A church that is obsessed with the ordination of homosexuals or women has nothing to say on the confrontation of Islam and the West. It has been unable to provide the moral compass essential to a man who aspires to lead his country in a time of war — and a religious war at that.
Daniel Johnson, Blair's Imminent Conversion, The New York Sun, May 18, 2007. In yet another way, it seems that the West is moving closer to a different form of accommodation with religion. Blair provides a personal testament to a socio-cultural movement that has already manifested itself in the way in which modern Western driven constitutionalism is evolving. Religion is more likely to serve as the basis for the moral organization of political life, in ways that had been thought eliminated in in the West. See Larry Catá Backer, God(s) Over Constitutions: International and Religious Transnational Constitutionalism in the 21st Century, 26 MISSISSIPPI COLLEGE LAW REVIEW – (forthcoming 2007). Under American and UK patronage, universalist constitutionalism has moved from a grounding in secular human rights norms to one based on religious values. The American experiments in universalist theocratic constitutionalism in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests a change in the vectors of governance that represents a sharp turn from the movements dominant since the start of the French Revolution.

Tony Blair's conversion reminds us that religion is again in play in a big way in the construction of global governance. The Israelis understand this in their quest for recognition of the religious character of their state. Iraqis and Afghani Muslims have profited from it in the less controversial recognition of the Islamic character of those states. The Malays have understood its practical significance in the construction of their ethnic identity in religious terms (Malay Constitution Art. 160 defining Malay as "
a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom "). Those who ignore this development will do so at their own peril.

No comments: