Home .Culture You gotta have faith with globalization
You gotta have faith with globalization
Friday, 10 April 2009 22:56

By the time he left office as Britian's Prime Minister, most of his nation had lost faith in Tony Blair, the inventor of modern British political 'spin'.  He was the Prime Minister who swooned over Bill Clinton, and then switched horses to George Bush, and led his country into the Iraq war.

It is thus somewhat ironical that Blair should devote much of his post official life to his Faith Foundation.  But Blair has always been an excellent orator, and is worth listening too, as in the case of his speech one year ago on faith and globalization. 

Blair remarks that with globalization, the world is opening up, and that old barriers of culture, identity and even nationhood are disappearing.  People of different religious faiths are coming into closer contact especially through migration and the influence of communications technologies.

He sees two scenarios.  First, religious faith can encourage people of different faiths to live peacefully in a climate of mutual respect, understanding and tolerance, while retaining their distinctive identity.  These different religious identities can even be a source of cultural richness.

Alternatively, religious faith can be an element for defining differences between people, and thereby work against the peaceful co-existence of peoples.  For many people, globalization is seen as a threat to their identity.

How can we improve the chances of achieving the positive, peaceful outcome?  Through his Foundation, Blair is a promoter of inter-faith co-operation to this end.  This is necessary because globalization is throwing together people of different cultures who often have very different moral values and may have very little understanding of each other. 

Blair goes even further in arguing for the positive contribution that religious faith can make in today's world, especially by shaping values -- it can and should be a force for progress.  Religious faith can humanise the impersonal forces of globalization. 

The rapid changes provoked by globalization mean that the fixed points of reference in our societies now seem unfixed and in constant flux.  Economic and political power is shifting from its traditional centre in the West towards Asia.

Blair emphasises that the challenge is learning about, and living and working with others of a different faith.  His ideal is of a world where people of different faiths can live together peacefully, and where faith can provide a sense of purpose in our lives. 

Blair argues that religious faith can give rise to extremism, the most obvious case being Islamic extremism through the activities of Al Qaida and others.  He notes that there are extremist in virtually every religion.

While Blair does have a positive and constructive message, the reality in many developing countries is much more complex.  Poverty, instability and insecurity contribute to an immense sense of dispair in many parts of the world.  Where society and politics do not function, poor people are open to the messages of extremism as a source of hope, particularly when extremist groups can provide basic social services.  Western countries do not always help when they support more moderate groups which are corrupt and politically incompetent. 

Further, much of the UNpeaceful co-existence of religious faith groups occurs between different factions within Islam, more than between Islam and Western religions.  There is an immense tension between Islamic groups who want to modernise and those who want to cling to medieval repressive traditions.  But this tension is fuelled by the attraction of extremist groups to people who live without hope.

The West can and must play an important role in promoting inter-faith co-operation, and minimising the attraction of extremism.  But, to do this, the West needs to regain its moral authority and credibility by being seen to be respectful, open and fair.

This applies not only to the West's relations with Islam and the Middle East conflict.  It also applies to more pure globalization issues.  While globalization has been a powerful instrument for poverty reduction, Western driven globalization has also lost credibity in the current global financial crisis caused by the US.  Many poor people in poor countries have been unfairly and innocently hit by the crisis.  The West is not swallowing some of the bitter medicin that it has imposed on developing countries through the IMF.  And many of the golden boys on Wall Street are pocketing handsome bonusses thanks to the enormous bailout packages.

Globalization is a two-edged sword promoting prosperity and poverty reduction, while at times giving rise to instability and precarity.  And the reality of this is amplified by global communications thanks to which everyone can see and know everything.

Religious faith can be a positive force, and provide a sense of meaning to life.  But in situations of dispair and insecurity, narrow and exclusive religious identities can be an achor, when there is nothing left to hold on to.


Speech by Rt Hon Tony Blair, 'Faith and Globalization', The Cardinal's Lectures 2008, Westminister Cathedral, London, 3 April 2008 -- http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org .


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