Year 2000 No. 113, July 17, 2000

Inter-Faith Understanding or Freedom of Conscience?

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Inter-Faith Understanding or Freedom of Conscience?


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Inter-Faith Understanding or Freedom of Conscience?

Tony Blair concluded his quartet of themes in his speech to the Global Ethics Foundation at Tubigen University, Germany on June 30 with a section on "religious faith and understanding".

His thesis in this section was: "There is a contradiction between trying to renew the doctrine of community politically; and ignoring the dimension of inter-faith understanding. Faith and reason," he said, "are not opponents but partners."

We have already seen how his doctrine of "community" means the denial of the responsibility of society and government nationally for the claims of all the members of society; internationally it means the negation of the rights of all peoples to chose their own path of social development, being subject to the dictates of the values of "progressive governance" and big power hegemony. What Tony Blair is now proposing is that his doctrine of "community" necessarily entails a dimension of "inter-faith understanding". This demonstrates how stuck is Tony Blair in the thinking of 19th century liberalism. This liberalism encompassed a doctrine of "religious tolerance", while upholding the established church with the monarch as "defender of the faith". Thus, rather than regarding religion and belief as a matter of individual conscience, there was an official state religion while all other religious minorities were "tolerated". These official state values were then imposed on the empire, while the subject peoples were subject to genocide and slavery.

Together with "inter-faith understanding" goes an identification of "community" with religious faith. Then, Tony Blair's argument goes, "All our faiths make up our global community." This then leads the way to the conclusion that since "it is only by clear commitment to shared values that we survive and prosper in a world of change", then "surely religious faith has its own part to play in deepening such commitment". The exclusion of all those who do not subscribe to such "shared values" is complete, and religious faith, far from being a matter of conscience in which the state has no business interfering in any way, becomes an indispensable requirement to "manage change". Religious faith becomes a tool in such logic to maintain the status quo and define community and communities. Tony Blair even goes so far as to say, "Religions can help to make our communities communities of values. The inevitability of globalisation demands a parallel globalisation of our best ethical values." Freedom of conscience is denied, while communities are to be identified with religions on the one hand, and all individuals are denied their inalienable right to be equal members of the body politic and be the agents of change, of the making of history.

According to Tony Blair, all faiths are "different ways of pondering the same fundamental question: the nature of existence". But the nature of the world and the nature of social existence are not questions of faith and cannot be equated with questions of values, and to do so violates both the right to freedom of conscience on the one hand and the objectivity of scientific knowledge on the other.

How far Tony Blair goes to deny the right to freedom of conscience is clear from his conclusion that what were traditionally "religious values" - "solidarity, justice, peace and the dignity of the human person" - are now "universal values". He explicitly equates these in the political sphere with "communitarianism or civil society". He goes on, "Wherever you find a group that has managed to break free of the encircling bonds of poverty and deprivation, there you will invariably find strong families, associations and communities of faith." So his argument is complete - the blame for poverty and deprivation lies not with the social system and globalisation but by implication with the abandonment of family values, of community and of religious belief. The results of the breakdown of the social fabric of society, rather than underlining the absolute necessity for the revolutionary transformation of society are made the premise for the retrogression to outdated conceptions which have the aim of maintaining the status quo, of "managing change".

The new world that beckons is not, in Tony Blair's words, "a new world, global values, reaching out beyond national frontiers and ideological horizons, that will guide us to our destination: a more peaceful, secure and prosperous world for all". It is rather a new world of the elimination of the exploitation of persons by persons, nationally and internationally, where the people are sovereign and can decide their own destiny, where the rights of all are recognised by virtue of their humanity, of being human. Only then will it make sense and be progressive to speak of building a global community, with an international community which will indeed be the human race.

Article Index


Joe Simmons

Died July 12, 2000

We are very sad to learn of the death of Joe Simmons at the age of 73. Joe was a staunch anti-fascist fighter from his involvement in the battle of Cable Street in 1936 at the age of ten. He was a long-standing upholder of the rights of the working class, and was always willing to help people with their problems. In his working days, he was a shop-steward for the taxi-drivers. He lately had become an organiser and fighter for pensioners' rights, and he was President of the British Pensioners and Trade Union Action Association, and was the editor of Essex Pensioner.

It was in his capacity as a pensioners' leader that he contributed a number of articles to Workers' Weekly, the last being on the Pensioners' Parliament in Blackpool only a few weeks before his passing.

At his funeral at Waltham Abbey Jewish Cemetery on Friday, July 14, as many as 120 people attended to pay their respects, including many pensioners for whom he had fought.

We extend our deepest sympathies to his widow, Connie, and to his daughter Madeleine, as well as to his grandchildren and other members of his family.

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WDIE did not appear on Friday, July 14.

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