A re-emphasis on the common good has been progressed with fair points made by Cath Ennis on the analogy between unwanted cigarette smoke and objectionable religious and atheist pontification. Taking this further into a discussion on the relative benefits/costs to individuals/society, and the right balance between Draconianism and individual civil liberties, necessitates a great deal of qualification in order to prevent points being misconstrued. Nevertheless, we can’t stick our heads in the sand; and I was drawn back to this by Tony Blair’s speech last Thursday, launching his new ‘Faith Foundation’. What exactly is he up to?
I voted for Blair in ’97; I’ve benefited from his government’s increased support for science, which included making the UK perhaps the most attitudinally progressive on human embryonic stem cell research. All fine and dandy. He has, however, long had a strong faith conviction that, by his own admission, informed his justification for war. Perhaps he was always uncomfortable with the hESC/’cloning’ issue, but nevertheless backed an opportunity to make the UK a major player, acceding to the wants of the majority of his constituents, the cabinet and parliament (a consideration for those ‘ministers of conscience’ who, even though the updated HFEA bill has been in progress for months, have only recently piped up after a prod from the bishops). We know more of Cabinet machinations today than ever, but we won’t know everything. Did he perhaps (I’m throwing seeds here) demand some kind of quid pro quo when he was desperate for backing for the war and getting a knuckle-rapping from JP II?
It’s not that Blair (fascinatingly, the son of an atheist) is religious; he is deeply religious. And, having converted to Catholicism, he will be studiously ‘aware’ of The Vatican’s position on things. As such, from a scientific perspective, it would be interesting to know where he is now on abortion and hESC research. He’s entitled to his opinions, and he’s entitled to change his mind (if he has). Ever the diplomat, however, he refuses to discuss this issue. So, we can’t know whether he now holds the view of a Vatican big cheese that Catholics who work in this field should be excommunicated ; or what he thinks of his buddy Bush’s implication that hESC researchers are murderers. It would be awfully useful to know. We can’t say it doesn’t matter what he thinks because he’s not an MP anymore, when he is publicly endorsing a role for religion in politics. He is still an important man who carries clout.
“There is no conceivable way that it (faith) wouldn’t affect your politics,” he said. Wo-ahh! Hang on there a second. It is inconceivable that faith might conflict with the wishes of the majority of the people he was in office to represent. I’ve no doubt that Blair is a principled man. I also think he’s a troubled one trying to make himself feel better. Either way, he’s blowing smoke in our faces.