Religion must be rescued from extremism and irrelevance, Tony Blair said on Thursday night, in his first big speech in Britain since stepping down as prime minister last year.
Blair, a catholic convert made the remarks during a lecture on faith and globalisation at Westminster Cathedral, central London, where he used to attend mass while in office. He used the 45-minute speech to highlight the work of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation which has its official launch next month and aims to help different faith organisations work together.
Blair also talked at length about the “seismic shift” globally from West to East. “The centre of gravity, economically and politically, is shifting to the east and it is shifting fast.
“China and India together will industrialise the bulk of their populations, presently employed in subsistence agriculture, probably within two decades.”
He argued that the “strong historical and cultural influence” of religion in both East and West could help both hemispheres unite around “common values” rather than undergo “a battle for domination”.
“Faith is reduced to a system of strange convictions and actions that, to some, can appear far removed from the necessities and anxieties of ordinary life,” Blair said. “It is this face that gives militant secularism an easy target.”
He went on to argue that religion could help to advance humanity and end global poverty. It was his first and most detailed public statement on religion, a subject his senior advisers told him to avoid during his decade in power.