Thursday, April 3, 2003

From the Spectator: Tony Blair's faith

There is no doubting the sincerity of the Prime Minister’s faith. But it is accompanied by arrogance. Unluckily for those who believe that Mr Blair will one day convert to the Church of Rome, he occasionally lays claim to the kind of direct relationship to Christ that is more readily associated with the Protestant than with the Roman Catholic Church. He once, in casual conversation, identified the Saviour with New Labour. ‘Jesus was a moderniser,’ he asserted.

It may be the Prime Minister’s evangelical confidence that he enjoys a direct, unmediated connection with God which enables him to lay claim to be a Christian while neglecting Church teaching. The area where this disjunction is most apparent today is the war in Iraq. Tony Blair’s apologists, such as Matthew d’Ancona, have yet to explain fully how religious belief can be at the core of the Prime Minister’s conduct of the war at a time when pretty well every Church leader, from the Pope to the Archbishop of Canterbury, has been opposed to it all along.

The great religious figures of our age feel a repugnance for this war because they understand that at the heart of Christianity is a set of moral absolutes or rules: in the context of Iraq the most relevant of these is the biblical injunction ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Tony Blair’s readiness to propound fresh doctrines of his own has been a striking feature of his premiership in all sorts of areas. He has occasionally brooded in public about the balance between natural law and utilitarianism. On two occasions he has even claimed that he is more attracted to the stern and immutable imperatives laid down by natural law than to clumsy calculations about the greatest good of the greatest number. But natural law comes down heavily against this war in Iraq, just as it does against abortion.

Ultimately the argument for invasion is a pragmatic one. It boils down to the utilitarian criterion that coalition forces will ultimately kill fewer Iraqis than will Saddam. The Iraq imbroglio threatens to illustrate in the starkest way possible the pitfalls of utilitarianism: that it is not merely wrong to break with the rules of religion, but doing so can have all sorts of unintended and undesirable consequences.

It is characteristic of those who feel that they have an unmediated line to the Lord that they think that they can make the law themselves. Tony Blair rewrote the rulebook for the Labour party. And this is what he and George Bush are doing in Iraq: their readiness to ignore the procedures of international institutions such as the United Nations is a manifestation of the same sort of arrogance. According to the precepts of natural law, the humility and discipline of religion express a wisdom that is deeper than individual men and women can readily understand. These are boundaries which, as Mr Blair may be about to discover, are impertinent to transgress.