The announcement that Tony Blair will lead a seminar on issues of faith and globalization at Yale will leave many asking exactly what is the relationship between the two? In fairness it surely goes without saying that most world religions are instinctively global - their sacred texts and messages are for ‘all’ and they focus on the world-wide desire for personal salvation, justice, love and peace. One challenge that Blair will need to address is the claim that each faith makes in regard to the possession of the “correct” revelation versus the other.
Blair’s commitment and interest in issues of personal faith is well documented, he has long understood that throughout history claims to authenticity, or orthodoxy have often been so intense that wars, persecutions, mass killings and inquisitions have resulted. He knows that for some the temptation has been to conclude that those with the most power are those who truly reflect God’s will, and thus God’s blessing to carry that presumption to the ends of the earth - or in modern terminology, “globalization.” Or put in a different way – “since we won, our way must be what God wants for others as well.” One would hope however, that Blair’s seminars at Yale will offer a slightly more nuanced, ‘political’ interpretation of the relationship between ‘faith’ and globalization.
In today’s world ‘faith’ comes in various guises. For example some people see social inequality as not only inevitable and fair but also as beneficial. To many neo-liberals, with their unshakeable ‘faith’ in the market, social inequality is the power house of economic progress because it not only encourages competition between people but also results from a competition-based society. In addition, social crisis, which is usually seen as temporary, is to them a sign that the economy is going in the right direction towards full market freedom. Neo-liberals claim that the only solution is to have ‘faith’ in the market’s ‘invisible hand’, and see the suffering of the excluded as ‘necessary sacrifices’ required by the laws of the market. In contrast religious faith argues that we have to recover a simple and irrefutable truth: the economy must exist for the sake of people’s lives, and not people for the sake of economic laws based on the goal of accumulating wealth. This is one of the most important ways of translating the teachings of the New Testament into the language of today: ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27).
I think that Tony Blair will seek to encourage his students to see the market as neither sacred nor almighty. Will he be promoting the idea that faith and globalization can co-exist where state and social democratic mechanisms control and supplement market mechanisms, so that each individual’s basic rights are respected and the ecological system is preserved. Blair must be stressing to his students that in a globalized world, solutions to our problems should not be considered in local and national terms alone. Articulation and co-ordination are required on an international level. This is where faith groups may render an important service to humankind. Most faith communities and the major inter-faith bodies are amongst the few global institutions with both an international and local network, and which are concerned with the life of the poor and the excluded. What is not in doubt is that we need to find new perspectives and models so that we can find humane answers to the challenges of globalisation, based on a deep respect for the diversity of cultures and religions in our world community.
Tony Blair’s Yale seminars will hopefully promote new and practical ways of reintroducing spirituality, ethics and faith into the debate on globalisation, I for one wish him every success.