The former Prime Minister seems like a nice enough chap and all that, but he also has an irritating habit of wanting it both ways when it comes to being Catholic. Perhaps it comes from being a politician; perhaps it is symptomatic of something else, such as being a child of the current age. Whatever the roots, it is on display in a recent interview with The Telegraph (ht: Deacon Greg Kandra):
As a Catholic convert, he ”accepts the doctrine of the Catholic Church’’, but ”I’m not a doctrinal ideologue’’. He feels ”no great revulsion, quite the opposite’’ for the Church of England, which he left. He became a Catholic because of his Catholic wife, Cherie, and their family: ”I didn’t really analyse a great deal. I just felt more at home there.’’
Very well, then, I say, look at gay marriage, a proposal that troubles many adherents of all the main religions. No comfort for the faithful here: Mr Blair is out of line with his adopted Church. ”I understand why people take a different view,’’ he says, but he is in favour of gay marriage. Indeed, it is not really possible to find a public policy issue where he takes a specifically religious view against the prevailing secularism. It is, rather, a broader point: he thinks religion is a benign force in a modern liberal order, not a hostile one.
So, he accepts the doctrine of the Catholic Church, except when he rejects it. And when he rejects it, he apparently doesn’t understand (despite his protests otherwise) what he has rejected since he’s not really into doctrine or analyzing the specifics of Catholic teaching. This description is, I think, both telling and on the mark: “Indeed, it is not really possible to find a public policy issue where he takes a specifically religious view against the prevailing secularism.”
Blair, in sum, seems to be like many Catholics in the Western world: happy to be called Catholic, to go to Mass, to make the proper social gestures and noises—but without being too concerned with specifics, or going against the grain of the dominant culture, or ruffling the feathers of the secular peacocks, while talking a good (but largely substance-challeged) game. It is not surprising, then, to read this:
He is interestingly discreet. He does not want to talk about God, or about the Church (if you look up ”Church’’ in the index of his autobiography, it says only ”Church, Charlotte p.333’’). He speaks of Jesus as a man who was ”prepared to challenge conventional wisdom when he thought it was wrong’’. More spiritual thoughts he keeps to himself. What interests him is that, as ”a person of faith’’, he has ”a connection with people of faith’’. He sees himself as their interpreter.
Gag. Give me Dorothy Sayers, the wonderful Anglo-Catholic writer who briskly skewered such silliness decades before Blair began plying his interpretive song-and-dance routine in the public square:
The one thing I am here to say to you is this: that it is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is virtually necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion about what the church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ. …
There are the ignorant Christians, who combine a mild gentle-Jesus sentimentality with vaguely humanistic ethics—most of these are Arian heretics. Finally, there are the more or less instructed church-goers, who know all the arguments about divorce and auricular confession and communion in two kinds, but are about as well equipped to do battle on fundamentals against a Marxian atheist or a Wellsian agnostic as a boy with a pea-shooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns. Theologically, this country is at present in a state of utter chaos, established in the name of religious toleration, and rapidly degenerating into the flight from reason and the death of hope. We are not happy in this condition and there are signs of a very great eagerness, especially among the younger people, to find a creed to which they can give whole-hearted adherence. (from “Creed or Chaos?”, originally 1940; PDF version)
For more background about Blair’s tiresome act, see my 2009 post, “The (Tony) Blair (Gay) Pitch Project”on Ignatius Insight.
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