Tony Blair will today launch his long awaited Faith Foundation in New York, saying that he wants religion to be seen as a force for good in the world.
The new organisation, for which he is seeking hundreds of millions of pounds of charitable funding, will focus on developing better understanding between faiths as well as fostering concrete action on fighting poverty and disease.
“In the end, this will be what I dedicate a very large part of my life to,” he told The Times yesterday.
The Foundation, according to Blair, is an attempt to do something a different from inter-faith bodies and organisations that already exist, and to complement it rather than duplicate it.
The foundation will concentrate on certain key specifics. The first will be to help different faith organisations to work together in furtherance of the Millennium Development Goals, which Blair has said are "the litmus test of the world’s values." While he believes faith groups do "great individual work in this area", "they could do even more if helped also to combine together." In his own words "it would be a great example of faith in action to try to bridge the gap and awaken the world’s conscience".
The second will be to produce educational resources including books and websites to educate people better about the different faiths, and what they truly believe (not what we people often mistakenly think they believe).
The foundation will concentrate, in the immediate term, on the six main faiths, the Abrahamic three and Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism. But, though the foundation will expressly not be confined to the Abrahamic faiths, it will partner existing organisations that promote better understanding and co-existence between Christians, Muslims and Jews, notably in The Coexist Foundation’s vision of creating Abraham House in London, where people of those faiths but also others, can encounter some of their traditions, explore their roots and, without glossing over their differences, discover what they share.
The broader objective is to promote "faith itself as something dynamic, modern and full of present relevance."
The Foundation will expressly not be about "chucking faith into a doctrinal melting pot", but rather about learning about, living and working with others of a different faiths.
Blair believes that for religion to be a positive force for good, it must be rescued not simply from extremism – faith as a means of exclusion; but also from irrelevance. "Too many people see religious faith as represented in stark dogmatism and empty rituals" says Blair. "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. It is this face that gives militant secularism an easy target. It mocks certain of the practices and traditions of organised religion which they define as ‘faith’. ‘Faith’ is to be found in the cassocks and the gowns and the rituals."
Although the foundation's headquarters Blair has said that he wants its reach to extend across North America, Europe, Asia, the Far East and the Middle East. He insists that it would be wrong to interpret his decision to launch the foundation at the headquarters of Time Warner in New York as evidence that America, with its strong religious base, was more fertile territory for his message than a home country where he was forced out of office amid mounting unpopularity.
“We are doing reasonably well raising money in both places,” he said, pointing out that he had already spoken about the project at Westminster Cathedral last month.
“The issue of religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st Century as political ideology was to the 20th Century. In an era of globalisation, there is nothing more important than getting people of different faiths and therefore cultures to understand each other better and live in peace and mutual respect; and to give faith itself its proper place in the future.”