TONY Blair, I can’t help feeling, has a self-confidence that borders on the pathological and the delusional. Quite why he allowed himself to take part in a public debate with Christopher Hitchens on whether religion is a force of good or evil says a lot, I suppose, about his, er, faith in himself and his ability to convince his audience of his argument.
Quite apart from his infuriating arrogance, of course.
He’s a recent convert to Catholicism, and probably has the zealotry typical of converts. I wonder, though, if the desire for exculpation over the war in Iraq was a motivating factor in his decision to come out and bat for the Vatican.
The Observer’s Paul Harris filed an excellent piece on the debate last Sunday, and I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing here the following telling extract:
If it had been a boxing match Hitchens would have been described as landing blow after blow, many of them decidedly low – especially those about circumcision or women's rights. He described the aid work done by religious missions as "conscience money" to make up for the harm they have done. After all, why bother treating HIV-infected people in Africa while working against the use of condoms?
Several times Blair waived his right to respond to what Hitchens had said, instead just meekly accepting the next question. When one member of the audience asked each debater what was most powerful about his opponent's argument, Hitchens simply gestured for Blair to go first, in a move that brought loud laughter from the crowd.
Blair repeatedly returned to his defence that religious men and women did good deeds in their millions all around the world every day. But it was also a position that could get him in trouble. Blair outlined the work that religious groups in Northern Ireland put in on bridging the "religious divide" in order to work for peace. Hitchens did not allow that one to slip by. "I never miss an opportunity to congratulate someone on being humorous, even if unintentionally," he said. Then he delivered the punchline. "Where does the 'religious divide' come from?" he asked to another round of laughter from the crowd.
Blair was on stronger ground when he argued that fanaticism was hardly a preserve of the religious-minded. "The 20th century was scarred by visions that had precisely that imagining at its heart. That gave us Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot," he said.
And, I would argue, it gave us Tony Blair -- who didn’t appear be bothering God all that much when it came to joining forces with George W Bush in his jaunt against Saddam.
Bush, on the other hand, is another matter altogether. But another time, perhaps.
For the full report, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/28/blair-versus-hitchens-debate-religion