PM's Religion a Key Force in His Life

Article excerpt

Tony Blair's religion has long been one of the most straightforward and yet least understood aspects of his character. Such is the suspicion of religiosity among the liberal intelligentsia that it has been one of the sub-themes of criticism of him, especially over the Iraq war.

That suspicion lay behind Jeremy Paxman's question about whether Mr Blair and President Bush had prayed together in the approach to war.

The Prime Minister is buffeted between stereotypes: that American Christians are fanatically right wing and British Christians are pacifists. Neither caricature can be applied to Mr Blair, but religion has often been used to suggest that his values are somehow different from most people's, or that he is driven by a hidden religious calling.

In his early days in office, it was suggested that, because he was married to a Roman Catholic, he had secret Papist tendencies. The implication was that this explained why he was such a conservative on social issues.

The flaw in this reasoning is that Cherie has always been a liberal, left-wing Catholic. She is in favour of women priests and disagrees with the Vatican on contraception. On the subject of his belief, it is much simpler to take her husband at his word.

He is an ecumenical Anglican who dislikes setting boundaries between denominations and faiths. He says his belief in God became "practical rather than theological" when he was a student, and that "my Christianity and my politics came together at the same time". It is, therefore, never necessary to use religious language to describe his motives or to judge his actions. …