Faith: Why Tony Blair Is Right, And So Dangerously Wrong

03/02/2014 15:45 GMT | Updated 05/04/2014 10:59 BST

On Sunday, Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote an opinion piece for British newspaper The Observer.

In it, he asserts that the wars of the 21st century are "less likely to be the product of extreme political ideology - like those of the 20th century - but they could easily be fought around the questions of cultural or religious difference".


Moreover, he goes on to write that not only are many acts of terrorism perpetrated in the name of religion, but that there is "no doubt" that this unwelcome phenomenon is "growing, not abating".

It is difficult to argue with this analysis, and it is refreshing to see someone who has such strong faith accept, publicly - albeit perhaps a little late in the day - that there is a very dark side to religion.

Mr. Blair's suggested response to this rising challenge is greater religious tolerance. 'Tolerance' is a word that, generally speaking, has positive connotations with which we would all, ideally, like to be associated.

The problem is, that when it comes to religion, 'tolerance' will only exacerbate the problem that the former Prime Minister so rightly identifies. And this is what makes it so dangerous.

Adherents of faith and atheists alike agree that religion is a matter of belief; that much is common ground.

But, intellectually speaking, that is where it starts to get very difficult.

Because for as long as we tolerate points of view founded not on evidence, objectivity and justice but instead on 'belief', then logically we are bound to afford all 'beliefs' the same level of 'tolerance'.

We cannot pick and choose which beliefs we are prepared to tolerate: they all derive their 'authority' from the same, unsubstantiable source. One either tolerates belief, or not. It is binary. To suggest otherwise necessarily implies the assertion of a highly subjective, value judgment as to which unsubstantiable point of view has more merit.

At first glance, this might appear relatively easy. If we needed to we could probably, at a pinch, all convince ourselves that, ridiculous as they may seem, when compared to the extremist nuts, the views of, say, the Anglican Church are relatively benign in terms of their impact on broader society (although it is worth noting that this is an organization that has long since enjoyed a protection enshrined in law to continue - breathtakingly - to get away with not promoting certain folk just because they happen to have vaginas and not penises).

But if the basis for these views is simple assertion of belief - "it is so because my religion tells me it is so" - then all assertions of belief, no matter how appallingly they manifest, are intellectually the same. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is no more or less credible than, say, the Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost. To suggest otherwise is, ultimately, an indefensible position for anyone who believes in equality, reason and the rule of law: and the extremists know it.

In giving oxygen to one, we are - consciously or otherwise - therefore giving oxygen to all.

And so if Mr. Blair's wars of the future are to be avoided, what is needed is not more tolerance, but less.

We need to stop tolerating any organization, person or body, that seeks to rely on simple 'belief' to give credence to any particular viewpoint.

It is perhaps counter-intuitive and superficially distasteful, but the logic is inescapable: where religion is concerned it is a wholesale, uniform and consistent intolerance that is required.