In a BBC profile of the Philippines, where the government has been battling communist insurgents for decades, and where well over 100,000 people have died in the struggle with the mostly Muslim inhabitants who are seeking to create an independent Islamic state in the large southern island of Mindanao, the concluding two paragraphs read as follows:
The Philippines has the highest birth rate in Asia, and forecasters say the population could double within three decades.
Governments generally avoid taking strong measures to curb the birth rate for fear of antagonising the Catholic Church, which opposes artificial methods of contraception.
Yet Tony Blair (one time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, now religious huckster), in an Op Ed in today’s Guardian, “Faith and Globalisation in the Philippines Hidden Civil War“, suggests that his Foundation (The Tony Blair Faith Foundation*) is going to help the people of the Philippines come together in mutual understanding. What is needed, he thinks — and he announces, in today’s Op Ed, that what is needed in this country, which is still waging the second oldest civil war in the world (or “tragic dispute”, as Blair calls it), after the Sudan, is “faith-based programmes that promote peaceful coexistence.”
Here’s what the Tony Blair Faith Foundation will do in its two-pronged attack on the problem:
The foundation will be working closely with the government on two levels. In the first place we will be working with the ministry of education to bring our “Face to Faith” programme into Filipino public schools. This programme will provide the next generation of Filipino leaders with the opportunity to learn essential communication skills while also gaining greater understanding of interfaith dialogue and the role of religion in the world.
Second, we will work with the commission for higher education, the office of the peace process and a consortium of universities in the foundation’s Faith and Globalisation initiative.
Now, I would be the last to suggest that trying to bring about some kind of understanding and amity between competing religious groups is unimportant. But has it never occurred to him that one of the most urgent needs of this country is an effective programme to control the birth-rate?
The BBC profile of the Philippines says that:
Although it once boasted one of the region’s best-performing economies, the Philippines is saddled with a large national debt and tens of millions of people live in poverty.
Tens of millions live in poverty! And not one word from Tony Blair about coming to grips with the high birth-rate — which may reasonably be thought to be a significant part of the problem. And not one word either that his newly adopted Roman Catholicism, which dominates the country, is an enormous road block to development, because of its ridiculous opposition to birth control.
Blair recognises that religion is part of the problem. As he says:
But we cannot hope to establish peace without accepting that religion is part of the problem, and therefore must become part of the solution.
But not one word about birth control? Am I the only one who sees the wilful blindness here? A country with the highest birth-rate in Asia, a staggering national debt, millions living in poverty, civil war, and the only thing Blair can think of is bringing his faith-based initiatives to bear on the problem of the relationship between religions. Bring the people together so that they can understand each other’s faith commitments! Give the children a good religious upbringing where they can learn, not only about their own faith, but about the faith of others. Bring them up in a world stuffed full with religions and their claims and counterclaims. This must be the answer!
The mind simply reels at the stupendous empty spaces between Blair’s ears! Did it never occur to him — not even once? — that religion’s being such a large part of the problem indicates that perhaps faith-based initiatives are not what is needed? Might it not be better to lessen the hold that religion has over the minds of so many, so that people can, at last, tackle the problems of overpopulation and disease without having to watch what they say, lest they offend some religion or other, or trample on sacred ground? Can he not see that religion, being part of the problem, may simply rule it out as being part of the solution?
Religions are totalising forms of life. That is, they seek to control every aspect of a person’s life, whether in bed, in the office, in the community, in one’s moments of solitude. That is why, wherever and whenever religion is in the ascendent, individual autonomy is considered thoughtless wilfulness, and severe restrictions are placed on the right of people to live and think as they please. Outward shows of allegiance to and respect for the dominant religion are demanded, and minority religious expression is curbed and marginalised, and the pressure to convert to the majority religion increases. In order to achieve the supposedly “perfect” society, what the religious think of as relativism turns into monotonism. There is one right answer to every question, and for the good of all this answer must be enforced.
In Blair’s rosy-eyed view of what his faith-based initiative can do for the Philippines, he does not mention, not once, the strenuous opposition that the Catholic Church in the Philippines has mounted against sex education in the schools. According to a BBC report:
Senior bishops believe the task of telling children about sex and relationships should be up to parents, not teachers, and that teaching sex education in schools, especially to young children, could have unintended consequences.
“Children are fragile creatures. The [education] department should be very, very careful not to teach children about matters they will imitate the following day,” said Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, a spokesman for the highly influential Catholic Bishops Conference.
He also said he did not agree with the view that a high birth rate traps people in poverty.
“He also said he did not agree …” He may not agree, but is it plausible to suppose that this disagreement is based on anything more than church dogma? And yet, into this situation, Blair thinks introducing a faith-based initiative in the schools will be particularly helpful. Unless he is prepared to accept the harm that his church is doing in so much of the world by its totally unrealistic notion of what sex is, and what it is for, then faith-based anything is the last thing the Philippines needs. What they need is someone who can think clearly, not someone whose mind is packed with the woolly-mindedness of religion.
*Did Blair never read Jesus’ warning not to let the right hand know what the left is doing? Or the other one about those who seek recognition for their good deeds in this world. “They have already received their reward,” he told his disciples.