In the first of a lecture series organised by the head of Catholics in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Blair said last night that religious faith should be rescued from extremism, and be made to "awaken the world's conscience".
His address was on faith and globalisation, and was given to about 1,600 people at Westminster Cathedral, outside which protesters from the Stop the War Coalition tried to create a wall of sound to drown out his message, which they say is hypocritical given his decision to take us into a war in Iraq. There was also a silent demonstration by a Catholic group. Pax Christi UK.
In his talk, Blair warned against the "extremist and exclusionary tendency in religion today", conveniently forgetting that religion through the ages has played its part in national and international affairs, often with devastating results, and not always from the "extremes". You've only to think of the Inquisitions* in the accepted church of the day, the Catholic Church, and that church's current twisting of facts and attempts to strong-arm governments and followers to its way of thinking. You might think it's time to let religions take a back seat and hand over the world into entirely secular hands.
Blair's own church has tried to silence child abuse, has lied about the efficacy of condoms and has put undue pressure on politicians, who are elected by the people, not by those of any particular religion and certainly not by the Catholic Church, and who are not answerable to Rome, but to Parliament and the people. Is this the less extreme end of religion that he sees saving the world?
And is this the obscenely wealthy church that has added to the Seven Deadly Sins one about being obscenely wealthy? The church that has covered up kiddy-fiddling and added paedophilia to the list? Can we put faith in a man who, as a fifty-plus-year-old adult, has freely chosen to become a member of that church and who talks about how religion should be at the forefront of solving the world's problems?
Blair also gave details about his Faith Foundation, which is to be launched later this year.
*The philospher A C Grayling has a few choice words about the Catholic Church's history of being thoroughly nasty to people in this article in the Guardian's "Comment is Free" slot.