I stipulate that for purely secular reasons I still admire Tony Blair for standing by the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq and Sierra Leone against the various combinations of tyranny and aggression with which they were confronted. (The refusal to “do God”, as we are apparently stuck with this irritating phrase, neither enhanced nor inhibited the execution of those admirable policies.) But far more irritating is Blair’s new banality, which rises almost to Queen’s Christmas broadcast level – “science has given us great power for good or ill” – combined with his addiction to junk statistics, and his unexamined assumption that there must be some natural connection between faith and rectitude.
Of his supposed two billion Christians, for example, how many belong to congregations that are at each other’s throats, or that rant about the imminence of the “end times”? The leader of Blair’s own Christian sect cannot decide which is worse – Aids or condoms – and has just readmitted a neo-fascist bishop who thinks that the “deicide” committed by the Jews against Jesus is a historic fact, but that the genocide practised by the Nazis on the Jews is a fiction.
Speaking of the Jews, does Blair really believe that 13 million of them go anywhere near a synagogue? They (we), the inventors of monotheism, have become the most secular population in human history and have flourished mightily since throwing off rabbinical rule. And doesn’t he know the first thing about that supposed tsunami of new converts in Africa, many of whom are animists in another guise? Just ask the luckless Archbishop of Canterbury (that feckless and sheeplike advocate of sharia), whose own pathetic little Anglican faction is being riven by cruel and fanatical African bishops who think that homosexuality is a mortal sin. Or consult the dissenting Christians of Russia, now faced by the emergence of a full-dress Putin dictatorship, garbed in the clerical robes of a state-sponsored Orthodoxy.
One and a half billion Muslims? Possibly, if you take the claims of Muslim propagandists at their face value. But be careful of standing too near the “wrong” mosque in Iraq or Pakistan, lest the soldiers of Allah be intent on murdering their Sunni or Shia brethren and heedless of those who get in the way.
And so it goes on. There is something crass and nasty as well as something vulgar in Blair’s quantitative triumphalism (“more than 900 million Hindus”: such good news for those who think like the sectarian Bharatiya Janata Party). Those of us who have our doubts about the God delusion have never been under the impression that it is under-supported. But the way that Blair talks, it seems that religion’s chief pride is its availability in bulk and wholesale form. Why doesn’t he mention Mormonism, the crackpot Joseph Smith-oriented faith that is said to be the fastest-growing of them all?
One’s qualms are not quelled by the suffocatingly boring five-point agenda that is tacked lamely on to the quantitative proclamation. I think we have all, already, declared ourselves to be against malaria. With only very slightly less enthusiasm, we can perhaps find a pulse that interests us in interfaith “interaction”. Could I hint that “globalisation” has been a big subject for some time? And could I also suggest that the notion of an ethical imperative in the world of economics is not primarily or only a religious one?
On the fifth proposition, that of an “Abrahamic” coalition, I can only give way humbly, to those who think it moral and exemplary for mythical tribalists to circumcise themselves at the age of 90 and to offer their sons as human sacrifices when they hear voices in their heads. As our former prime minister phrases it so smoothly: “While in office, it was best, in my view, not to shout that too loudly from the rooftops.” So shout it out loud now, Tony, and see if it makes those demons go away. But why weren’t you so brave before?
With the exception of the last of the five initiatives, then, there would be nothing that any secular charity could not undertake. This still leaves a good deal of ground untilled. There remains an urgent need for campaigns that would, inter alia:
This list is suggestive rather than exhaustive, but it is at least as relevant as the menace of malaria and it also serves to demonstrate that the religious are not morally brave, as they like to brag, but are instead quite unable to face the fact that they are the cause, and not the cure, of so much suffering and stupidity and misery.
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of “God Is Not Great” (Atlantic Books, £8.99)