I was pleased to be invited to attend last night's lecture by Tony Blair at Westminster Cathedral. The event got off to a bit of a farcical start when Tony mistook shouts from the back of the cathedral asking for the sound to be turned up for hecklers shouting him down - as he said, he is more used to people not wanting him to speak than to those expressing concern because they cannot hear him!
Blair's message was that religion could "awaken the world's conscience" and help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to eradicate poverty and hunger. He warned against the "extremist and exclusionary tendency in religion today". He argued that it is not extreme for a person to believe their own religion is the only faith - "most people of faith do that" - but said it should not stop them respecting other religions. He said people must accept that faith is not in decline and the world has become more economically, politically and ideologically independent.
"The divide, then, is between those who see this as positive, the opening up offering opportunity, and those who see it as threatening and wish to close it back down," he said. Blair took the opportunity to set out plans for his new Faith Foundation, to be launched later this year. The Foundation will focus on bringing together Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists to promote faith as a relevant and positive force for good.