Tony Blair | Progress in society requires faith
Tony Blair, recently, delivered a key note speech and answered questions on the impact of faith and globalisation on Hong Kong and the wider region, at a lecture held in the University of Hong Kong (HKU). This lecture inaugurated the partnership between the Tony Blair Faith Foundation’s global network of leading universities, the Faith and Globalisation Initiative (FGI) and HKU’s Faith and Global Engagement Initiative. In advance of the speech Tony Blair wrote an article for the South China Morning Post, you can read it in full below. If you would like to find out more about the event itself, please read our article "Conflict and compassion | Tony Blair discusses the two faces of religion" here.
I have long held an interest in Hong Kong and China - the history, the people and the culture. During my time in office, I knew power was shifting East and sought to build strong relations with this fast moving new power.
Since then, I have got to know the country even better still. Today, I am a witness to a new revolution happening here; to the rapid modernisation and the opening up of borders, culture and society both internally and externally. And whilst power is still shifting East, there is a fascination about what that means for Hong Kong, China and for the rest of the world.
Hong Kong looks outwards as a gateway to the rest of the world, providing today the portal for 33% of the capital flow into China. Its university, HKU, captures this role in its coat of arms: the Chinese dragon alongside the British lion, the rich embrace of East and West that creates the sixth highest GDP per capita in the world. A highly esteemed place of learning in Asia, HKU is beginning its second century of life with a new campus and a new object of study: religion and globalisation.
With its motto Ming Tak, “illustrious virtue”, and Kak Mat, “investigation of things”, it seems entirely right that this next century of higher education is being celebrated by these ancient Confucian principles opening up a wider study of religion. The inauguration of HKU’s Faith and Global Engagement initiative in collaboration with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation may seem a minor academic event against the background of the vast changes on the continent. But that, as well as the Foundation’s ongoing partnership with Peking University, is redolent of important developments in China, Asia and globally.
The HKU motto touches the heart of the matter. In this era of globalisation, the opportunities for material prosperity have never been greater, and thankfully so. It means the need for a framework of values, of wisdom and understanding of things grounded in more than simply technological progress, is more urgent than ever. Faith, of course, is not the only source of such values. Many people who practice no faith, illustrate a profound moral sense drawing on a secular and humanist tradition. Nonetheless, faith can be a balancing influence in society as new opportunities and the economic and social changes they bring put our societies under unwanted pressures. Faith can provide a certain equilibrium, reminding us of our responsibilities as well as our rights; our duties to others as well as our self-interest.
Faith can give discipline to life, overcome narrow national interest at times like these when collaboration is essential. It can diminish the demands of narrow selfishness. It can stimulate our conscience - which is why the right to freedom of conscience builds the scaffolding of a harmonious society. In this way, too, it can give meaning and purpose to how we live within our different societies, accepting that we are more than simply family units and individuals striving for personal ambition but also members of a wider community of others. Illustrious virtue, renewal of the people, and repose in the highest good are Confucius’ recipe for the character of leaders. Are they not also those of the world’s religions?
The wisdom of the different faith traditions needs to take its proper place in the training of future leaders and in the critical policy debates of the 21st century. But to ensure harmony not only within one society but in international relations, those speaking out from faith traditions must accept that, just as they have an equal right to be heard, today there will be, in most nations, more than one faith, more than one religious tradition, and that one faith should not try to exercise control or claim greater privileges of citizenship. These are the ground rules for a healthy religious pluralism.
If we seek to realise the accumulated wisdom of our religious traditions, if we want faith as values to underpin the health and dynamism of our societies, we need to encourage, promote and catalyse interfaith harmony and understanding. This is of the essence. More knowledge means greater understanding. With greater understanding will come respect, sympathy and an enhanced prospect of peaceful co-existence. What we do not know or understand, we fear. What we wilfully refuse to understand, through prejudice and lack of imagination, reinforces a closed mind. It is often ignorance that is at the root of conflict. So we should create not just the transient feelings, but the practical methods of co-operation that lead to co-existence. The alternative is our common enemy, the politics of fear.
The rich religious texture of Hong Kong reflects that of China as a whole. China is home to 100 million Buddhists, more Muslims than all of the European Union, and more practising Protestants than in the UK, and is home to 60 different ethnic groups. That suggests to me that religious pluralism is a reality, not an option.
I believe that as globalization pushes people together, understanding the role of faith becomes ever more important if we are to make the 21st Century a more peaceful and prosperous one for all the world's people than was the 20th Century. The new partnership between Hong Kong University and my Faith Foundation gives us an opportunity to build the theory to make that practical experience of different faiths, cultures and ethnicities living together a reality globally, as it is in Hong Kong and China.
Tony Blair, Founder and Patron, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation