Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Theos annual lecture 2010: Ex-police commissioner says we must all "doubt" our faith

Myself and Naomi attended the Annual Theos Lecture - this year delivered by Lord Blair. It provided an interesting talk, despite the fact I disagreed with his main point that we cannot have a true faith - that there must be doubt. Alternatively I would have argued that we cannot have faith without enquiry, questioning it in its application to our lives - though his points on social cohesion were spot on and publicising religion's good works more to bring religion back into a positive light. Below I have written up a report covering most of his points/topics that may be of interest.

Ex-police commissioner says we must all "doubt" our faith

Lord Blair, ex police commissioner who led the police service during the 2005 July bombings, delivered the Theos Annual Lecture last night. In his personal testimony, entitled ‘Religion and Public Order’, Lord Blair highlighted the pitfalls of religion as a source of intolerance and violence in society but said he believed that religion was “simple” and a “force for good”.

Lord Blair said: "All religions have, as their core belief, the need for love, for respect for others, for tolerance….The greatest achievements and ambitions of human social history, such as the abolition of slavery and the provision of universal education or free health care for all have had their origins in religious impulse."

"Religion should be the most peaceful of all the agencies of social cohesion," he said.

Good acts

"Its infinite number of unseen and unsung acts of charity and love are not known individually but in total they are part of public consciousness.

"They should be and remain the glue that permits modern society to exist, particularly in an increasingly urbanised age - in other words, they are a bulwark of public order, in the sense of orderliness and tranquility."

A religious babel

He admitted: "This is not the image of religion in this past century or this past decade."

Adding he was confused by how this had happened: “I wonder how we got to here, this religious version of Babel.”Lord Blair, a practicing Anglican, spoke of his own faith journey saying he “wrestles” with his own faith and citing the Acts of the Apostles as the reason he believed the Bible was true.

However, he shared his confusion over the “obsession” with the ordination of women clergy in the Anglican Church and why it was “tearing itself apart” over homosexuality”, he also said he did not understand the Catholic Church’s need for priestly celibacy, and the Muslim arguments over Mohammed’s successor.

Old-fashioned and violent

He continued: "The horrors of clerical child abuse and the arguments over homosexuality ... are obscuring the basic decency that comes from the commandments to peace contained in all religions, a commandment which in the Christian church, for instance, requires each member of a congregation at every service to greet his or her neighbours with the words 'Peace be with you.'"Lord Blair argued that to most people faith looks "irrelevant, clannish, prejudiced, old-fashioned and violent".

He stressed the importance of doubt in religious belief: "Doubt is part of the mortar of a building faith," he said.

Doubt in faith

"Unless your faith has been tested by doubt, it is not faith but just an attitude, a retreat from the modern world.

"Doubt in the very nature of faith can surely be a useful companion to a necessary lack of shrill conviction that our own faith is more valuable than that of another."

Lord Blair suggested that to move forward that people of all faiths should move "beyond arguments between and within different religions and recover their confidence in the beneficial nature of religion per se."Concluding the lecture, he said "We should be aware of the horrors which organised religions have inflicted on the world, we should respect the views of others without faith but be unapologetically confident that, now, in our society, the religious impulse provides goodness in a manner unequalled by any other aspect of our communal life."


Lord Blair was made a cross-bench life peer in Gordon Brown's Dissolution Honours List earlier this year. He previously held the top policing job in the country from 2004 until his resignation in 2008. Five months into the role the London bombings of 7 July took place.John Humphrys, writer and broadcaster and star of Mastermind chaired the talk. The lecture was held at One Birdcage Walk, it was well attended with notable attendance by MPs, peers, academics, business people and religious leaders.

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