Tony Blair has been interviewed by Johann Hari in the latest issue of Attitude magazine. Blair talks about political change during his premiership and the changes in religious thinking that he can see happening now. It’s good news for the work of Changing Attitude and salutary news for Christian conservatives. Attitudes change when you engage and truly listen to people – that’s why conservatives resist the Listening Process. Generational change occurs, change occurs, full stop, and can’t be stopped. In a nutshell, this is what Blair said:
Public attitudes have changed fundamentally
Civil partnerships gave people a sense of liberation from prejudice. So many people’s lives have been affected by CPs. Ken Livingstone insisted on the gay agenda when it was unpopular. He taught that conventional wisdom is not necessarily wise: it can be a form of conservatism that hides behind consensus.
Opposition to prejudice is pilloried as political correctness. Political correctness was used to demonise the move towards equality. Equality isn’t political correctness: it’s justice. Tory politicians said that someone can be persuaded to be gay in the Section 28 debates, I said, “I’m not gay, and there is nothing that would persuade me to be gay –it’s the same for gay people.”
A generational shift is happening in evangelical groups in the US. The older generation still quote parts of the Bible. The younger generation of evangelicals are increasingly no longer anti-gay.
Change by engagement
You can change people’s minds by engaging with them. Change comes through the process of engagement. People’s attitudes open up to the possibility of change and reconsideration.
Doctrine and practice
The essential values of faith need to be extracted from a vast accumulation of doctrine and practice. Many people’s religious faith is less to do with doctrine and practice and more to do with love of God and love of your neighbour.
Attitudes get mixed up with doctrine in the institutions of organised religion. It can be hard for religious institutions to break with the past. Can we contemplate a process of modernisation where attitudes towards the word of God change over time?
Religious people need to read texts less literally and more metaphorically. They need to treat religious thought and texts as capable of evolution over time. They need to understand the context and the society in which they were written. Jesus changed the traditional way that people thought. The process of evolution and change carries on the whole time.
Religion and reason
Pitting religion against reason is the single most dangerous thing you can do. If you force people to choose between religious faith and reason, they will choose reason.
Attitudes and thinking evolve over time. Religious leaders fear that if you concede ground on this issue change will be unstoppable. We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which we approach our faith.
In an average congregation people are surprisingly liberal-minded. You find that their faith is not to be found in entrenched attitudes. Ask “what makes you religious?” and “what does your faith mean to you?” and they will answer “compassion, solidarity, relieving suffering”, not “it’s to do with believing homosexuality is wrong”.