Tony Blair is not the first person to think that religion will decide the fate of the modern world.
“The 21st century”, said André Malraux, at the height of the Cold War, “will be religious or it will not be at all.” But can they be right? When we look round the world today, the presence of religion in any conflict seems to make it more intractable, and bitter. Our instinct is to take the principle out of conflicts and turn them into pragmatic disputes, susceptible to reasonable resolution.
That is certainly the approach the Tony Blair’s “peace process” took in Northern Ireland. Many people will feel that the answer to religious wars is less religion, not more of the “right” sort. But there are two problems with this approach. The first is that secularism is losing prestige in the places where wars are actually under way. There’s not enough of it about to quench the fires. The second is a very simple question: if secular common sense doesn’t start disputes, what makes us think it can end them? Perhaps the kinds of dispute for which people will kill, and die, will always have a religious dimension.