"Happy is the man who walked not in the counsel of the wicked and stood not in the path of the sinful and sat not in the session of scorners" Psalm 1:1
This past week we saw Tony Blair declaring that he is to donate the reported £4 million advance payment of his new book and also any profits it might make, to the Royal British Legion in order to "honour the courage and sacrifice" of British Soldiers.
Mr Chris Simpkins on behalf of the British Legion, has happily and gratefully accepted this offer and has stated that they intend to use his donation, the biggest single donation to that organisation ever, to create a sports centre for injured servicemen and women. I think all of us can be assured that when Mr Simpkins says that the donation will "make a real difference to the lives of hundreds of injured personnel" he speaks the truth. May God bestow His blessings upon this project and may it truly bring assistance and happiness to our troops. And may the need for all such endeavours be removed speedily, when swords are beaten into ploughshares and nations never again learn to make war.
Sadly almost immediately after Mr Blair's declaration, voices of public protest and condemnation began to be heard. One such group of voices originated among some of the loved ones of soldiers killed in service. Those of us who have not suffered what they have suffered dare not express any criticism or judgement of these people or what they have said.
But there were and are other voices, both in the media and amidst the general public, that are passionately critical of Mr Blair, his motivations and his donation. So often this criticism seems to be fuelled by an irrational and quite vicious dislike of Mr Blair and his record in office.
Let me nail my colours (certainly not socialistic red!) to the mast. I have never liked Mr Blair's policies or approach to government. I believe that despite some good done, he and his government damaged our fragile society and changed for the worse our political life. I have had and retain a distaste for the persona he projects and could quite happily have done without either the Blair years or New Labour in general. I also understand many of the arguments and concerns expressed about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and feel that the lack of resources our army had to contend with, will remain a horrible stain on the history of our governing class. But I also wish to make it clear that I equally dislike the total abject irrationality evident in the facile arguments suggesting oil as Mr Blair's motive for war, not to mention the nonsensical conspiracy theories, sadly so often heard in polite conversation these days, and too silly to repeat here. I am also appalled by the blatant party politics that allows opposition parties (now the government) to conveniently wash their hands of all responsibility in either opposing and preventing a war they now declare illegal, or in the insuring that those sent to fight had all they needed to protect themselves.
But what in heaven's name do all the contrary opinions about Mr Blair and his policies, have to do with this charitable gift? Do we have a shortage of evil in the world that we have to mock and pour scorn on acts of goodness, even those that might fall short of perfection? Why must we allow personal dislike or even naked hatred prevent recognition of goodness?
I have seen comments suggesting that this donation will not succeed in buying forgiveness for Tony Blair, and some have suggested that he will find that this donation fails to open any heavenly gates for him. What sort of talk is this? How arrogant of us to assume that we know the inner motivations, the thoughts within the heart, of a man that the overwhelming majority of us do not know personally? I simply don't care if he is only trying to rehabilitate his public image and secure a legacy, or if he has found motivation in the words of King Solomon in Proverbs 11:4 when he says "wealth will not avail in the day of wrath, but charity will rescue from death". These are the types of occasions when we should take to heart the words of our teacher Jesus, who tells us "Judge not lest you be judged" and "let him who is without sin cast the first stone". (Incidentally the only evidence we do have would seem to indicate that his motivation was a simple desire to show respect to our service men and women). These inner reasons are between himself and God, who ultimately he will have to stand before in judgement just as we all will.
And I would ask of those who have poured the ice-cold waters of scorn on this donation, how much have you given or how much do you propose to give? The British Legion can't provide for those in need with donations of cynicism and criticism can they.
My personal opinions of Mr Blair and his legacy in office have not changed, and there is no need for the opinions of others to change either. However let us value an act of charity, let us raise up the voice of giving in our society and strengthen the hand of those who are most in need of it.
Those of us who are Unitarian, and also those in the wider Christian and religious world, let us maintain our positive view of life and man, and not fall victim to the negativity of scornful words. Let us not forget that the brother of our teacher is claimed to have said "Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things, See how great a forest a little fire kindles!... With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in the image of God... My brethren, these things ought not to be so" James 3:5-10