what a difference a country makes

All of England appears to be waiting for confirmation that its former prime minister has at last crossed the Tiber. Given the fact that very few in the United Kingdom appear to be religious in the conventional sense (that is, in terms of practice) and that if the average Brit had a choice between going to Evensong at Westminster Abbey or dropping by Leicester Square for a bit of celebrity-gazing there would be no choice, the likely conversion of Tony Blair as a news item of national interest does appear at first blush to be surprising.But it isn't just Britain that takes an interest in the religious convictions of its leaders past and present. The U.S. has an unquenchable passion for the admixture of faith and politics--sometimes admittedly dangerous and indiscriminate--and never more so than during the grand lead-up to a presidential election. Candidates do not apologize for their faith; they trumpet it.In Canada, this kind of transparent display of faith (or religiosity as the pollsters now call it) can be disconcerting. Canadians generally prefer their political leaders to keep their faith nicely tucked under their lapels rather than boldly worn on their sleeves. Although change is on the horizon. A recent survey of federal politcians (Members of Parliament) unearthed the astonishing fact that the vast majority of the winners and runners-up for the annual Parliamentarins of the Year Awards "are deeply and publicly religious."Faith and fanaticism are not, of course, the same thing; political integrity is not compromised by religious fidelity; public leadership need not and should not demand the jettisoning of one's spiritual life; and faith and public life do not lead inexorably to theocracy.

Michael W. Higgins is the Basilian Distinguished Fellow in Contemporary Catholic Thought, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Conn. He is currently writing a book on Pope Francis for House of Anansi Press.

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