Sarah Lyall grew up in New York City and is now London correspondent for the New York Times. She lives there with her husband, the writer Robert McCrum, and their two daughters. Her first book was entitled The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British.
Question: Are the British religious?
Lyall: Not really. I mean, it’s the Church of England, which is the old Anglican, you know, pretty strict religion. Not much anymore. You know, there’s a lot of immigration now and a lot of them are Catholic. There’s a lot of Poles there, a lot of Eastern Europeans. And so that’s where the immigration, that’s where religion would be increasing. And Islam is increasing because there’s more Muslim immigrants as well. But they, they’re shocked, [my] American, you know, the American religions right, you know, they can’t believe that people exist who have the 10 Commandments on their front lawns and who were saying that Iraq is God’s will, and that makes some kind of sick, actually.
Question: Why did Tony Blair convert to Catholicism?
Lyall: Well, he did it after he left office. His wife is Catholic. And, I think, you know, he honestly is a kind of spiritual guy, you know? He really… For all that you might think he made terrible, terrible mistakes, you know, I’m not allowed to say it, [some mystery reporter]. But, for all you think that Iraq might have been a terrible, terrible thing, I honestly believe that he thought it was the right thing to do morally. I think he felt there was an obligation to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And, I think, while he was in office, he couldn’t convert to Catholicism because it would have been seen as a big deal politically. And I’m not sure it’s ‘cause he didn’t want to alienate Anglicans. I think it’s just it would have detracted, distracted from his job and all the other stuff he was doing. But it is kind of shocking, ‘cause it makes you look backwards and think, or, you know, some of the decisions he made, is that because he was already a Catholic or whatever? You just don’t really know. But he did it pretty quietly, and he… It seemed, you know, again, if you sort of at least respect someone for following through on their own principles, it was a commendable thing to do.