Tony Blair’s Christian faith is most commonly associated with a comment which was not even made by him. It was Blair’s press secretary, Alistair Campbell, who famously said ‘We don’t do God’ due to his concerns about how the language of faith is so easily misconstrued.
But, in contrast to the banal nonsense that David Cameron wrote in his recent message, Blair wrote openly and substantially about his Christian faith.
The following text is taken from his article ‘Why I am a Christian’ published in The Sunday Telegraph at Easter in April 1996. It is interesting that this was written a year before the General Election and at a time when he might have most to lose from speaking openly about his beliefs:
“Easter, a time of rebirth and renewal, has a special significance for me, and, in a sense, my politics. My vision of a society reflects a faith in the human spirit and its capacity to renew itself. But Easter is not only a celebration of the Resurrection: it is also a time to recall the events that led to Christ’s crucifixion and what they mean.
There are three parts to the Easter message – best described in St Matthew. First, there is Pontius Pilate, taking his decision as Jesus stood before him. One of the things that lends power to the Gospels is that the characters are so real. Pilate is fascinating because he is so obviously human and imperfect, torn between principle and political reality. Were the Gospels simply a didactic tale, his choice would be remembered as an easy one. But it is not described in this way.”
Blair’s analysis of the political dilemma facing Pontius Pilate is fascinating to read in retrospect. Blair’s legacy, despite many positive domestic achievements, is dominated by his decision to invade Iraq in partnership with the US. In many people’s eyes, he has been guilty of the same lack of principle that Pilate showed – and to many will be judged by history in a similar way:
“The intriguing thing about Pilate is the degree to which he tried to do the good thing rather than the bad. He commands our moral attention not because he was a bad man but because he was so nearly a good man. One can imagine him agonising, seeing that Jesus had done nothing wrong, and wishing to release him. Just as easily, however, one can envisage Pilate’s advisors telling him of the risks, warning him not to cause a riot or inflame Jewish opinion.
It is possible to see Pilate as the archetypal politician, caught on the horns of an age-old political dilemma. We know he did wrong, yet his is the struggle between what is right and what is expedient that has occurred throughout history. Should we do what appears principled or what is politically expedient?”
7 thoughts on “‘He was so nearly a good man’: Tony Blair on Pontius Pilate”
Interesting … it has been said that Matthew represented Pilate in this way because he wanted to lay the blame on the Jewish religious leaders rather than the Romans in an attempt to curry favour with the Empire.
Pilate was the classic version of a man caught between a rock and a hard place. One can’t judge Pilate for crucifying Jesus when he knew that it would not only save himself, but avoid an uprising in which many others could have been killed.
I wonder if an argument could be made that Pilate made the correct decision given the circumstance he made. Of course I’m not suggesting that Christ deserved to die, but I wonder if he made the correct decision on the basis of fear of insurrection – in effect I’m agreeing with Ty here. (One can also bring in the fact that Pilate contributed to the need for Christ’s atoning death – but I don’t want to dwell on that particular point). I’m interested that you don’t actually come down on your own opinion of Tony Blair and the Iraq War. An interesting book that might be worth reading relating to this is ‘In Defence of War’ by Nigel Biggar, who is the Regius Professor of Moral Theology at University of Oxford, also a Canon of Christ Church. Biggar attempts to provide a defence of the decision to go to war at Iraq. Former Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries who reviewed Biggar’s book in the Church Times didn’t find Biggar’s defence of the decision to go to war with Iraq convincing, but he thought that it was important that someone at least attempted to make that defence. I can send Harries’ review if you’re interested.
Thanks – yes please do share the link if it is online. I perhaps should have been clearer – I was against the Iraq war and marched against it. In many ways I think Blair was a potentially great Prime Minister – I don’t think anyone has understood the British public more instinctively than he did – but his decision to invade Iraq has coloured the whole of his legacy. I think this has in turn increased the lack of respect for him and driven him further in seeking work and a role outside of the UK since stopping being PM.
Unfortunately it is not online. I can send you a copy of the article if you like though. I would agree it was a mistake to go to war with Iraq. On the other hand I wonder what could be said about Blair’s decision, the particular circumstances he was in and the information available to him. And I hope at some stage to read Biggar’s book to see what he has to say relating to the issue.