Mohammed was a Liberal Democrat
Or a compliment?
What if the title had read ‘Mohammed was a Nazi’?
Or a member of the BNP?
Does anachronistic politicising serve any purpose?
Mehdi Hasan, the New Statesman’s Senior Editor (politics), certainly thinks so: to him, Jesus was ‘much more left-wing than the religious right likes to believe’.
Yet, as a Muslim (a particularly devout one), one wonders what he would make of the ascribing to his prophet the confines of a modern political narrative.
His is a crass and superficial piece, manifesting a caricature grasp of ‘the left’ and ‘the right’, quite ignorant of Christian theology and oblivious of 2000 years of socio-political history.
It is not appropriate to apply the terms ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’ to a religio-political discourse on the complex relationship between Jesus and conservatism as the terms did not exist before they were coined based on the seating plan of the pro- and anti-reform groupings in the French Assembly in 1789. But since ‘the right’ has come to mean essentially the thesis of the individual, and ‘the left’ the thesis of the state, to posit that Jesus was ‘much more left-wing’ is absurd.
The ‘Jesus was a Socialist’ arguments are well worn. Over the past 60 years or so, the Labour Party has been seen to eclipse the Conservative Party in such recurrent themes as compassion, social justice and social responsibility. Much has been written on the Christian inspiration and moral purity of the Labour Party and that it ‘owes more to Methodism than Marxism’: the notions of loving one’s neighbour, caring for the poor, housing the homeless and healing the sick have been the great themes which have given the Labour Party its raison d’être. The Christian Socialist Movement in particular has been at the forefront of asserting that socialism is inherent to Christianity, and that a cursory reading of the Bible would confirm this and even that Jesus might vote Labour.
This is the essence of Mehdi Hasan’s thesis.
But he adds nothing new, and it is not remotely original.
Just the same old polemical left-wing tosh, but coming this time from a particularly divisive Muslim.
An obvious problem which Mr Hasan ignores (like all socialists) is that many ‘right-wing’ Christians have derived quite different social, economic and political implications from the same source. As Samuel Beer once observed: ‘Liberals, Radicals, Conservatives, and indeed in their days old Tories and old Whigs had relied on some version of the Biblical message.’
He does not engage with this heritage, but simply chooses to caricature modern expressions of it (like the American ‘religious right’).
But this suits his own ‘Muslim world’ narrative: his is forever a clash of civilisations; good versus evil; left versus right.
The Conservative Party (which presumably Mr Hasan classifies as ‘right-wing’) has always had a strong tradition of social concern and action which is rooted in Protestant Christianity and fused with the establishment of the Church of England. Some of the greatest movements for social reform have been led by Conservatives and their Whig and Tory forebears: Toryism has been as much a public theology as a political creed.
Does Mehdi Hasan have any idea what social projects the US ‘religious right’ are involved in? What they spend millions of dollars on?
Does he know how much they feed the poor, house the homeless or raise money for overseas aid?
Ah, no. Mr Hasan sees only the media narrative of ‘the left’: the American ‘religious right’ is obsessed with homosexuality and abortion.
And Jesus didn’t have an awful lot to say about either: he was busy being a good socialist.
Is ‘One-Nation Conservatism’ left or right? Is ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ left or right? Is David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ vision left or right?
Community is a fundamental human good because commitments and values are shared; the good life demands participation in a political community, and this requires communal participation in a political organisation of the widest scope, such as the nation state. The first of these claims is uncontroversial, and so, to a lesser extent, is the second, since it is concerned with the pursuit of the good through the assertion or acceptance of authority. But the third may be deemed to be incongruous with Mehdi Hasan’s Jesus, who is anti-state, anti-nationalist and anti-dogma.
There has been a sense in which the Church of England has been ‘the glue that binds’ and has furnished a distinct religious identity. The Conservative Party has traditionally embraced this religious dynamic, not least because any institution in a democracy around which the majority may be found to coalesce is a useful mechanism in the public sphere for the formulation of moral unity and the communication or subtle imposition of a notion of the common good. The challenge now for politicians is precisely that of church leaders – to forge a polity and a practical theology in a context in which there is no unity of culture, no unified morality and no shared religious worldview; to grasp the ephemeral spiritual ‘mood’ and the incoherence of the conflicting socio-cultural forces. It is for the Conservative Party under David Cameron to find its via media mode of government – the equilibrium between resistance and adaptation, between assimilation and confrontation, and between ‘neutrality’ and the articulation of confessional Anglican conservatism.
One might think this ought to be a laudable pursuit of ‘the left’ as well.
But they are busy with their clash of civilisations.
And with caricatures of those of us on ‘the right’.
And with worshipping ‘another Jesus’.
In Christ (that is, in the Jesus of the New Testament, which Mr Hasan believes to be corrupt), there is neither political left nor right, but the consistent exhortation to all to recognise the rule of God in their lives and exalt righteousness in the nation.
That, Mr Hasan, may be the honest, sincere and noble pursuit of all believers, however they cast their vote.