I have been wondering for some time when the opportunity would arise to discuss whether Christianity has an inherently left-wing message. Now it has -- and from an unexpected quarter. The Daily Mail's parliamentary sketchwriter, Quentin Letts, may be an occasional contributor to the NS, but it is fair to say that he is viewed with some suspicion in bien-pensant circles. He has been accused of snobbery, homophobia, misogyny and of making fun of Harriet Harman (though why that should be a cause of dismay, I cannot say). I, on the other hand, can personally vouch for Quentin's many estimable qualities. But be that as it may. He is unquestionably a Tory.
And that is why I found it so interesting that in his new book, Bog-Standard Britain, Quentin writes the following:
Jesus preached fairness -- you could almost call him a Lefty . . . Christianity has a redistributive message yet the professionals of egalitarian Britain are twitchy about organised religion. They cannot bear the thought of a hierarchy of priests speaking from raised pulpits, bending down to the faithful to impart mercy. Hey, that's the secular state's role.
Now it may be clear that Quentin has other targets in mind, but that does not alter his acknowledgement of what I have always felt: that the tenets of Christianity must lead anyone who takes them seriously to incline towards political views that most often find expression in parties of the left. I remember coming back from Catholic confirmation classes to be questioned by a teacher at my Anglican prep school. "What ideas has that radical priest been putting in your head?" she asked. Only what seemed to me to be the obvious consequences of New Testament instruction.
"If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" still appears a clear command to pacifism, and it fitted at that time (this was the mid-Eighties) with CND then being led by a Catholic priest, Monsignor Bruce Kent. Equally, Jesus's response to the young man who asked him, "What must I do to be saved?" -- "Sell all you have, give the money to the poor" -- struck me as the antithesis of the "greed is good" atmosphere of the Thatcher and Reagan years.
I don't know whether Jesus, if he were to appear on earth today, would shop at Asda rather than M&S, as the Bishop of Reading said in September. But it certainly seemed to me then that he would have found little to his taste in the often callous and uncaring rhetoric of the British right during those years. Feeble attempts to suggest that the Parable of the Talents shows that Christ would want everyone to work at Goldman Sachs fail to convince, and in any case clearly miss the larger point.
As I have pointed out before, the history of English radicalism would be a bare tapestry indeed without the Christianity that sustained it (as, to be fair, it also informs the One Nation Toryism to which I imagine Quentin subscribes). So why do so many on the left wish to ignore this tradition, even to excise it from political debate today? Why are they so afraid of the idea that left-wing notions of fairness, duty and the good society might derive from sources other than social democratic theory?
People can say all they want about the behaviour of the churches over the centuries. That is not relevant here. The point is the proposition that Jesus himself was a "lefty". Funny that it should take one of the Mail's star writers to point this out, and that that statement should be so distasteful to so many who might have been expected to acknowledge its truth themselves.