"Jesus was a lefty"

So says a Daily Mail star writer. Why will that annoy lefties so much?

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.

 

 

 

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Mister Lizard is not at home to bailiffs – he is eating salmon pâté by the river

Why is it that when people answer the question “What’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?” in the Guardian questionnaire they never say, “You’ve been served”?

Summer’s nearly over. I look at the angle of the sunlight as it strikes the back terrace of the Hovel. I have been here long enough to use the terrace as a gnomon marking the passage of the year. I need, like the protagonists of Withnail and I, to go to the countryside to rejuvenate.

Last week when the Perseids were meant to be in full flow I asked frantically on a social medium for people to chum me along on a midnight walk on Hampstead Heath. In the end my new friends A— and her husband, C—, together with his new friend (whose initial I have forgotten, but he is Australian, if that helps), stepped up to the plate and after a couple at the Flask we went on a wide-ranging tour, which was a bust as far as seeing meteors – or my favourite tree – went, but was still hugely enjoyable. At about 2 am they packed me into an Uber and I went home happy, but I still felt as if I could do with more countryside.

The next few days made me even more anxious to get out of London. There are ominous signs that some serious roadworks are going to be taking place outside my bedroom window any day now. A bailiff came and rang the doorbell and I didn’t have the heart, or the nerve, to say that Nicholas Lezard was not at home at the moment and, is, in fact, on a walking tour of Patagonia now I come to think of it, due back some time next year. I just took the piece of paper into my hands as if it were a chicken come home to roost.

The previous day, presumably the same bailiff had come round and asked if Mr Lizard was in, and my housemate gallantly – and quite truthfully – said “no”. (Why is it that when people answer the question “What’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?” in the Guardian questionnaire they never say, “You’ve been served”? Maybe it’s because they haven’t ever been.) In addition, as I said last week, the cleaning lady is on holiday and the Hovel is starting to look distinctly seedy.

So, then I get a call from a person who once featured quite prominently in this column, some time ago. This person is bored and wants me to go to his or her town and alleviate his or her boredom. This person and I parted company in circumstances that were far from ideal some time ago, and only recently have diplomatic relations been resumed.

It is too late, I say, for me to get on the train now; but when I have reviewed the book I am meant to be reviewing, I will hop on the train tomorrow around noon. And so I do, despite some monkey business from the departures board at King’s Cross, which tells passengers the 12:44 has been cancelled, then hasn’t been, then has, then hasn’t after all, while the 12:14 has slipped away like a thief in the night without telling anyone it was doing so.

I wonder if my return to the town of ——— is wise. As a dog returneth to its vomit, so doth a fool return to his folly. And the burnt hand fears the fire. Look, I say to myself, all we’re doing is going to have a picnic by the river. As we buy our supplies, the stallholder at the market asks if I am my companion’s husband. “No, he’s my picnic buddy,” he or she replies. “Never heard it called that before,” says the stallholder.

And the day passes perfectly pleasantly. We have two bottles of wine, cheese and smoked salmon pâté with crusty bread. People in punts drift past us, with varying degrees of competence. I remember it is A-level results day and call the eldest boy to ask how he’s done. He’s done well enough, it turns out, to get a place at university, though he feels obliged to point out that his results came in exactly a year ago. This is the kind of thing that happens when the number of children you have exceeds your mental bandwidth.

Later on, a porter from the college behind which we are picnicking asks me if I am a member, or an alumni. “Alumnus,” I correct him gently, hoping that this should establish my credentials. He asks for my name, and he radios the porters’ lodge to check my veracity. For some reason it takes him several goes to get my name right.

One of these goes is “Lizard”. We offer him some cheese, but he refuses, on the grounds that he has just had a banana and a cup of tea. I could live in a guest room here, I reflect, at not much higher rent than one pays in London. And the beauty of it is that the police, and presumably bailiffs, have to ask permission to go through the gates. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser