The New Statesman's Mehdi Hasan has long set the standard for pieces on religion. His articles ostensibly take the form of defending faith, but they do so in such a way as to make religious people look unfairly glib and simple-minded. His new piece, unsubtly (and unironically) titled 'Jesus Was a Lefty,' makes the argument that while conservatives have claimed Jesus as one of their own, "In the words of the 19th-century French utopian philosopher Étienne Cabet, "Communism is Christianity . . . it is pure Christianity, before it was corrupted by Catholicism." And yet, despite the amount of ink he expends showing how dangerous it is for people to believe they have Jesus on their side, Hasan argues that Jesus is...on Hasan's side.
As he writes, "The unemployed son of two asylum-seekers—Joseph and Mary—who fled to Egypt to avoid the genocidal tendencies of King Herod, the Jesus of the Gospels is a bearded, sandal-wearing, unmarried rabbi from Nazareth with all the personal traits of a modern revolutionary." Jesus had all the modern traits of modern revolutionary—because most modern revolutionaries are also sandal-wearing hippie caricatures.
Hasan then offers the reader five subject areas and examines where Jesus would stand on each one. Unsurprisingly, Jesus was "a class warrior," "a banker basher," "a fair-wage campaigner," an "NHS champion," (naturally) and an "anti-war activist."
From Cuban communists to New Labour social democrats, a belief in redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor is at the core of leftist thinking. The means used to achieve that redistribution, such as higher rates of income tax, are often decried by conservatives as representing the "politics of envy", a misguided Marxist desire for class war.
How dare people claim the Castro brothers engaged in class warfare. All they preached was higher income taxes! Hasan then declares that Jesus's overturning of a money-lending table "is a blueprint for the direct action against the financial and political elite by left-wing activists today." Hasan then turns to living wages, where he insists that "The Gospels don't quite tell us that Jesus was a trade unionist, but they do suggest he backed a living wage." Did he use the term living wage? If only he had been speaking English we could know for certain.
As for war:
Would Jesus have backed the Iraq war? Or would he have joined the two million anti-war protesters marching through the streets of London in February 2003? How about the war in Afghanistan? Stay the course? Or do a deal with the Taliban and bring the troops home? WWJD?
To "do a deal" with the Taliban would be so easy, and yet we insist on war instead.
Two questions for Hasan: first, does he find it to be an odd coincidence that every single one of his political values happens to line up perfectly with his interpretation of Jesus's thinking and behavior? Hasan must consider himself lucky that he has found a divine figure who is the perfect embodiment of all of his (previously held) values. And second: If the lesson Jesus preached about, say, inequality was different than Hasan's view of inequality, would he (Hasan) change his view of it? Somehow, I think we know the answer.
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