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The theological significance of Corbyn the Messiah

It is no small thing for jocular comparisons between the leader of the Labour Party and Jesus Christ to become a staple of Twitter diatribe and broadsheet political commentary alike. Yet the notion that Jeremy Corbyn is heralded by his supporters as ‘the Messiah’ is well on its way to hardened cliche status.

Google it up. A random sample of those advancing the claim are Yasmin Alibhai-Brown,
herself an observant Muslim; former Labour MP Tom Harris and Mary Riddell in the Telegraph; Dan Hodges in the Mail; Isabel Hardman in the Spectator; and Leo McKinstry in the Express. Andrew Rawnsley freely resorts to the wisecrack in the Guardian, a publication whose website features video footage of a Corbyn rally under the caption ‘the second coming’. If only Jezza could pull off that five loaves and two fishes thing, they’d save a fortune on catering at the next Momentum conference, right?

The sneering tone is palpable. Corbyn backers are being depicted as delusional devotees of a charismatic guru, simpletons somehow gulled by the sort of temporary mania one expects to see surrounding the launch of a new boy band. Yet no-one has stopped to reflect on what message is being sent, and to whom,
when the appellation Messiah is used with a smirk, by way of a lighthearted synonym for any old wingnut with a flock.

If your theology isn’t up to scratch, let me spell out the precise connotation. The English word Messiah originates in the Hebrew term Mashiah, carrying the root meaning ‘one who has been anointed’. In Greek translation, Mashiah became Christos, subsequently anglicised as Christ. Within Christianity, both Messiah and Christ are reserved exclusively for reference to Jesus.

In other words, those playing around with the Corbyn the Messiah trope are
equating a politician they dislike with an historical figure that milllions of Britons worship as God incarnate. In belittling Corbyn by comparing him to Christ, believers will see them
as belittling their personal saviour by comparing him to Corbyn, for no better motivation than scoring a few debating points. The hypocrisy of the liberal commentariat is glaring. The self-same centrist
and rightwing writers who glibly draw the parallel have been in the forefront of castigating the Labour left for alienating the sensibilities of British Jews.

But millions of evangelical, fundamentalist, protestant and Catholic Christians – many of them black – will find the Christ/Corbyn conflation distasteful, if not outright blasphemy.

The offence likely won’t stop there. My knowledge of messianic Judaism is scant, but I suspect many hasidic Jews – a significant proportion of the electorate in the constituency in which I live – will also regard the rhetorical elision as unhappy. Why do this? For anyone with the Labour Party’s interests at heart, what
purpose can it possibly serve?

And meanwhile, what is being said to irreligious leftists? Most of us – especially those who remember the everyday calumny ladled on socialists during the Benn years – don’t bruise easily. Just let me take exception to the charge that we are acting on the basis of the kind of faith appropriate to the more zealous varieties of religious conviction, rather than rational calculation of the direction in which we want to take the Labour Party, and sheer determination to get there.

Not the least of the reasons why Jeremy is not the Messiah is that we have no intention of allowing him to be crucified by the Romans, thank you very much. In short, anybody simultaneously dissing the godly and underestimating the godless is making a big mistake.

11 Comments

  1. Tim Barlow says:

    He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!

  2. Steve Mizzy says:

    Messiah – a leader regarded as the saviour of a particular country, group, or cause.

    Don’t the majority of Corbyn’s supporters regard him as exactly that?

  3. David Pavett says:

    I would take the religious overtones of political movements, including those on the left, rather more seriously than David Osland does in this tritely mocking piece.

    One of the problem with religious thought is that it is hermetcally sealed against any possible evidence, Thus even death camps in which millions are slaughtered does not count as evidence against the idea of an all-powerful God of love.

    But the similar problems mark a great deal of politics including left-wing politics. People on the left, like those on the right like to be told what they want to hear. Those who raise doubts about happy clapoy messages are viewed with suspicion and regarded as back sliders. When problems becomes evident they are covered with excuses and apologetics.

    And I have to say that on top of all that I attended a pro-Corbyn meeting in which one of the speakers from the floor, without a trace of irony, described Corbyn as a messiah. The audience did not fall about laughing but listened in respectful silence.

    If we cannot recognise the threat posed by quasi-religious thinking on the left with all its attendant dogmatism and simplistic notions then it will come back to bite us as it has already done many times before.

    1. Bazza says:

      Absolutely David – the best thing we all can bring to the table is our independent critical thinking!

  4. James Martin says:

    I don’t take any notice of the journalists David O quotes in his article, but while I am happy to support and defend Corbyn we must recognise the problems we have that has led to this type of stuff.

    First, there is no ‘Corbynism’ in the same way as there was Bennism. This is not about the individual character but about a body of ideas around economics, democracy and Labour Partyarty structures. It is why I am still happy to call myself after all these years a ‘Bennite’ because it still means something. But what does Corbyn mean in relation to the economy and an ecnomic plan for a future socialist government? I haven’t a clue. What does Corbyn mean in terms of Labour Party structures and internal democracy and policy making? No idea. What does Corbyn mean in relation to a coherent policy on British democracy, devolution and things like the EU? Not the foggiest.

    And that is, I suggest, the reason why those religious insults actually sort of stick as we are following and believing in someone that does not offer a rational reason as to why we should other than he is better than those who stood in 2015 and 2016.

    I gave up on Momentum a good while ago when it became clear that it was not a democratic organisation (it was and is anti-Bennite in fact, despite Lansman’s past) and when it threw Jackie Walker to the racist wolves of the JLM. But it is abundantly clear that a Momentum that acts as nothing more than a top-down Corbyn fan-club and fails take on the coup-plotting PLP, fails to demand the end of the compliance unit, fails to try to build in the unions and fails to push an alternative set of socialist policies for Labour in the way Benn and the Chesterfield centered conferences did is really a big part of the problem and the reason why socialist activity and ideology has been replaced by what is little more than middle class hero worship.

    1. Bazza says:

      Good points James and perhaps its up to us the grassroots, bottom up to add the -ism to Corbyn!
      We need JC as a Leader and Faciltator of our power!
      Solidarity!

  5. Imran Khan says:

    It’s news to me, and I know her, that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is an observing Muslim of any kind. Apart from that howler an amusing article.

    Any new developments on Livingstone being expelled from the party?

    1. R.B.Stewart says:

      Any news on developments re Sean Spicer, the US press secretary?

  6. Robin Edwards says:

    As socialists, as revolutionary socialists, we do not promise you anything, offer you anything, come to save you. We call you to struggle. To take power. To re-create the world from top to bottom. You, working people, must do that. We cannot do it for you. That is what OUR programmes are all about. You taking power and struggle. We are not demagogues or populists or substitutionists and we are certainly not messiahs though however much they kill us we do tend to come back but that is because history is on our side.

  7. John Rogan says:

    “The poor, persecuted, meek, righteous, merciful, pure of heart & the peacemakers – all united in support of Jeremy.” – @LabourEoin (July 2016)

    It’s not only the “sneerers” (and I am happy to be put in that category) who see Corbyn as a cult-like figure. @LabourEoin is a very popular Corbyn supporter and his language above looks straight out of “The Sermon on the Mount”. And he’s not the only one as the “sneering” wouldn’t work unless there was an element of truth in it.

    We’ve seen the veneration of left leaders before (e.g. Tommy Sheridan, George Galloway) where the leader comes to personify the whole movement. When the leader is shown to have faults, personal and political, then the movement collapses (e.g. SSP and Respect).

    Will the same happen to Corbyn? His support contains many different contradictory strands of the left. Recently, that has begun to fracture (e.g. Momentum, Brexit and Livingstone). Brexit is the one which will probably cause greatest damage amongst his young supporters though, many of whom see it as tantamount to backing the Tory Right and UKIP anti-immigration agenda.

    Unfortunately, it’s not only Corbyn who’s getting hammered by the fall-out over Brexit but Labour as a whole.

  8. Bazza says:

    I am proud to have JC as Leader and on Syria I think he got it just about right unlike some Labour Right Wing MPs who seemed to parrot the Establishment/Tory line almost like they had done a deal?
    I think we may all be feeling despair concerning the current complex situation in Syria (with a range of foreign meddlers on all sides) but perhaps genuine and wise leaders offer hope.
    And I wonder if Ralph Miliband’s ‘The State in a Capitalist Society’ (1969) may help our thinking?
    So perhaps Trump really rules in the US for the rich and powerful and Putin the same in Russia too but perhaps they both have to pretend to care about ordinary working people (to win elections) and perhaps this is why Trump was compelled to act in the face of international horror at the recent chemical attack in Syria (but we have been horrified by chemical and conventional weapon attacks in Syria from day one).
    Perhaps remembering and comparing the West’s reaction to Iraq etc.(oil) and Bosnia (no spoils of war) could help our thinking here too?
    In Iraq et al they were straight in but in Bosnia it took a year or so.
    And perhaps we also need to remember Assad and his clique own 30% of the economy in the richest part of Syria which they control and perhaps this is what they are really fighting for?
    But 2 things puzzle me about the US bombing of the Syrian airbase, one is whilst Russia were given one to one and half hours warning by the US (to get their forces away) didn’t the Russians then warn the Syrian forces?
    And why then were a small number of the Syrian military killed?
    The second is a report in The Times (8/4/17) stating a small group in the Assad regime around a senior officer had been planning to oust Assad and recently they seem to have disappeared.
    But as I say I think JC is broadly right, we need an immediate ceasefire, and an urgent UN Sponsored Geneva Peace Conference and a POLITICAL SOLUTION plus I would add an immediate No Fly Zone applying to all.
    But what of those other interlopers so-called IS?
    I abhor violence and war but recognise as a last resort when all else has failed that you have the right to self-defence; as some choose only a violent approach then perhaps so-called IS could and should be beaten by Muslims on the ground.
    I am a left wing democratic peaceful socialist but not religious (and respect others legitimate choices) but perhaps to conclude in line with the theme on here: “Blessed are the peacemakers!”

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