ABC on Jesus the sky pixie


Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!

These words close Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1924 poem “Vladimir Ilych Lenin“.”  Written in the months after Lenin’s death, “VI Lenin” is the greatest of Mayakovsky’s works and the apex of the socialist realist style of poetry that flowered in Russia in the decade after the Revolution. “VI Lenin” is also the template through which some in the press construct the person and works of Jesus Christ

For many members of the chattering classes Jesus is a Lenin figure, or Lenin is a Jesus figure (depending on your priorities) with the difference that Lenin was a real historical figure, while Jesus was not. A recent interview with Salman Rushdie conducted by the ABC, (note the “the” before ABC, meaning the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, not the American Broadcasting Corporation) typifies this view of Jesus held by his cultured despisers.

But culture first, then media criticism.

Divided into three cantos, “VI Lenin” tells the story of the triumph of the proletarian revolution through the vehicle of the working class, which through toil and strife, guided by the laws of social development, revealed by its ideological genius Karl Marx, produces the “twin of Mother History” — the Bolshevik Party and its leader, VI Lenin.

The party for Mayakovsky is the symbol of the strength and wisdom of the working classes and is what has trained and mobilized the masses, and lead them out of their bondage. And over all this:

appears
the compass of Leninist thought,
appears
the guiding hand of Lenin.

Lenin’s life did not end with his death as the people and the party live on.

And even the death of Ilyich
became a great communist organizer
.

Lenin will live in the hearts of the proletariat and will remain the rallying point for world revolution.

Proletarians, form ranks for the last battle!
Straighten your backs,
unbend your knees!
Proletarian army, close ranks!
Long live the joyous revolution, soon to come!
This is the greatest
of all great fights
that history has known.

What prompted that bit of showing off of the detritus of a wasted youth was the Salman Rushdie interview broadcast on the ABC Radio National program Books and Arts Daily. In a forty minute segment entitled “Salman Rushdie’s New Memoir: Joseph Anton” host Michael Cathcart spoke to the British novelist about his life in the wake of the fatwah.

The show notes state:

On Valentine’s Day in 1989, Iran’s Supreme leader the Ayatollah Khomeini declared a fatwa – any believer who assassinated the novelist Salman Rushdie was promised eternal life. The Ayatollah announced that the Indian born British novelist had committed an unpardonable blasphemy against Islam in a novel called The Satanic Verses. To supporters of the fatwa, even the title must have seemed like a confession. This was a man who by his own declaration was the author of The Satanic Verses. And so Salman Rushdie winner of the Booker prize became Rushdie the Infidel. Rushdie the man in hiding. For some he became a champion of free speech, a man who refused to cave in to bullying. To others, he was the author of his own misfortune. Now he tells the story of his years in protection in a memoir, a vast book called Joseph Anton, the alias he took while in hiding.

I encourage you to listen to the interview. Rushdie tells a fascinating story about his life and his work — and also has insights in the present unrest spreading across the Muslim world.  In recounting the protests that followed the publication of The Satanic Verses Rushdie states the “people who had demonstrated were ordered to demonstrate.”

“They didn’t know anything” about his book and were out in the streets demonstrating against a Western provocation against Islam on the instructions of political leaders who wanted to capitalize on the book’s notoriety for their local political advantage. The same pattern of events was unfolding in the Muslim world, Rushdie argued, with the obscure YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims.”

This interpretation of events is in line with the reports I shared from my contacts in Egypt on 11 Sept 2012 when a mob attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo and consulate in Benghazi. While the government on 28 Sept backed away from its claim the attack on Benghazi was caused by spontaneous outrage from the “Innocence of Muslims” film, I have yet to see them concede what the press and Egyptian government have concluded — that the Cairo riot was a staged provocation also.

Do listen to Rushdie — he is worth your time. The interviewer, on the other hand, was not as strong.  About six minutes into the broadcast, when discussing Rushdie’s university studies about the history of Islam, the interviewer said:

There is no doubt that Muhammad was a real person. .. (while) Jesus was an ambiguous person.

Muhammad is real. Jesus is, maybe, real, or maybe a legend, the ABC argues. The interviewer has mangled his facts here, as after 150 years of scholarship on this point, the historical Jesus is conceded to have existed by most scholars. The issue as to whether Muhammad existed is an open one in Western scholarship.

For Mayakovsky Lenin is not like other men. He is a symbol of the struggle of the proletariat: past, present and future. He is a genius and a practical man, the “most human of all humans who have lived on earth”, Mayakovsky wrote.  A man “just like you and me.”

The ABC interviewer, were he to posit the existence of Jesus, would describe him in these terms also — and view the Christian religion in terms of its social utility. Let me say my concern is not to argue theology, but to point out the worldview the interviewer used in expressing what he believed to be the consensus as to who Jesus was. Jesus like Lenin was a figure whose value lay in his symbolic utility. It is how Jesus is interpreted, not who he is or his work that matters.

This, of course, is contrary to most Christian traditions, save for a few modern sects — yet the palette the ABC uses to paint who Jesus was is a default left-liberal semi-universalist one. Doubts can be raised about Jesus, but the portrait of Muhammad is the one held by traditional Islam.

Voluble skepticism of Christianity doubled with incurious statements about Islam is common among the press these days. Why?

Was this an example of political correctness? The crawling that one sees from many in the press when the topic comes to Islam? Or, was it ignorance of the topic? What say you GetReligion readers? Do you think the ABC would have argued that Jesus was real while Muhammad was sky pixie (a phrase beloved by atheists in describing divinity)?

 

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  • John Bissell

    Likewise, common use of the description “The Prophet Mohammed” from Late Night Television (David Letterman) to daily interviews on CNN, Fox, The Big Three is another indication that Islam is making headway into American popular culture whereas titles like “Jesus Christ”, “The Holy Father” or “The Trinity” are generally absent, a cottage industry with them is the almost weekly debunking Christianity stories that get widespread and enthusiastic coverage. Jesus was gay, Jesus was married, c’mon make up your minds!

  • The Old Bill

    What would one expect when ignorance of the most influential text in history is considered a mark of sophistication? In newsrooms, when “Jesus Christ” is uttered, it is usually as an epithet.

    To assert that Jesus was simply a great teacher or a political revolutionary is absurd. As C.S. Lewis argues, He is either what He said He was, or a madman and a fraud.

    Despite the constant invocation of the Inquisition, the media is dauntless in its attack on Christians. No so much when facing fatwas.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    To assert that Jesus was simply a great teacher or a political revolutionary is absurd. As C.S. Lewis argues, He is either what He said He was, or a madman and a fraud.

    Having a hard time picking up on the relevance to journalism of this passage. I’m reasonably sure that if I argued against that assertion, it would be rejected as being off-topic. So why is the positive claim on-topic?

    • SK

      Agreed.The discussion seems to be going off-topic from the interview reflecting the journalists own view on Jesus Christ to that of an argument about personal religious belief of the commentators.

  • b.

    I listened to the part where the interviewer takes a pass on who Jesus was. Interesting. He definitely intends to contrast the reality of Muhammad with the obscurity of Jesus.

    I think the obscurity is less about despising Jesus than about not wanting to answer a question that the interviewer thinks is above his pay grade. Jesus: he’s that guy we just can’t figure out.

    This is entirely consistent with tmatt’s recent post in which a journalist translates the statement of a Christian, to say that Jesus was not fully human.

    The fully human AND fully divine concept is hard.

    Culturally, I personally believe that Christ saves us from ourselves. We don’t fall for a Lenin. We are not looking for a Personal Jesus.

    • b.

      I should have said, an Immanent Jesus.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    I think Mr. Cathcart’s statement has two possible explanations. One, he is simply unaware of the historical Jesus research and its findings. According to his bio at the ABC website, religious history is not his speciality. But that said, research is not too much to ask.

    The second possibility is that he was trying to contrast the pretty extensively detailed biographical information Islam makes available about Muhammad with the relatively un-detailed biographical information the Gospels provide about Jesus. In that case, he means that there is a good deal of detail available about the life of Muhammad, but since there is less available about Jesus, he is “ambiguous.”

    As I see it, Mr. Cathcart either slacked on his research or prepared his script clumsily. Either way, he should try to do better next time.

  • SK

    I thought that maybe the sanctions in Islam came from Muhammad himself whereas Jesus’ views regarding punishment for sinners was ambiguous. A lot of Islam’s views regarding fatwa may come from Muhammad himself .


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