"If Jesus were alive today," the president of Iran said, almost, "he'd be lobbying in support of Iran's development of nuclear power and regional ambitions to atomise the state of Israel, and supporting our loving execution of deviants, dissidents, adulterers, women and minors. And our righteous struggle against the US in Afghanistan by throwing acid into the faces of girls going to school. Jesus is on our side and God wants you to know that."
When political leaders tell us what God wants, they are always, without exception, talking through their hat. They don't even know what their voters want, let alone what He wants, that unknowable super-being that hears music in screaming nuclear static; that is warmed by the temperatures inside stars; that breathes interstellar dust; that knows the colour of the angle of the spin of every quark in every part of the multiverse.
This isn't to say that He – if He exists – is too preoccupied by the rest of creation to bother with us. Anyone who claims to know what God wants is labouring under a massive misapprehension. The president's actual words went: " ... undoubtedly He would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as He did in His lifetime."
The scriptural Jesus didn't do anything of the sort, rather the opposite. When asked whether the Jews should pay Roman taxes he parked the issue. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's," he eventually said.
"Judge not," the New Testament tell us. "Judge not that ye be not judged." But judgement is the first act of politics. Forgive your enemies. Really? Even at cabinet level? Blessed are the meek? Even Tony Blair didn't attempt meek. As for our swaggering, unforgiving, judgmental giant of a prime minister ...
The New Testament canon is not just apolitical: it's anti-political. You can't be a Christian and do politics. The Bible is much fiercer and stranger than people think, even than the president of Iran thinks.
How the other half lives
Wife Swap is a programme I don't watch. I'm single, you see, haven't got the collateral to play. But we did blunder in on an episode last week. A woman on benefits got swapped with a dairy farmer's wife. The dairy farmer got up at 6am, and worked every day like a dairy farmer. The woman on benefits scoffed at his requirement to be fed within a quarter hour of coming in at night. When he pointed out that he worked 12 hours a day and she didn't she said, "Yes, but that's your choice."
Yes, his choice was to work in a hard, early-rising and demanding industry amid falling prices and dying stock – and hers was to to sit at home living off public money to bring up children without working. That was her choice. The farmer could be doing the same, if he wanted. It was a question of lifestyles, wasn't it, and preferences, and having the freedom to live the way you chose. That's a right we have won painfully over the years.
A benefit system is notoriously difficult to unwind. But there'll be a revolution at some point; there always is. And it'll be little phrases like hers that separate the sides of the debate into two great divisions. The ones who nod with the woman when she says, "Yes, but that's your choice." And the others who go red and gargle obscenities, and hurl the remote at the screen.
Sweet memories of youth end up taking centre stage
The reviews were so good that I broke a 10-year habit and went to the theatre. Twelfth Night at Wyndham's, with Mark Bonnar as Orsino and Victoria Hamilton as Viola, pictured. It's one of Shakespeare's 'problem comedies', so called. The problem with most of the problem comedies is that they're not funny, but Twelfth Night really can make you laugh.
There we were, 30 years ago in Worcester College gardens for Patrick Garland's production by the lake. That gorgeous Cindy Selby emerged from the water in the failing light and asked, "What country, sir, is this?"
The Sea Captain replied "Illyria," and a voice from behind a tree in the park called out on a high note, "Illyyyria!" And then from across the other side of the lake across the water in a floaty, dreamy way a third repetition, "Illyyyriaaaaa!" I'm getting choked up thinking about it. Oz Clarke played Sir Toby, as a drunk pretending not to be. Francis Matthews was Sir Andrew. ("Pistol him!" he yelped and how we laughed.) And Malvolio, what a performance that was by Philip Bartle with enormous dignity, a vast voice and an accent pitched exactly at the upper middle of the upper lower middle class.
Love, loss, youth, the passing of a merrier England into Puritanism (virtue prevailing over cakes and ale) . . . it all made a great effect on us.
Those old amateurs really put the modern professionals to shame. Perhaps the Wyndham's cast improved dramatically after the interval. I can't tell you anything about that (but do be warned).Reuse content