TALKING in tongues is what happens to some evangelical worshippers during a service, yet you could say that it occurs in politics, too.
A long-read feature in last Sunday’s Observer looked at the division in the Church of England between the dwindling band of traditional worshippers and the rise of the evangelicals, with their practices such as speaking in tongues, or shaking and collapsing as the Holy Spirit takes over their body.
As a man without religion, such extravagant spirituality makes me uncomfortable. This is for perhaps two reasons: one, I don’t understand it; two, somewhere in the agnostic corridors of my mind I sniff some sort of a scam. Isn’t faith meant to be just that: an act of faith in what cannot be seen? Also it seems rather show-offy, but there you go.
Harriet Sherwood’s report in the Observer charted the orchestrated rise of the evangelicals, thanks to Holy Trinity Brompton church, which started the ripples that have now spread around the country, with the hefty financial backing of the Church of England, and the explicit support of Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury.
The report argued that the traditionalists in the church fear the focus on evangelism risks giving the church over to the zealots. This was ringing political bells for me when, just as Sherwood had made a parallel with the way Tony Blair dragged the Labour party into the modern age, the following quote from an anonymous critic popped up: “Actually, the more apt comparison is with Corbyn and Momentum. The diehards become more frenzied, while everyone else looks on in total incomprehension – and in many cases are repulsed.”
And yes, the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn are the evangelicals of the Labour party, so wrapped up in their enthusiasm, so entirely contained in the vacuum of their beliefs, that they cannot see any other shades of truth. Often they refer to their leader by his first name only, with earnest and heartfelt mantras of ‘Jeremy this’ and ‘Jeremy that’.
There is nothing wrong with their enthusiasm as such; nothing necessarily wrong with much of what Mr Corbyn believes. It’s just that evangelicals tend only to turn their bright eyes in one direction. Those who gather in the cloistered cell of Corbynism are so taken with their man’s message that they cannot see any other truth at all. They are so convinced that Jeremy will deliver on his bold platform of change that they cannot see the unlikelihood of such a happy eventuality ever occurring. You have to win elections for that to happen, and Mr Corbyn has trouble convincing his own MPs, never mind the sceptical electorate.
I am not sure where all this will end, although it’s a fair bet that Jeremy Corbyn will see off the challenge from Owen Smith. And then the evangelism will continue, as no doubt will the speaking in political tongues.
Another feature in the Observer – other Sunday titles are available but I don’t usually read them – boasted the rather splendid headline: “How we let bullshitters take control and debase the language of politics.”
The English example given was Vote Leave’s much-trumpeted slogan: “Let’s give our NHS the £350m the EU takes every week”. Everyone knew this was bullshit, but it put the message across. And when the Leave lobby won, the promise was dropped with cynical alacrity.
Much of the article by Steven Poole, author of Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas, dwelt naturally enough on Donald Trump, whose outrageous statements are legendary – and legendarily awful.
A recent example was the bizarre claim: “Obama’s the founder of Isis. He was the most valuable player.” Unabashed by having Tweeted such screaming nonsense, Trump followed up with “THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?”
Poole makes the interesting point that Trump “is not a perversion of the tradition of political campaigning; he is the logical outcome of it. It doesn’t matter what you say, if it helps you get elected.”
His final point is key: “Trump is not a liar, exactly, but a bullshitter.” And in the post-truth world of American politics, that can be enough to win over voters wearied by the smooth operators of the political establishment.
With luck, Trump will loop one too many ludicrous statements around his neck and make a noose for himself before November.
As for Corbyn as prime minister, stranger things have happened. But not many.