If Jesus Lived Today

Haldane on JC in modern times

J.B.S.Haldane was a biologist at the forefront of his field in the 1920s & 30s, and like a lot of scientists then, a Marxist. But he wasn’t the usual duckspeak Party Marxist with nothing original to say. Here’s one little essay about JC…


Most of my readers are, at least nominally, Christian. I am not. I can say to them, as Blake did :

* The vision of Christ which thou dost see
* Is my vision’s chiefest enemy.
* Yours is the healer of mankind,
* Mine speaks in parables to the blind.

I see Jesus as a man whose perception of spiritual facts was extraordinarily intense. He was far more intelligent, as appears from his sayings, than his disciples They misinterpreted his words, and as we only see him through their eyes we cannot know how he would appear to our own.

If Jesus were born in our time of a poor Jewish mother in capitalist Europe or North America he would receive a far wider education than 1900 years ago, when his reading was probably confined to the law and the prophets. Perhaps it was for this reason that his general ideas were always stated, either in parables drawn from everyday life, or in the terminology of religion. Today he could talk in terms of science, psychology, an economics. So quite possibly we should not think him primarily as a religious leader at all. In his own time he tried to simplify religion, and was accused of blasphemy. Today most religious people would probably regard him as an infidel.

Most of us would first learn of his existence through the Press. A reporter sent down to investigate a story of unprofessional cure of mental diseases writes a curious account of it, The healer is of an unusual type. So far from being sanctimonious, he is a confirmed beer-drinker. Indeed there is a story about that he miraculously put back all the pub clocks in Whitechapel at closing time. He has a keen sense of humour, and refuses to give a straight answer to religious queries. `Come and live with me,’ he tells the reporter, `if you want to find out about God.’ `I almost took him at his word,’ adds the reporter.

Later the police begin to take notice. This man is always talking about the coming revolution, sometimes in very violent terms. But it is difficult to pin him down. At one moment he says that he is an enemy of peace and has come to stir up disorder at another that the revolution must take place in the mind. And his attitude to the rich is surprising in a revolutionary. He wants to abolish wealth, not because rich men are wicked, but because they are unhappy. `It’s easier for a motor lorry to get through a keyhole than for a rich man to enjoy life,’ he is reported to have said. The Communists hate him even more than the police and the parsons.

After two or three years he becomes an intolerable nuisance to the authorities. His followers have been making disturbances in churches and public places. The movement appears to be growing. Crucifixion is out of date. A trial offers too great an opportunity for publicity. A simple method is available for imprisoning an innocent man for life without trial. It is effectively used today by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Canada against their opponents. The man has seen visions. A witness says that he stated that he was one with God. Another asserts that he stated that he could rebuild the law courts in three days. Two doctors, already jealous of his unprofessional healing activities, certify him insane. A devoted police agent who has actually managed to become treasurer of the Man’s movement smoothes the way for the arrest. His suicide shortly afterwards merely proves that this maniac has spread insanity around him, or so the Press affirms. Soon afterwards it is announced that the madman has died in an asylum. The plain man breathes a sigh of relief, and turns to the financial column of the Press. He is one of the many who, in the words of the Man, keep their hearts in their safe deposit.

But the affair is not over. Some of the Man’s followers say that he is still with them. Others are beginning to spread his doctrines. They say that he has revolutionised psychology, and made it as practical as chemistry. He has taught the art of happiness. You cannot love yourself unless you love your neighbour first. If you find fault with him it is a sign that you are really angry with yourself. Some of these men and women disciples certainly seem to exhibit a wholeness of personality which is something fresh in the world. It often lands them in prison, but an increasing section of the public is attracted by their ideas, and still more by their manner of life. The revolutionary idea is in the air that the rich are a set of mutts who do not know how to enjoy life. A few rich men and women actually give up their fortunes and claim to be tasting happiness for the first time. But another section of disciples have different ideas. They stress the mystical side of their master’s teaching and his remarkable cures of disease. The authorities encourage them. This will only be another new religion, and the State is not afraid of religions. In spite of occasional aberrations, religion makes for stable government.

The future is unknown. Has the Man started the real world revolution, or only another religion ? The world’s future depends on the answer.

(Published in a 1932 collection of essays entitled The Inequality of Man.)

…found online at Haldane on Life, Death and Jesus.

Author: Adam

Nothing much to say. What about you?

5 thoughts on “If Jesus Lived Today”

  1. Hi Jen

    The English have a word for the intelligently insane – eccentric, which Haldane most certainly was. But a lot of his views were fairly wide-spread at the time – remember the Great Eugenics Craze of the early 20th Century – and many of his other ideas are prescient. His take on fossil fuels, and their replacement by renewables, sounds awfully familiar.

  2. Hi Adam,

    Of course, his views have been seriously considered, or else he wouldn’t have become so popular. To be more specific in my assessment, I agree he’s obviously quite a thinker and probably more educated than most, thus intelligent. What I found interesting was the way he contradicted himself so often in his personal opinions, hence my conclusion of insanity. All in all, a very interesting person, as most “eccentrics” tend to be.

    In this particular article, I don’t know that some of his allegories worked particularly well, like the allusion to the rich man through the eye of a needle. “It is easier for a motor lorry to get through a keyhole…”??

    Quote from Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894:

    Lady Duff Gordon, writing from Cairo, says: “Yesterday I saw a camel go through the eye of a needle —i.e. a low arched door of an enclosure. He must kneel and bow his head to go through, and thus the rich man must humble himself” (Wood: Bible Animals, p. 243). Lord Nugent, in his Travels, informs us that when at Hebron he was directed to go out by the Needle’s Eye, or small gate of the city.

    For a long time I’d thought of the eye of the needle as in the eye of sewing needles, like most people probably do, and as Haldane must have by his analogy. But it was a clear indication to me that his understanding of things ancient, Middle Eastern and religious were a tad lacking.

    I could be missing something, though. Perhaps there is another meaning for “key hole” that I’ve yet to learn. 🙂

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