Friday, 9 April 2021

We Still Haven't Found What We're Looking For (With Apologies to U2)

The Gods That Failed.

We studied the dialectic
Read the whole of ‘Capital’
So we could follow you
So we could follow you

How we shouted
How we scrawled
Painted slogans on city walls
On prison walls
Proof we had followed you

But, we still didn’t find what we’re looking for
And we still haven’t found what we’re looking for

When they put him on a train
Like a deadly bacillus strain
We didn’t care at all
Knowing he’d end the war

And he spoke for the cause of angels
But his plans were the work of devils
So many comrades died
Building his perfect dream

We sure hadn’t found what we’re looking for
And we still haven’t found what we’re looking for

We believe in the Revolution
When all causes bleed into one
Bleed into one
With peace and freedom reigning

All bonds broken
All chains lost
But not at all
Not at all costs
Giving up on “human”
For “Humanity”.

That won’t help us to find what we’re looking for
And we still haven’t found what we’re looking for
No, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for
No, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

Chris Trotter.

This parody was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 9 April 2021.

Be Woke - Or Go Politically Broke.

Conventional Wisdom? The Republican Right is convinced that to “go woke” is to “go broke”. It simply does not believe sufficient Americans feel strongly enough about social justice to make any kind of boycott remotely effective. Clearly, the Boards of Directors of more and more American corporations disagree. 

RECENT MOVES by large American corporations to distance themselves from Republican Party voter suppression initiatives signal a profound historical shift. For the past 100 years, most political scientists have worked on the assumption that no political party cares more for the welfare of American capitalism than the Republican Party – and vice-versa. To hear Republican presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio come out swinging against Delta Airlines for its criticism of Georgia’s new voting law is, therefore, both confusing and disconcerting. If “woke” capitalist corporations have joined the ranks of the Republican Party’s enemies, then who the hell are its friends?

Before answering that question, however, let’s sample just a little of Rubio’s invective. According to the left-wing American periodical, Mother Jones:

“In a strange line of logic, the Florida senator seemed to argue that the law, which among other restrictions bans non-poll-workers from distributing water to waiting voters, was not as bad as genocide against Uighur Muslims in China, where Delta also does business, and therefore should not be subject to the company’s reproach. ‘They make billions of dollars in a country that doesn’t even have elections…and they don’t say a word about it,’ Rubio argued, ‘but in America they’re prepared to boycott a state and condemn them publicly…They’re hypocrites.’”

Not that they would stoop so low, but Delta Airlines could have responded that Georgia’s Republicans and the Chinese Communist Party have all the appearance of political brothers, given that in both jurisdictions only one party is allowed to win.

The airline might also have pointed out that, while a boycott of China by Delta would have not the slightest impact on the fate of the Uighurs, a boycott of Georgia would greatly assist the efforts of black voters in that state to defend their hard-won civil rights. Certainly, the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56 had that effect!

The Republican Right is, however, absolutely convinced that to “go woke” is to “go broke”. It simply does not believe sufficient Americans feel strongly enough about voter suppression to make any kind of boycott remotely effective. Clearly, the Board of Directors of Delta Airlines disagree.

And, they’re right. The demographic structure of the United States population is undergoing a profound transformation. It is becoming younger and browner and, worse still, from the Republicans’ perspective, it is becoming “woker”. If this were not the case: if the ‘natural home’ of a clear majority of American voters was the Republican Party; then what possible interest would GOP-controlled state legislatures have in making it harder for young, brown and black Americans to cast their ballots?

Capitalists, both in the United States – and here in New Zealand – are rightly focusing their attention on the workforces and consumers needed to generate profits in the future. Far-Right political strategists refuse to acknowledge this. Unfortunately, for them, the terrified and angry whites upon whose slumping shoulders Donald Trump built his 2016 victory, are growing older and sicker and deader. Their political dominance can only be maintained by keeping voters who do not look and think like themselves away from the polling booths. But, that way lies the suppression of democracy and civil war – neither of which is particularly good for business. The last thing intelligent capitalists ever want to see is blood in their own streets.

Donald Trump’s Republicans must be getting ever-so-slightly panicky about how many of the party’s friends and allies are abandoning them. They are right to be worried. By alienating corporate capitalism and making bitter enemies of the mainstream media and universities, the Trumpists are, if they only knew it, corralling their followers into a socio-economic and cultural dead-end.

When all is said and done, it is corporate capitalism that manufactures the future, the mainstream media which decorates it, and the universities that pass out the credentials entitling their holders to live in the nicest parts of it. By shutting themselves out of liberal capitalism’s Emerald City, Trump’s poorly educated munchkins are slamming the door on their own and their children’s best chance for a happy and prosperous future.

“Go woke, go broke!”, the Far-Right gurus bray. They should pay more attention to history. For more than 250 years, Capitalism has avoided going broke by consistently putting its prodigious energies behind those widest awake to the future’s most profitable possibilities.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 April 2021.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Mike Hosking "De-Platforms" The PM.

Blowing Hot And Cold: Mike Hosking’s bosses should, perhaps, ask themselves what message Newstalk-ZB (and NZME) is sending to the people of New Zealand if Mike Hosking, their self-appointed “People’s Prosecutor”, is accorded bragging rights for “cancelling” the democratically-elected Prime Minister of New Zealand. Especially when said Prime Minister’s only “crime” was indicating her willingness to be interviewed by their star broadcaster about the decisions which she – not he – had made.

THE STAND-OFF between Newstalk-ZB’s star host, Mike Hosking, and the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, continues. Yesterday morning’s (7/4/21) encounter, the first since the PM discontinued her weekly interview with Newstalk’s morning host, was said to be the usual battle of wills. According to Hosking, it will also be the last.

Clearly exasperated with the Prime Minister, Hosking told his listeners: “We’re involved in this, this discussion at the moment. I don’t want her [Ardern] back on the programme is what it boils down to.” The “we” in this sentence refers, presumably, to the management of Newstalk-ZB and quite possibly of its ultimate proprietor, NZME.

In all likelihood, Hosking will get his way. Newstalk-ZB would be loath to lose their highest rating host, and, let’s face it, Hosking doesn’t need the money. Decades of hefty, six-figure remuneration packages have left the broadcaster in the enviable position of being needed more than needing – and his bosses know it.

The question, therefore, is not whether Hosking will get away with “de-platforming” the nation’s leader from his morning show, but whether or not he should be allowed to get away it? Because, there is a curious political dynamic at work here which, upon examination, is more than a little unsettling.

“So the overarching question I would ask”, said Hosking, following his interview with the PM, “is are we not better on this programme, you and I collectively, not having her on the show? She didn’t want to be here, she doesn’t add anything when she is here so who is the winner and who is the loser?”

Pick that apart, and what we’re left with is a set of assumptions about politics and politicians radically at odds with what is generally understood to be the fundamentals of democracy.

Not the least of these is that the ultimate source of political authority in a democratic society is the people. Their will, manifest in the outcome of the most recent general election, determines the identity of the politicians and parties entrusted with the power of government. To suggest, as Hosking does, that he and his listeners might be better off not having the duly elected leader of the country on his show, insults not only the person who holds that office, but the office itself, and, by implication, the majority of New Zealanders who put Jacinda Ardern where she is.

In justifying this radical proposition, Hosking argues that the PM “didn’t want to be here” and that she “doesn’t add anything when she is here”. Putting to one side the fact that Ardern had made herself available to Newstalk-ZB and the broadcaster had asked her to participate in Hosking’s programme; the most disconcerting aspect of Hosking’s argument is how oddly lacking it is in professional curiosity about why the PM might be reluctant to appear on his show, and why she might find it difficult to contribute anything useful when she does.

It is, after all, the view of more than a few New Zealanders that Mike Hosking’s on-air encounters with Jacinda Ardern have been an unpleasant mixture of lofty condescension, contemptuous disdain and outright aggression. His demeanour has resembled that of a furious “People’s Prosecutor” angrily demanding a guilty verdict from his listener jury. Hosking appears to regard his studio as a People’s Court, from which the show-trial of the criminally inadequate Citizen Ardern can be broadcast live to the nation.

But, is that really the role of a professional broadcaster? Surely Hosking’s listeners would be better served by a radio host who, through a combination of thorough preparation, astute questioning, and palpable on-air charm, was able to elicit from the country’s political leader information from which his large radio audience could draw its own conclusions and form its own judgements?

If the Prime Minister finds herself unable to add anything to Hosking’s show, is that her fault – or his?

Undoubtedly, the network executives behind the scenes, and Hosking himself, would scoff at the capacity of such “old-school” broadcasting to attract and hold an audience of any size. In a media world where everything that bleeds, leads, gentlemanly conduct would appear to be regarded as ratings death.

This gladiatorial approach to news and current affairs broadcasting is, however, also death to the political civility that underpins all properly functioning democracies. Respecting the person in whom a majority of the people have reposed their trust shows that you respect the democratic process itself. By the same token, to disrespect the Prime Minister and dismiss her contributions to the news and current affairs (which are your show’s stock-in-trade) as “nothing”, suggests a not insignificant measure of contempt – not only for Jacinda Ardern’s judgement, but for the judgement of the people themselves.

Mike Hosking’s bosses should, perhaps, ask themselves what message Newstalk-ZB (and NZME) is sending to the people of New Zealand if Mike Hosking, their self-appointed “People’s Prosecutor”, is accorded bragging rights for “cancelling” the democratically-elected Prime Minister of New Zealand. Especially when said Prime Minister’s only “crime” was indicating her willingness to be interviewed by their star broadcaster about the decisions which she – not he – had made.

POSTSCRIPT: Remarkably, within 24 hours of de-platforming the Prime Minister, Mike Hosking, had thought better of his earlier decision. Responding to some pretty trenchant criticism from Newstalk-ZB's political editor, Barry Soper, Hosking declared: "Barry, of course, is right. I can't ban Ardern and leave her to others and then complain others aren't doing their job." - C.T.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 8 April 2021.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Insufficiently Qualified To Object: Why Labour Ministers Can Be Lied To With Impunity.

Qualified To Give - And Take - Advice: Most Labour MPs are self-conscious members of the meritocracy, meaning they have succeeded where the vast majority of their fellow citizens have failed. The primary political obligation, understood by all members of the First Labour Government, was to listen to the people. Eighty years on, the direction of that obligation has reversed. Now it is the duty of the people to listen to – and heed – the instructions of political leaders better qualified than themselves. 

DAILY BLOG EDITOR, Martyn Bradbury, has lambasted the state bureaucracy for its failure to tell its political “masters” the truth. While entirely justified, his criticism does not go far enough. There’s an old saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” When, as has happened on multiple occasions since 2017, public servants have been caught out lying to their ministers, why haven’t the individuals responsible (and their superiors) been sacked? What is it that prevents Labour politicians from taking steps to ensure both the transparency and accountability of the public service? A coherent answer to this question would not only explain much, it would allow even more to be improved.

The most obvious answer to these questions lies in the deliberate legislative separation of the political from the operational. The State Sector Act (1988) restricted politicians to the formulation of policy. The implementation of that policy was the responsibility of the CEO of the relevant ministry or department. Hiring and firing, and holding his or her underlings accountable for their mistakes – was the CEO’s job – not the Minister’s. Politicians had no role to play in “operational matters”.

That this arrangement constituted a drastic reduction in the power of government ministers to “make things happen” was (and remains) entirely deliberate. That it also profoundly disempowers the people’s representatives, working through the Executive, to give practical expression to the people’s will is, likewise, completely intentional. The neoliberal revolution has always been about limiting the effectiveness of democratic institutions. The State Sector Act fulfils this revolutionary function admirably. (Astonishingly, the SSA’s replacement legislation, of which the current government is the ostensible author, shifts even more power from elected MPs and ministers to unelected state bureaucrats!)

The arguments in favour of this legislation, like just about all the other laws associated with “Rogernomics”, go back to the era of the National Party prime minister, Rob Muldoon. By combining the powers of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister in his own person, and using the enormous powers available to him under the Economic Stabilisation Act (1948) Muldoon amassed sufficient authority to both overawe his bureaucratic advisers and execute a series of constitutionally dubious end-runs around Parliament itself.

This was the “unbridled power” that the former law professor, Geoffrey Palmer, then Labour’s deputy-leader, railed against in the run-up to the 1984 general election. He and his colleagues in the Labour caucus were not only determined to put an end to “Muldoonism”, they were equally determined to put a bridle on all future “Muldoonist” politicians – lest they make a similar bid for political and economic omnipotence.

Palmer’s constitutional lawyer’s outrage at Muldoonism was skilfully interwoven with the neoliberal programme of the Fourth Labour Government’s economic string-pullers – sorry, “advisers” – at Treasury and the Reserve Bank. What began as a perfectly reasonable effort to prevent the rise of another Muldoonist “economic dictator”, ended with more and more economic and administrative decisions being removed from the hands of elected politicians and placed in the hands of appointed officials. New Zealand had escaped from the clutches of a democratically elected (and unelected, let’s not forget) economic dictator, only to find itself, four years later, in the hands of a clutch of non-elected neoliberal administrators – with quasi-dictatorial powers.

Labour MPs at the time – and ever since – have found it almost impossible to conceptualise the profound redistribution of power and influence that Rogernomics made possible. They still see the period as one of shaking-off shackles and opening up New Zealand to the bracing winds of free markets and free trade. They simply cannot place themselves in a drama which has at its heart a deadly attack at the democratic right of the people to shape not only their political future, but their economic and social futures as well. They came to view the economic controls imposed upon capitalism by the likes of Michael Joseph Savage, Peter Fraser, Walter Nash and Norman Kirk as well-meaning, but wrong. They believed that Muldoon’s over-regulated society was where even “good” countries like New Zealand ended up when politicians were permitted to lead them down what the neoliberal guru Friedrich von Hayek (1899-1992) called “the road to serfdom”.

It’s not quite enough, though, is it? What remains to be explained is why Labour leader after Labour leader – from David Lange to Helen Clark to Jacinda Ardern – has been unable to see neoliberalism for what it so self-evidently is – an ideological excuse for transferring more-and-more power from the poor to the rich. Ironically, the answer has everything to do with the astonishing success of Labour, and social-democratic parties like it, in the years following the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The success of the economic and social reforms of the post-war period transformed society into what its citizens were encouraged to believe was a “meritocracy”. Public health systems brought a large measure of physical equality, while, for the first time in human history, public education made equality of opportunity possible. Welfare states, it was argued, brought everyone up to the same line: after that, how far you went was a matter of individual merit.

This wasn’t just political rhetoric, either. By the 1960s and 70s, thousands of working-class children, whose working-class parents had voted the welfare state into existence, were becoming the first person in their family’s history to study at a university. They emerged from the experience much changed. Not only did they possess a brand new professional qualification, but also a brand new way of looking at themselves and the society they lived in.

In the past people had been respected for reasons over which they exercised little or no control. Who their parents were. The colour of their skin. Their religion. Where they had come from. How much wealth their family possessed. Now it was different. What mattered more than anything else in the new meritocracies was what you were qualified to do. Crucially, a qualification was something achieved individually, through personal talent and hard work. Professional qualifications conferred status and enhanced earning power, but they also conferred something else: the right to offer advice; the right to be consulted; the right to be heeded.

It was one of the distinguishing features of the Fourth Labour Government – how many of its MPs possessed professional qualifications. They were successful members of the meritocracy, which meant they had succeeded where the vast majority of their fellow citizens had failed. The primary political obligation, understood by all members of the First Labour Government, was to listen to the people. Fifty years on, however, the direction of that obligation was reversed. Now it was the duty of the people to listen to – and heed – the instructions of political leaders better qualified than themselves. Moreover, what was good for “the punters out in punterland” was also good for the politicians.

Advised by impressively credentialled and highly experienced public servants, today’s Labour MPs feel obliged – by the meritocratic principles central to their personal identities – to do exactly what they’re told. And if they discover subsequently their advisers have lied to them, well, they must have had a very good reason for doing so. A reason they simply aren’t qualified to understand – or challenge. Not when the only alternative is allowing the people to decide. Because, seriously, what do they know?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 6 April 2021.

Monday, 5 April 2021

"Red, Red Whines" (With Apologies To Neil Diamond and UB40)

Red, red whines.
That’s all you’ll hear.
Not like those glory days
When we would cheer.

Red, red whines.
If it were up to us,
We'd make a proper job
Of transforming the world.

We would be
More than kind.
Offer so much more than spin.
Makes us sad
When we find
There’s so much you won’t begin.

Red, red whines.
Now you’re so far away.
But how could we have known
That your blue, blue heart
would tear us apart?

You might think
That with time
We’d give up on all this stuff.
You’d be wrong,
Cos you know
You’ve done nothing like enough.

Red, red whines.
Now you’re so far away.
But how could we have known
That your blue, blue heart
Would tear us apart?

Chris Trotter.

This parody was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 2 April 2021.

A Bigger Impact: Class Still Trumps Race - At least In The UK.

Worlds Apart: According to the report of the British Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities: “family structure and social class had a bigger impact than race on how people’s lives turned out”. These are not the sort of findings that New Zealand fighters against "White Supremacy" and "Colonisation" are eager to receive.  

TELLING PEOPLE THINGS they don’t want to hear may be interpreted as either an act of bravery, or foolishness. In a world grown extraordinarily sensitive to charges of racism, a government report which states that “family structure and social class had a bigger impact than race on how people’s lives turned out” is bound to create controversy. But, this is exactly what the British Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) has done, and controversy is exactly what it has got.

In one of those ironies with which history abounds, the Report, commissioned by Boris Johnson’s Conservative Government in the aftermath of the world-wide “Black Lives Matter” protests of 2020, and which highlights the critical role played by social class in generating inequality, has “disappointed” Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the British Labour Party. Starmer’s namesake, Keir Hardie (1856-1915) a pioneer of working-class representation in the British parliament, would have found Starmer’s response ideologically incomprehensible.

According to a BBC news report (2/4/21), the CRED Report found evidence that “factors such as geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion had ‘more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism’.”

It is difficult to think of a statement more calculated to upset those for whom white racism – personal and institutional – constitutes the key explanation for the negative experiences and life outcomes of people living in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. The only information likely to prove more “triggering” is the CRED Report’s finding that, in terms of raw numbers, there are more white families living in poverty in Britain than black families.

Since whites make up the overwhelming majority of UK citizens, this might seem like a trivial finding. The very important issue it raises, however, is the impact of life experiences completely unrelated to race upon the way people’s lives unfold. The closure of a factory, or a coal mine. Extended periods of unemployment. The impact of clinical depression on familial relationships. The consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. All of these are equal opportunity misfortunes: experiences related much more closely to one’s location in the socio-economic power structure than to the colour of one’s skin.

The same socio-economic dynamics are, of course, at work in New Zealand. Indeed, those with good memories will recall a very similar debate which erupted over the “Closing the Gaps” policy promoted, and then abandoned, by the Helen Clark-led coalition governments of 1999-2008. Exactly as has occurred in Britain, the research undertaken in what appeared to be a race issue came back with the unwelcome news that the “gaps” in New Zealand society were generated overwhelmingly by socio-economic factors.

The problem which then confronted Clark and her Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, was that any programme actually capable of closing the gap between working-class and middle-class New Zealanders would be prohibitively expensive. Limiting such a programme to lifting Maori alone out of poverty, however, would inevitably provoke an electorally fatal political backlash from the working-class whites left behind. Unsurprisingly, the controversial programme was quietly shelved.

Over the course of the nearly 20 years that separates “Closing the Gaps” from the promises of the present Labour Government, the power of class-based arguments to influence government policy has declined considerably. Excluding the overwhelmingly middle-class trade unions catering to the health and education sectors and the public service, the trade unions’ purchase on the New Zealand working-class has been reduced to almost nothing. (Today, less than 7 percent of private-sector workers belong to a union.) In the third decade of the twenty-first century, the most powerful ideological currents flowing through New Zealand society are those relating to race and gender. Among professional policy advisers and analysts “class” has become a dirty word.

Benefitting hugely from the rise and rise of “Identity Politics” in New Zealand society have been those Maori families sufficiently well-placed to have benefitted from the professional and managerial opportunities arising out of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process. The well-credentialed children of this rapidly expanding Maori middle-class are now preparing to have another crack at closing the gaps between Maori and Pakeha.

Before that can happen, however, it is vital that the sort of observations contained in the British CRED Report be rendered practically unsayable in New Zealand. In this regard, the research project entitled Whakatika is certain to prove immensely helpful. Based on more than 2,000 face-to-face interviews, the project details its respondents’ experience of Pakeha racism. Be it the racist “micro-aggressions” perpetrated by individuals; or the “unconscious bias” manifested across virtually all of this country’s “colonial” institutions; Whakatika reports a racism so pervasive that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the maintenance of racial inequality is basic to the preservation of Pakeha identity.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents, for example, considered the portrayal of Maori by the non-Maori media to be negative all of the time or often. Nearly 90 percent reported either experiencing or witnessing discriminatory treatment of Maori in shops. The conclusions drawn by the study’s authors were unequivocal:

The results of Whakatika show the need for broad anti-racism activities that are based on mana motuhake and that strengthen Māori connections to te taiao, our lands, rivers, mountains and harbours. Similarly, the results indicate that racism and discrimination are so widespread that they will never be conquered through isolated activities, such as unconscious bias training, alone. Addressing racism requires a constant, consistent, Māori-focused multipronged approach.

Given that the authors’ definition of the problem: “Racism is an attack on our rangatiratanga. It maintains colonial power structures, systematically disadvantaging Maori.”; it is difficult to see the sort of arguments and observations advanced in the CRED Report being presented here without irresistible pressure being brought to bear upon the Labour Government to have them declared wrong, objectionable and unacceptable.

Leading the charge in this respect will be Labour’s Maori caucus. It is large enough now to prevent the party’s Pakeha leaders from replicating the Clark-Cullen duck-shove of twenty years ago. This time, a “Māori-focused multipronged approach”, based upon the rangatiratanga guaranteed by Te Tiriti, will be allowed to proceed – Pakeha working-class, or no Pakeha working-class.

The problem, of course, is that if a great many more factors are at work in the generation of social inequality than one’s ethnic origins, then the “Māori-focused multipronged approach” is doomed to fail. If “geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion” all have a role to play in shaping the lives we lead, then any uplift programme which fails to take these factors into account cannot possibly succeed.

If you were to ask a working-class Pakeha if she had ever been looked straight through by a snooty shop assistant falling all over herself to serve the obviously wealthy woman standing behind her, the chances are high that she would say yes. If you were to ask a Pakeha working-class bloke if any middle-class male had ever asked for his opinion on anything other than sport and/or cars, what do you think he would say?

We have spent the last 20 years being made acutely sensitive to the injuries inflicted by racism and sexism. This is a good thing – no question. Not so good, however, is the fact that, over the same 20 year period, the equally debilitating injuries of class have been ever more thoroughly hidden.

Those in a position to do something about it, don’t want to be told; and there are now far too few advisers who are either brave, or foolish, enough to tell them.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 5 April 2021.

Sunday, 4 April 2021


The Inward Journey: Indeed, this would appear to constitute the essence of the Gospel of Mary. That the teachings of the Christ are not to be read as a promise of victory over Death; but as an invitation to explore ever more fearlessly the manifold mysteries of Life.

THE EASTER STORY is central to the Christian faith. From Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection Christians draw the central tenets of their faith: the remission of sins and the promise of eternal life. In twenty-first century ears, it is received as a supernatural tale: one that takes place outside the “real” world; in what the mid-century television producer, Rod Serling, called the Twilight Zone.

Thanks to the patient work of archaeologists and biblical scholars, however, those who eschew supernatural plot devices, have been given the opportunity to construct a very different narrative.

In the Gospel of Mary, for example (unearthed outside Cairo in 1896) it is made clear that Jesus loved Mary Magdalene more than any of the other disciples who accompanied him on his travels through Galilee and Judea. This Gospel is but one of a great many “heretical” documents rigorously excluded from the Christian canon in later centuries. In one of these suppressed scrolls, a male disciple even testifies to observing Jesus kissing Mary on her mouth.

Even in the New Testament, Mary plays a critical role. She is, after all, the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. And, it is Mary who breathlessly informs the other disciples: “He is risen!”

In Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ, the obvious implications of this radically heterodox Christian narrative are explicitly explored. He dares us to ask the obvious question: “Were Jesus and Mary lovers?”

Naturally, that question gives rise to an even more unsettling query: “Did Mary become pregnant by Jesus?”

The American novelist, Dan Brown, became a very wealthy man by answering that question affirmatively in his best-selling thriller The Da Vinci Code. The idea of a sacred lineage, descending from Jesus and Mary Magdalene, also constituted the central theme of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail by Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh – from which Brown drew so much inspiration for his novel.

Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh speculated that the mythical “Sangreal” – or Holy Grail – is a corruption of the medieval French sang real – royal blood – the bloodline of Jesus.

According to Arthurian tradition, the Holy Grail was the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, in which Mary Magdalene’s friend and benefactor, Joseph of Arimathea, later collected Jesus's blood after his body was taken down from the cross. For Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh, however, the Holy Grail was also Mary’s metaphorical womb.

By following this heretical line of reasoning, the Resurrection itself takes on a very different aspect. Rather than Jesus reanimating in an earth-shaking surge of divine energy, he lives on, as do all parents, in the bodies and minds of his children: the inheritors not only of his genes, but his inspired insights into the meaning of human existence.

Indeed, this would appear to constitute the essence of the Gospel of Mary. That the teachings of the Christ are not to be read as a promise of victory over Death; but as an invitation to explore ever more fearlessly the manifold mysteries of Life.

Heresy? Of course. Blasphemy? Perhaps. But just consider what might have happened to the Christian religion if the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene had not been suppressed. (And Mary shrewdly identified by the misogynistic Church fathers with the wanton woman taken in adultery. John 8: 1-11) Christianity may well have anticipated the split that still divides Islam. On the one hand, the Sunni: who believe that religious leadership is best bestowed upon those who faithfully reflect the Prophet’s teachings. On the other, the Shia: who believe that only members of the Prophet’s lineage can lay claim to a proper understanding of the Prophet’s words.

The ever practical Romans, having adopted Christianity as the Empire’s official religion, were not about to acknowledge any flesh-and-blood inheritors of that first Easter – steeped as it was in all-too-Roman blood, gore and cruelty. A Jesus that stood at the right hand of the all-powerful Emperor of Heaven, was one thing. A Jesus that lived on through his descendants, and whose emancipatory teachings the ever-expanding family of Jesus and Mary Magdalene struggled ceaselessly to differentiate from the designs and purposes of the mighty, was something else altogether.

Far better a safely Crucified and Risen Christ, than a Jesus whose blood still flows through the beating heart of the World.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Thursday, 1 April 2021.