One of the most overused words in the language is ‘genius’. No matter how popular they were, the Beatles were not geniuses; they merely produced some memorable melodies. John Lennon’s poetry was not a work of genius. Although scanning more smoothly than the doggerel of William McGonagall, its content was as trite and emotionally hackneyed as the poet laureate of Dundee.
Genius is not merely a matter of IQ. By some reckoning, genius level IQ is 160 or over. Yet Richard Feynman, who managed to win the Nobel Prize for physics and is generally considered a genius, had an IQ of only 125. There are many exceptionally clever people who are not geniuses and whose intellect has little or no impact outside the circle of their family and friends.
A genius is a person whose creativity helps the rest of us to look at the world in a new way.
Albert Einstein was a genius. After his theory of general relativity we could no longer think in Newtonian terms about time or space. Richard Dawkins is a biologist who employs predestinarian evolution to demonstrate that he is a superior being and the coolest guy on the planet.
Picasso was a genius. After Les Demoiselles D’Avignon we could never look at things as before. Tracey Emin is one more in a long line of art school graduates who produce a frisson of excitement amongst intellectual poseurs and a yawn in the other 99.999 per cent of us.
Louis Armstrong was a genius. The opening bars of West End Blues are not just sublime music; they make us hear things differently. John Cage was a musical chancer who made a comfortable living peddling unlistenable compositions, the snake oil salesman of the musical world.
However, no matter how much of an impact the work of a true genius has, their ideas are gradually replaced. Even Einstein’s work is no longer sacrosanct but is adjusted, tweaked, even denied. The world moves on, especially the intellectual world.
Geniuses are gamechangers. By this reckoning, Karl Marx was a genius. After him our understanding of human relations was totally altered. Since the mid-19th century we have seen the world in class terms, and our ultimate value is economic wellbeing.
Without any underlying coherent belief system we find that consumption is the standard of happiness and a desire to have what others have is the prevailing motivation. Black Friday teaches us that bling is now the opiate of the masses.
During the 20th century the concept of class dominated every area of intellectual and other endeavour. From history to comedy, from sociology to sport, Marx ruled and set the agenda for all our activity and understanding.
Even the unlikeliest of people fell in with the programme. Margaret Thatcher, arch-conservative, gained and kept power not by playing up to the ruling class but by appealing to the legitimate aspirations of the working class. Tony Blair kept Labour in power by appealing to the fears of the English middle class. In the words of John Prescott, ‘We are all middle class now’.
The seemingly ever-present anarchist protesters, vociferously representing the 99 per cent masses against the activities of the rich 1 per cent, are not the class warriors they imagine. They share more with the corporations they demonise than they would willingly acknowledge. What they are actually saying is ‘Greed is bad. I have bills, give me your money.’ The protesters share the outlook of the banks and corporations they often rightly decry, that material possessions are what matters. They merely disagree with the mechanics of distribution.
Thankfully Marxism is dead, but its effects linger on like the smell of a dead rat behind the skirting board. Today identity politics is the latest, and most widespread, manifestation of class warfare. The church, late as usual, got into the act with class-based theology: black theology, homosexual theology, feminist theology etc.
Now that homosexuality is accepted, the church continues in full identity politics flow, with transgenderism being the cause du jour of trendy theologians ever eager to adapt to the world around us. We even have the theologically illiterate idea of re-baptism for those who have changed their gender being seriously proposed.
The original South American Liberation theologians, often roundly condemned as Marxist, were rarely actually Marxist. Rather the intellectual milieu in which they operated was suffused with Marxist paradigms and terminology. Like chameleons, they took on the colour of their surroundings: usually red, sometimes red and black.
What is ignored by the protagonists of class warfare and identity politics is that worldview or ideology is more influential. What people believe matters more than what people have. Two families, one of whom is rich and the other poor but both of whom are Christian, have more in common than two families both of whom are poor but only one of whom is Christian.
The Christian church should be the only classless society on earth, according to Galatians 3:26-29. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Marxist-influenced progressive theologians are as adulterated by political power as their more conservative predecessors. Christianity has become, to a large extent, a religion of conformity, of integration into the prevailing culture.
Calvin spoke of the church as the spearhead of the new creation, not as the last man in the circus parade, the one who comes after the elephants with a bucket and shovel. Even if it does produce marvellous roses, aping what goes on in the world is no task for the church.
Thankfully the church always contains a current which is hostile to prevailing political power, which is revolutionary and truly anarchical inasmuch as it breaks with, and challenges, institutional power. We who are Christians constitute the alternative society, the counter-culture which the New Testament embodies and the world needs.