I was surprised to hear this policy proposal put forward at the national convention of Iceland’s Sjálfstæðisflokkurinn, the conservative Independence Party. In fact, it had the feeling of a miracle about it. I would clearly have to reconsider my attitude towards the IP. John Kenneth Galbraith would certainly have to eat his words: “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
From now on, it would be “What would Jesus do?
“The Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton remarked in his 2007 essay “Jesus Christ: the Gospels” that Jesus of Nazareth is depicted as “homeless, propertyless, peripatetic, socially marginal, disdainful of kinfolk, without a trade or occupation, a friend of outcasts and pariahs, averse to material possessions, without fear for his own safety, a thorn in the side of the establishment and a scourge of the rich and powerful.” Could it be that the Independence Party was doing a complete 180° turn?
It certainly seemed so. As in the Gospel according to St. Mark:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
Or in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, when Jesus is challenged by the followers of the Pharisees:
“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
And what about foreign policy? Even Canada, a nation that hopped on the American war wagon when it came to the invasion of Afghanistan, turned up its nose when it came to the Iraq War. Not so the Independence Party, which stained Iceland with membership in the Coalition of the Willing when in government in 2003. Their Christian values would now make them disdain such ill-considered adventures: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
In addition to loving their enemies, renouncing wealth, paying taxes, and helping the poor, no doubt they would also wish to pour money into the healthcare system, doctoring the sick without asking for compensation, as Jesus used to do.
Then I got the bad news. Apparently voices within the Independence Party rose up to point out that such language was unconstitutional. The youth wing of the party in particular seemed to dislike it, knowing which side their bread is buttered on.
I usually don’t refer to holy books when it comes to politics, but since the Independence Party opened Pandora’s Box and let the cat out of the bag, to mix a few more metaphors. I was in a Biblical frame of mind when considering the other national political convention, that of the Left Greens, or Vinstri hreyfingin – grænt framboð (VG).
While the IP Chair Bjarni Benediktsson clung to power despite his unpopularity among his own party, the Left Green leader Steingrímur J. Sigfússon did the precise opposite. As I have pointed out before (A Course of Action I Can’t Suggest), Steingrímur has demonstrated very long-term strategic thinking, preparing the way for whomever proved to lead the country in the future, whether of the VG or not. He announced that he would abdicate his position as party leader, clearing the path for the brilliant Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the most popular minister in the coalition government.
The fractiousness of the Left Greens in recent history has been less than impressive, but their least adaptable and eccentric representatives had left the field by the time of their last policy convention on the last weekend of January, ending a long streak of bad public relations. Evolution has put the Left Greens in good fighting form.
Steingrímur is a flawless debater and sharp politician, but these qualities distract from his long-term vision and stamina, which will come to light in time. He and his successor, the intelligent and sympathetic Katrín Jakobsdóttir, have created conditions for a surge in support in the upcoming Icelandic elections.
So if I must make a Biblical reference here, I will refer to the marriage at Cana (John 2:6-10) when, after the wine had run out, Jesus turned water into wine. Not in on the joke, the steward of the feast complemented the bridegroom:
“Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse; but thou hast kept the good wine until now.”