Rod Liddle’s observation about the death of Nelson Mandela, cut off, alas, at the age of 95, hardly needs supplementing but I was struck by one aspect of the blanket coverage, viz, its quasi-religious character. The Mirror, the day after the sad event, observed that Mr Mandela was as near as we get in this fallen world to a saint. And this morning, the Today programme brought the thing to its logical conclusion when one presenter, Justin Webb posed the question (1.15): given the moral example of Nelson Mandela, ‘why is the world not a better place?’ So it was over for an answer to former US president Jimmy Carter, a member of a group known as the Elders, who travel the world to spread the Mandela message. This was the question: ‘Some people have compared Nelson Mandela with Jesus. You’re a religious man. Would you?’ (Don’t you love that distancing – ‘Some people…’?).
No, came the unexpectedly stern response from Carter. ‘I look upon Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as God himself, and I certainly wouldn’t compare any human being with Jesus.’ It’s at times like this you rather regret that, radio being radio, it’s not possible to see expressions, but there was a nanosecond of shocked pause at that.
Still, Mr Carter went on to say that Mr Mandela was one of the finest men he had ever known – and given that he had known him personally, that was genuine praise. Still, it cut the cultish aspect of the BBC coverage down to size a bit.