Before saying what it is about him that puts my teeth on edge, let me say that all the impressions one gets are that he does have astonishing gifts, given in bud by God but developed by himself.
He started life in a black township, hauling himself up, turning back because of racial obstacles, and trying something new, over and over (from here).
Finally he rose like Moses, given the gift of the gab by God, putting words out onto the æther, off the cuff, with humour and charisma – holding the world in the palm of his hand because he entertained.
Allister Sparks has written, ‘During the years when the black political leadership was imprisoned, he stepped forward and played a major role so that whites were still able to hear a confident, outspoken, authentic black voice.’
He made demonstrative acts of outraged goodness in the dusty townships, saving the life of at least one victim about to be ‘necklaced’. He is genuinely heartbroken by suffering and injustice.
He chaired the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission — a huge achievement of leadership, of moral leadership, of gift of the gab.
He has an educated sophistication with words — looking for the right one and getting it bang-on, like using the word ‘sneering’ for Trevor Manuel; and criticizing an investigative commission in apartheid days as being ‘like blind men judging the Chelsea Flower Show.’ Very British too.
But am I the only one revolted by the constant exhibition of his own goody–goody-gumdrops-goodness and of his conviction that humanity is like that too? A jolly chap in a dog-collar beaming and chuckling like in dear old Blighty, with a chummy and jokey acquaintanceship with God. Everyone refers to him as the Arch, and he does too. Facile left-liberal ideas on how to do good in the world. Photographs of him in the London Guardian looking a troubled elder — wise, patient and good.
He seduces us with chirpy Anglicanism. He considers all people to be angels till there is evidence to the contrary! This is the kind of Christianity that modern unbelievers warm to. Whatever happened to the old Christianity? Is there something wrong with the Church, and with us all, that we lap this stuff up?
For decades he billed and cooed, beamed and chuckled, and skipped his way around the world receiving prizes from the hands of men. What a way for a man of God to carry on! To Sepp Blatter, about to hand him a prize, he said, ‘Ooh, you would see I was blushing if it weren’t for the colour of my skin.’ — Playing the black role for the white folks who are ashamed of their previous racism. A new kind of Uncle Tom.
He bounces in the surf with Hollywood star Will Smith, and chats with Sir Richard Branson. He is an international celebrity like they are, and talks the same modern ideology of human goodness like they do.
He has authored books, his smiling face on the covers. The covers and reviews say the words: Hope, Joy, Peace, Forgiveness, Lifetime of good works, The goodness we are made for, Rainbow nation, God’s dream….
One of his daughters takes holy orders, and they cunoodle together on the sofa in mutual goodness. He comes home from hospital, nustles up against his wife’s shoulder, and looks up at her in an even more revolting look of babyish lovey-doveyness.
Isn’t the revulsion I feel similar to what one feels when confronted by Pharisaism, the patting oneself on the back for being a goody-goody gumdrops by following God’s Law. Jesus was revolted by it, and so was Paul who went away and founded Christianity (which was the novel idea that all of us are sinners who can’t help ourselves unless we receive Faith from above.)
He throws out cheap comparisons on all ideological sides with chirpy abandon like a British man in the street or pub: The Holocaust was no worse than apartheid’s forcible relocation of Africans, just quicker. “Apartheid is as evil and vicious as Nazism and Communism”. The Soviet bloc was just as bad as apartheid. ‘There is less freedom and personal liberty in most of Africa now than…during…colonial days.” And, “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. I would much rather go to the other place.” The ANC is “worse than the apartheid government” because it refuses to let in the Dalai Lama…. Africans in Zimbabwe “are treated like rubbish, almost worse than by rabid racists.” and he speaks about African politics as if it were Britain: ‘Mugabe has gone bonkers’ and ‘Zuma should recuse himself’.
He believes in the fellowship of Man on the Biblical basis that we are all made in God’s image, and he combines this with Ubuntu (from here), the traditional African culture of warmth, empathy, forgiveness, helpfulness, and communitarianism, and of rulers owing their power to the will of the people! (No, my apologies, someone else may have said that last precise thing.)
Was this the culture that met the eyes of the first white explorers and missionaries?. Has it been the culture of post-liberation Africa? Of course not; Africans are only human for heaven’s sake. They have gone back in large measure, I suspect, to the political culture of old Africa. And the beaming Arch points to this liberation, with its famines and bloodbaths and ultra-corruption, as an unmixed proof of God’s existence!
He reduces and simplifies all world conflicts, such as Palestine, to something that can be solved like the South African one was.
Yet he can be toughly realistic – his wife and he got a court injunction and laid charges against a grand-daughter for doing physical damage (flying crockery) to their family home.
If the Arch makes you cringe, then remember there are Princes of the Church even worse. But there are ones much better. I heard one once in Ely Cathedral, a cleric of middling rank, standing at a lectern in the middle of the afternoon with sightseers milling about, and giving a little talk of tough realism. Where can one find them today?
Desmond Tutu is a socialist and pacifist. In 1986 he said: “All my experiences with capitalism…have indicated that it encourages some of the worst features in people. Eat or be eaten…the survival of the fittest. I can’t buy that. “ “Apartheid has given free enterprise a bad name”.
I think his Socialism is the key to understanding his world-view.