Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

Jimmy Carter talks sense about the late Nelson Mandela

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.

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