Remember the contretemps Quillblog pointed to a couple of weeks back involving a largeish number of people who had become convinced that Raj Patel, the author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing, was the messiah prophesied by the octogenarian Scottish mystic Benjamin CrÃ¨me, leader of a group called Share International? Apparently Patel’s repeated disavowals of his messianic status did little to stem the “trickle,” then the “flood,” of inquiries as to whether he was, in fact, the figure Maitreya. So now Patel has taken to the pages of the Guardian to try to convince people that he is not a messiah.
I’d done little to earn the title of Maitreya, though I admit some parallels between my life and that described in the prophecy.
Have I lived in London? Yes. Am I interested in social justice and sharing the world’s resources? Indeed I am. Do I care about feeding the world? Certainly. Was I on American television soon before CrÃ¨me announced the arrival of Maitreya? Sort of. On 12 January, I appeared on a spoof rightwing talk show called the Colbert Report. I’d also been on BBC World, CNN, Democracy Now and al-Jazeera before then, but it seems you can’t be a deity unless you do Comedy Central.
Not that my protests of not-being-the-messiah have been heeded. I wrote a short piece on my blog suggesting that, like the hero of Life of Brian, I was the victim of a case of mistaken identity, and that “you’ve got to work it out for yourselves.” This didn’t fly. I was reminded by my correspondents that the Maitreya would deny divinity. And when I suggested that I wasn’t the messiah, “but a very naughty boy,” others pointed out that this was exactly what Lucifer would say.
Patel points out that even Benjamin CrÃ¨me has stated that he doesn’t think the author is Maitreya, saying in an interview that Patel sounded more like “that chap who does the cricket on the radio.”
In his article, Patel goes on to speculate about the reasons why some people might be prone to believe in his divinity. In times of social distress, Patel suggests, humans cling to a belief that one person will come along and make everything better.
Although it makes for great viewing, it makes for a bad society. Ultimately, tales about messiahs are bedtime stories steeped in power. They’re debilitating soporifics, inducements to be passive as we wait for social change because, some day, our prince will come.