Screwtape the senior demon writes to his nephew (C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters). Lewis is posing as a devil who may well mix truth and error, but I still found the depiction of social justice as some kind of deception to be quite offensive. The Gospel, while true, is worthless if it fails the test of social justice (loving thy neighbour).
The “Historical Jesus” then, however dangerous he may seem to be to us at some particular point, is always to be encouraged. About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything-even to social justice.
The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game,
Your affectionate uncle
In his scourging of liberalism Malcolm Muggeridge lays out many fundamental tenets of the evangelical mindset. Some of the most disagreeable are: an anti-science paranoia; a hostile attitude to the ideal of Heaven on Earth; an aversion to education, technology and progress; and an insane overreaction to all things ‘liberal’, after his experiences in Soviet Russia. His screeds remind me of the neocon harridan Ann Coulter.
The fundamental error of liberalism is its false gospel of automatic and ineluctable progress, Muggeridge declares. This fallacy grew out of infatuation with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. He despises the evangels of Scientism:
… a Herbert Spencer, or a poor, squeaky H.G. Wells, ardent evolutionist and disciple of Huxley, with his vision of an earthly paradise achieved through science and technology; those twin monsters which have laid waste a whole world, polluting its seas and rivers and lakes with poisons, infecting its very earth and all its creatures, reaching into Man’s mind and inner consciousness to control and condition him, at the same time entrusting to irresponsible, irresolute human hands the instruments of universal destruction….
The enthronement of the gospel of progress necessarily required the final discrediting of the gospel of Christ, and the destruction of the whole edifice of ethics, law, culture, human relationships and human behaviour constructed upon it. Our civilization, after all, began with Christian revelation, not the theory of evolution, and, we may be sure, will perish with it, too-if it has not already.
It is, indeed, among Christians themselves that the final decisive assault on Christianity has been mounted; led by the Protestant churches, but with Roman Catholics eagerly, if belatedly, joining in the fray. All they had to show was that when Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world, He meant that it was. Then, moving on from there, to stand the other basic Christian propositions similarly on their heads. As, that to be carnally minded is life; that it is essential to lay up treasure on earth in the shape of a constantly expanding Gross National Product; that the flesh lusts with the spirit and the spirit with the flesh, so that we can do whatever we have a mind to; that he that loveth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. And so on. One recalls a like adjustment of the rules in Orwell’s Animal Farm. A whole series of new interpretative ‘translations’ of the Bible have appeared supporting the new view, and in case there should be any anxiety about the reception of these adjustments in Heaven, God, we are told on the best theological authority, has died.
Muggeridge has clearly misread some of Jesus’ attention-getting hyperbole. How ironic, when Muggeridge himself was prone to exaggeration and hyperbole. He makes some valid points but his critique is fatally unbalanced. Why should we not love our life in this world? What is wrong with the pursuit of happiness? Life itself is a gift from God not to be squandered in service to a false gospel of political theory, or an intellectualised spirituality divorced from everyday life. In later life these men realized as much.
This blog gets its name from the idea that faith and life are conducted here on Earth, and Heaven is not some distant place in the sky, but it is a “summer land” of love and joy that is progressively growing around the world. The Gospel is not the “four spiritual laws, just say this magic prayer and hey presto you have a get into heaven card!”. Nor is the Gospel constituted of blather about Jesus’ death and trying to figure out who’s “in” or not. It is an ongoing call to follow the LIFE of Christ.