Archive for the ‘Malcolm Muggeridge’ Category

h1

Malcolm Muggeridge on Søren Kierkegaard

September 14, 2010

“Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a nineteenth century existentialist philosopher, and arguably both the father of existentialism and modern psychology. He is a grossly misunderstood figure, whom some argue was a mystic, an anti-rationalist, or, as is more reasonable, an anti-philosopher. Often his overtly religious writings are overlooked or de-Christianized in favor of the pseudonymous authorship. An idiosyncratic style, along with a complex authorial method, go far in confounding the unwary reader.” The above comes from one of the best sites I’ve located on Kierkegaard. If you wish to find out more about him I urge you to spend some time at D. Anthony Storm’s Commentary on Kierkegaard.

My post on Kierkegaard today comes from A Third Testament by Malcolm Muggeridge.

Kierkegaard: Discernment
“What I really need,” he wrote at the time, “is to get clear what I must do, not what I must know. What matters is to find a purpose; to see what… really is God’s will…that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth that is the truth for me.”

This is what he was asking himself. How to establish contact with the reality he had already sensed in the universe, the quest for which made all others seem trivial and aimless? How to distinguish it from all the different sorts of fantasy – scientific, technical, political, erotic – which Western man was even then so busy constructing to evade this reality. How to get rid of all this own personal impediments – the ego lifting its cobra head, the appetites reaching out greedily like octopus tentacles? How to strip himself down until there was nothing, nothing at all, other than the sense of this own worthlessness? At which point he might hope to catch a glimpse, find that there was a place for him after all in the great drama which Christ’s life, death, and resurrection had unfolded to uplift, illuminate and redeem mankind.

Kierkegaard: The Life Of The Individual
We shall not be so arrogant as to do anything on a grand scale. Rather let us speak of a single individual human life and of the way it can be lived out here on earth. If one can see God in history, one can see him also in the life of the individual; to suppose otherwise is to delude oneself by yielding to the brutish imbecility which sees God only in the observations of nature, being taught say the Sirius is 180,000 million miles away form earth. The materialistic man is astounded by such large data. If every single man is not an individual, simply by being human then everything is lost and it is not worth hearing about great world shaking historical events. But the world wants to be deceived.

Marx and Kierkegaard
Marx and Kierkegaard, the two voices of the twentieth century. The curious thing is though Marx purported to have an infallible scientific key to history; almost all his prophesies have failed to happen. On the other hand, Kierkegaard’s forecasts based purely on his imaginative intuition have been fulfilled to a remarkable degree. Take for instance his profound sense that if men lost the isolation, the separateness, which awareness of the presence of God alone can give, they would soon find themselves irretrievably part of the collectivity with only mass communications to shape their hopes, formulate their values and arrange their thinking.

“Suppose someone invented an instrument, a convenient little talking tube which, say, could be heard over the whole land…I wonder if the police would not forbid it, fearing that the whole country would become mentally deranged if it were used.
On the whole the evil in the daily press consists of its being calculated to make, if possible, the passing moment a thousand or ten thousand times more inflated and important than it really is, But all the moral elevation consists first and foremost in being weaned from the momentary.

If Christianity is to be proclaimed, it will become apparent that it is the daily press which will, if possible, make it impossible. There has never been a power so diametrically opposed to Christianity as the daily press. Day in and day out the daily press does nothing but delude men with the supreme axiom of this lie, that numbers are decisive. Christianity, on the other had is based on the thought that the truth lies in the single individual.

If someone adopts the opinion of the public today and tomorrow is hissed and booed , he is hissed and booed by the public. A nation, an assembly, a human being can change in such a way that they are seen to be no longer the same; but the public can become the very opposite and is still the same, the public.

It is very doubtful, then, that the age will be saved through the notion of social organization, of association. In our age the principle of association (which may at best have validity with respect only to material interests) is an evasion, a dissipation, an illusion, whose dialectic is (that) as it strengthens individuals, so it weakens them. It strengthens by numbers, by solidarity, but from the ethical point of view this is a weakening. Not until the single individual has established an ethical stance in despite of the whole world, not until then can there be any questions of genuinely uniting. Otherwise it gets to be a union of people who separately are weak; a union as unbeautiful and depraved as a child marriage.

Kierkegaard: The Cruelty Of Abstractions
The acme of hopelessness would be to hope that so aimless, so un-illuminated, so mindless a way of life as life without God could possibly work, or breed in those subjected to it anything but boredom and despair.
In his words:

“The following changes will occur. When the generation, which in fact has sought to level everyone and everything has wanted to be emancipated and to revolt, has wanted to demolish authority, has eliminated individualities and all that is organic and concrete and has substituted such concepts as humanity and numerical equality among men, then individuals are impelled to help themselves, each one individually.

Then it will be said: “Look everything is ready; look the cruelty of these abstractions exposes the illusions of the finite; look the abyss of the infinite is opening up; look, the sharp scythe of leveling permits all, every single individual, to leap over the blade; look God is waiting! Leap, then, into the arms of God.”

Kierkegaard on Reflection
“Reflection is in truth a benevolent helper which discovers and assists in finding where the absolute object of faith and worship is – namely, here where the difference between knowledge and ignorance collapses into a consciousness of ignorance, there where the resistance of an objective uncertainty tortures forth the passionate certainty of faith, there where the conflict of right and wrong collapses in absolute worship with absolute subjection. Reflection itself does not see the absolute, but it leads… the individual up to it, and  says: “Here, I guarantee, when you worship here, you worship God.”

Kierkegaard: The Greatest Menace Comes From The Natural Sciences
Those who see deeply into the nature of life are able to project his knowledge into the future, and so in some degree to foretell it. Thus we find Kierkegaard again and again diagnosing with uncanny precision the ills that would befall  a materialistic society, especially when Christianity, the only possible corrective, partook of the same spirit – so that not only did science insist that men could live by bread alone, but the spirit of Christ was invoked to say that they should. Kierkegaard warned:

In our time the greatest menace comes from the natural sciences. Psychology will ultimately encompass ethics. And already there are intimations of a tendency to treat ethics as a brand of physics to be calculated statistically, working over averages as in calculating vibrations in laws of nature.

Kierkegaard: Christ Explodes All Relativity
“We have totally abolished the notion of imitation and at best hold to the paltriness called social morality. In this way men cannot become truly humbled so that they genuinely feel the need of Grace. What is required of them is no more than social morality which they fulfill tolerably well.

Is not the truth of the matter really this, that man is just like a child who would rather be free from being under his parent’s eyes. Is not this what men want? To be free from being under the eyes of God? When Christ resolves to become the Savior of the world, a lament goes through all humanity. Sighing grievously they ask: Why do you do this? You will make us all unhappy. Simply because to become a Christian is the greatest human suffering. Christ being an absolute, explodes all the relativity whereby we humans live. In order to live in the spirit rather than the flesh, as he requires, one must go through crisis after crisis, being made thereby, from a human point of view, as unhappy as it is possible to be.”
Søren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard: A Christian Auditor
Kierkegaard modestly called himself a Christian auditor: An apostle proclaims the truth, an auditor is responsible for discovering counterfeits” and therefore has to have been in his time a bit of a counterfeiter himself.
Kierkegaard, however, achieved much more than just being an auditor or topographer of Christianity, he also charted a new course for others to follow: three stages, from the aesthetic, to the ethical, to the religious….

The aesthetic stage was the equivalent of paganism, seeking satisfaction through the senses, physical beauty, erotic excitement; satisfaction through the exercise of artistic skills or through celebrity or riches, through success in any of its guises.

As for the ethical stage, it represented an awareness of God, but not an awareness of man’s limitations. What could be more ridiculous than man supposing he could make laws which were just, achieve brotherliness by means of an equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity, sustain a religious faith with only earthly ends, in short establish a Kingdom of Heaven on earth, with the clock ticking way eternity and elected parliaments exercising divine authority.

So he found himself relentlessly pushed into the third stage, the religious stage,. This was where all the pseudonyms were put aside, and he became just Søren Kierkegaard, a poor sinner who knows nothing except that he existed now, with time as an eternal present, and that whatever fate might lie in store for mankind, they never would see in this search their old habitat, or in history their only destiny.

In the aesthetic phase, life is an experience; in the ethical one, a process; but in the religious phase, it is a drama. For Kierkegaard, an existential drama, in that the central character, the crucified Christ, exists now, thereby making now always.

Kierkegaard’s Last Written Words
“I have nothing more to add. But let me merely say this, which is in a way is my life, is to me the content of my life, its fullness, its bliss, its peace and satisfaction. Let me express this, a view of life which comprehends the idea of humanity and of human equality: Christianity implies, unconditionally, that every man every single individual, is equally close to God. How close and equally close? Because Loved by Him. Consequently there is equality, the equality of infinity, between man and man. If there is any distinction, it is that one person bears in mind that he is loved, perhaps day after day, perhaps day after day for seventy years, perhaps with only one longing, a longing for eternity so that he really can grasp this thought and go through life with it, concerning himself with the blessed occupation of meditating on how he is loved – and not, alas, because of his virtue.

Another person perhaps does not remember that he is loved, perhaps goes on year after year, day after day and does not think of his being loved; or perhaps he is glad and grateful to be loved by his wife, by his children, by his friends, by his cotemporaries, but he does not think of his being loved by God. Infinite, divine love, which makes no distinction! Yes, but what of the human ingratitude! If there is an equality among us men in which we completely resemble each other, it is that not one of us truly thinks is about being loved!”

h1

Book Recommendation: “Jesus, The Man Who Lives” by Malcolm Muggeridge

December 15, 2009

Salvador Dali "Christ of St. John of the Cross"

Tolstoy On The Gospels
An idea becomes close to you only when you are aware of it in your soul, when in reading about it it seems  that it has already occurred to you, that you know it and you are simply recalling it. That’s how it was when I read the Gospel. In the Gospels I discovered a new world: I had not yet supposed that there was such a depth of thought in them. Yet it all seemed so familiar; it seemed that I had known it all long ago, that I had only forgotten it.
Tolstoy, As recorded in Bulgakov’s Diary 18 April 1910

The Revelation’s Impetus
..the revelation Jesus provided, in his teaching, and in the drama of his life, death, and Resurrection, of the true purpose and destination of our earthly existence, seems to me, even by comparison with other such revelations, to be of unique value and everlasting validity. The fact hat I happen to have come into the world myself at a time when the revelation’s impetus in history gives every sign of  being almost spent, and when western Man is increasingly inclined to reject and despise the inheritance it has brought him, only serves to make me the more appreciative of it and awed by it. In the same sort of way the last notes of the Missa Solemnis seem to contain the whole beauty of what has gone before, or the light of a June evening to hold all the glory of the day that is ending.

Faith
The key to this seeming disparity between Pascal the scientist, scrupulously observing facts and weighing their relevance, and Pascal the Christian, bowing his head, bending his knees, humbling his proud mind, before the Virgin Mother of Jesus, lies in the one word “faith”…”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”[Paul, Epistle to the Hebrews] Faith that bridges the chasm between what our minds can know and what our souls aspire after; faith which so dwarfs whatever we may consider ourselves to have achieved, or been, that it makes all men —- the humblest, the simplest, the most, in worldly terms –foolish — our equal, our brothers; faith which so irradiates our inner being and outward circumstances that the ostensible exactitudes of time and measure, of proof and disproof, lose their precision, existing only in relation to eternal absolutes which everything in the universe proclaims, and in which all life has its being — the stones and the creatures, the pigs grunt and the nightingale’s song, the trees and the mountains, the wind and the clouds, height and depth, darkness and light, everything that ever has been, or ever will be, attempted, or done, till the end of time — all swelling the chorus of faith.

Fantasy, Truth And The Eye
I want to cry out with the blind man to whom Jesus restored his sight: One thing that I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. How, I ask myself, could I have missed it before? How not have understood that the grey–silver light across the water, the cry of the seagulls and the sweep of their wings, everything on which my eyes rest and my ears hear is telling me about God.

This life’s dim Windows of the Soul
Distorts the Heavens from Pole to Pole
And leads you to believe a Lie
When you see with, not thro’, the Eye.

Thus Blake distinguishes between the fantasy that is seen with the eye and truth that is seen though it. There are two clearly demarcated kingdoms; and passing from one to the other, from the kingdom of fantasy to the kingdom of reality, gives inexpressible delight. As when the sun comes out, and a dark landscape is suddenly glorified, all that was obscure becoming clear, all that was incomprehensible, comprehensible. Fantasy’s joys and desires dissolve away and in their place is one joy, one desire; one Oneness — God.

In this kingdom of reality, Simone Weil tells us, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy as goodness; no desert so dreary, monotonous and boring as evil. There we may understand what St. Augustine meant when he insisted that ‘though the higher things are better than the lower, the sum of all creation is better than the higher things alone, and how, in  the light of this realization, all human progress, human morality, human law, based, as they are, on the opposite proposition — of the intrinsic superiority of the higher over the lower — is seen as written on water, scribbled on dust; like Jesus’ scribble while he was waiting for the accusers of he woman taken in adultery to disperse.

Approaching Jesus Through Art
Jesus’ story is a drama, not documentation, and the word whose flesh he became is every true word ever written or spoken; every true note ever sounded, every true stone ever laid on another, every true shape molded, or true color mixed. The whole creative achievement of Man is comprehended in it. Look for it in the light shining in El Greco’s faces; listen for it in the notes of Plainsong; marvel at it in the spire of Salisbury Cathedral rising so exquisitely into the sky; read it in Blake’s Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience. Hold it in your hand in a grain of sand; in your mind in the universe, with all its planetary systems within systems and ultimate vistas of everlasting space; in your soul in the contemplation of the creator of it all, the spirit which animates it all the beginning and the end of what has not beginning and no end — God. Then pinpoint it all, bring it all to a focus, concentrate it all in a Man and that Man — Jesus

The Meaning of The Incarnation
The perfection of Jesus’ divinity was expressed in the perfection of his humanity, and vice versa. He was God because he was so sublimely a man, and Man because, in all his sayings and doings, the grace of his person and words, in the love and compassion that shone out of him he walked so closely with God. As Man alone Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, he would not. Incarnate, he could and did.

Prophecy
If, I remember reflecting as a child, and perhaps asking some unfortunate teacher, this or that had to be done to fulfill a prophecy, how was it a prophecy at all? Surely, prophesying meant foreseeing something that was going to happen, not so arranging things that it happened. Subsequent experience of life, and brooding thereon, made me understand that two parallel processes are at work – prophesying, and surrendering to the logic of events whereby the prophecy comes to pass. Built into our mortal circumstances here is what Blake called a Fearful Symmetry –

Tyger Tyger buring bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Western Man Has Decided To Abolish Himself
It has become abundantly clear in the second half of the twentieth century that Western Man has decided to abolish himself. Having wearied of the struggle to be himself, he has created his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, his own vulnerability out of his own strength; himself blowing the trumpet that brings the walls of his own city tumbling down, and, in the process of auto–genocide, convincing himself  that he is too numerous, and laboring accordingly with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer in order to be an easier prey for his enemies; until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keels over, a weary, battered old brontosaurus, and becomes extinct.

Determinism, Freedom And Prophecy
In their exposition of the fulfillment of the prophecy the Gospels faithfully reflect the mysterious blend of determinism and freedom which governs our lives. What happens, they tell us, has to happen, but still need not; we must bend our knees and bow our heads and say Thy will be done, while none the less knowing, as Jesus did in his darkest hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, that it is open to us to follow our own wills. The demons of the ego are allowed to enter into us, as they were allowed to enter into the Gadarene swine, and can send us similarly leaping to destruction…

The imagination can relate these two seeming opposites — determinism and freedom — into a wholeness which partakes of both and is greater than either. Hence art. Watching a performance of Macbeth, we know perfectly well that Macbeth will murder Duncan, and all the tragic consequences will ensue, and yet hang breathlessly on Macbeth’s words as he summons up his resolution to fulfill the witches’ prediction…

Prophecy belongs to the domain of the imagination, not of the intellect; its truth lies in the inescapable necessity to fulfill it; its strength, in our sense that we are free to fulfill or not as we think fit. This is why, especially at moments of great crisis in our individual lives or in history, we often seem to be following a preordained course, and yet choosing, whether grudgingly, heroically, or in desperation, to follow it.

Where Shall Wisdom Be Found
Where shall wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding? [Job 28:12] Not, certainly, in what passes for being the documentation of this or any other age, whether recorded by a Josephus, elegantly recorded by a Gibbon, laboriously assembled by a Namier, dispersed in clouds of rhetoric by a Churchill, or reflected in the fabulous distorting mirror twentieth — century technology has devised to take in every detail and aspect of our contemporary scene — the television screen. This last, least of all; nothing is less actual that its actualites.

Only mystics, clowns and artists, in my experience, speak the truth, which, as Blake was always insisting, is perceptible to the imagination rather than the mind. Thus an animist groveling naked in the African bush before a painted stone may well be nearer to the heart of things than any Einstein or Bertrand Russell, and a painted clown riding a bicycle round and round a circus ring more attuned to the reality of life than a Talleyrand or a Bismark can hope to be. Jesus was making the same point when he insisted that God has revealed to the foolish what is hidden from the wise.

A Religion Of Slaves
Simone Weil describes…There was a full moon, and the wives of the fishermen were going in procession form ship to ship, carrying candles and singing ancient hymns of a heart — rending sadness. As she listened to them, here own sadness lifted, and she suddenly had a joyous conviction ‘that Christianity is preeminently a religion of slaves, that slaves cannot help belonging to it, and I among others.’

Sinners’s Knowledge, Garnered In Sinlessness
This is like asking why the Word needed to become flesh in the first place; why it did not suffice just as Word. The point is that, to exist for us in time, the Word had to be spoken, and that the Incarnation was God’s way of speaking it. Or, as it is put in the Fourth Gospel in becoming flesh in the person of Jesus, the Word dwelt among us. Thus though Jesus’ coming into the world was divinely ordained, and represented God’s deliberate intervention in history, it was still the case that he had to live in the world as a man among other men. In this capacity, he heard and heeded John’s call to repentance and accepted John’s hands, just as later, he accepted crucifixion at Pilate’s.

In this capacity too, he understood, fully and perfectly, the nature and driving force of sin. How otherwise could he have insisted that just to look after woman to lust after her is to commit adultery? This is sinner’s knowledge, as all sinners at once recognize. How otherwise would he know that the insatiable ego ever raising its cobra head will not be coaxed or persuaded or indulged into quiescence, but must be struck down once and for all? That to live we must die, experiencing the ultimate sweetness of life, the final fragrance and music of it, only in its final rejection. That when we at last know that life is worthless, then only do we truly live; that when we have absolutely nothing more to hope for  —- no dream, however exalted, of delighting or uplifting our fellows, no vista of fulfilled love or of silver evening light falling serenely across our last days – then, at last, we can hope?  That when the heart is empty, the mind dry, the soul blown away in dust, and the sheet of white paper that has to be covered stares back at us glassy-eyed, then, and only then, a flame leaps up of certainty, absolute and everlasting, that God awaits with outstretched arms to welcome us into the eternity whence we came? This is what Jesus knew — sinners’s knowledge, garnered in sinlessness.

Salvation For Individuals No Collective Cures
Jesus never used his miraculous powers to promote any general or collective purpose. The salvation he offered was for individuals not collectivities; for a person, not for an idea. Though the sick crowded around him there were no collective cures or blanket dispensations.

Fulfilling His Mission While Accepting Mortal Existence
…While he was incarnate he insisted on being regarded in every respect as a mortal man. Had he done otherwise, the focus and climax of all his teaching, the Cross, would have lost its point. For a man to die on the Cross for other men was sublime, where for God to be crucified would be nothing – like someone who is immortal serving a prison sentence. If the Devil had succeeded in persuading Jesus to exploit his miraculous powers to his own greater glory in the eyes of the world, his mission would have been emptied of its content. To fulfill his mission he had to accept all the limitations, fallibilities and inadequacies of our mortal existence and relate these to our immortal destiny, thereby enabling men to draw near to God, and God to make Himself accessible to men….

After his colloquy with the Devil it was to be abundantly clear to him that always and in all circumstances he must eschew the three pillars of earthly authority – marvels, affluence and the exercise of power. It was not for him to turn stones into bread, however plentiful the stones and scarce the bread, but rather to sacramentalize bodily into spiritual sustenance; not for him to draw men to him by calling on God for a sign, but rather to light with his truth their way to God and God’s way to them. Above all it was not for Him to look for help or support to any Caesar, actual or aspiring; still less to become one. He was to be no Fuhrer, no mythical resistance leader; there was poetry , but no rhetoric, in the words wherewith he would reveal to men how God would have them live together and do His will.

Adam And Jesus
As one man, Adam, had estranged men for God, so another man, Jesus, would reconcile them to God; as Adam’s disobedience necessitated Moses’ Law, so Jesus’ obedience opened up a new dispensation of love transcending Moses’ Law in relations between man and man, and between men and God…Jesus’ sacrifice undoes Adam’s sin; the Old Man with his deeds is put off, and the New Man, reborn in the spirit is put on; and all mankind, Jew and gentile, bond and free, conjoined together in one body, in one fellowship, with, and in, Christ. This was the new heaven and the new earth prophesied in the Scriptures…

C.H.Dodd On Truth In The Gospels
There are particular moments in the lives of men and in the history of mankind when what is permanently true (if largely unrecognized) becomes manifestly and effectively true. Such a moment in history is reflected in the Gospels. The presence of God with men, a truth for all times and all places, becomes an effective truth. It became such (we must conclude) because of the impact Jesus made; because in his words and actions it was presented with exceptional clarity and operative with exceptional power. Jesus himself pointed out the effects of his work as signs of the coming of the kingdom: If by the finger of God I drive out devils, then be sure the Kingdom of God has come upon you.

The Messiah Of The Prophecy And Jesus
The Messiah of the prophecy was for the Jews exclusively, and his Kingdom an Israel restored to a greatness and glory; the messiah in the person of Jesus is not for a Chosen People, but for all who will accept Him, and His Kingdom is not of this world at all. It is, at once, within us, and located beyond the confines of space and time and mortality.

We carry about it with us in our inner being, infinitely precious, as it might be some locket containing he likeness of a beloved face. At the same time, like Augustine’s City of God, it is high above us out of our reach — Isaiah’s land that is very far off; but still, for those who have eyes to see, discernible from our earthly city and the destination of our earthly pilgrimage.

It is both here and now, available to everyone for the asking, and to be vigilantly expected — as the wise virgins awaited the coming of the bridegroom, with their lamps full of oil, unlike the foolish ones who had used up their oil and then, when the bridegroom came , had no means of replenishing their lamps.

The Christian Life: Tasting Eternity In Time
As Shakespeare put it in his famous seven stages of man, we come into the world as babies mewling and puking in our nurse’s arms; then pass from childhood to youth, to mature manhood, until finally we peter out in second childishness and mere oblivion. Where in this process is there a place for being reborn? Yet it happens. Out of the dark womb of our own willfulness and carnality some force of spiritual creativity can push us into another birth. We emerge into the same world we have grown accustomed to, to find it now made new; its colors shining and translucent, its shapes sharpened and wonderful in their grace, its men and women moving like angels, and all its creatures disclosing a beauty hitherto secret.

So, seeing with new eyes, I see a new world; understanding with heart and mind and soul, truth breaks upon me, not thought or sensation or realization but in one comprehensive enlightenment. As a child with its first yawn or smile measures up to Time, I, reborn, and become a child again, measure up to Eternity. Who can doubt that this is the everlasting life Jesus promised – what is eternal in life becoming manifest eternally; each joy forever in its joyfulness, each woe likewise in its woefulness, and the two inextricably intertwined; in Blake’s words ‘woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine.’…

[Jesus’ Kingdom] offered salvation to men and women living in the world; holding out to them the possibility of a way of life on quite different terms from any hitherto envisaged. Tasting eternity in time; experiencing heavenly ecstasies while still walking the earth; carrying love, not just to the ultimate requirements of the Law, of morality, of human affections, but far, far beyond that — into the crazy extravagancies of God’s love, which knows no limits; which is poured out indiscriminately on all His creation, flooding it all in beauty, and making all its sounds — the grunts, the cries, the songs, the screeches – somehow melodious, not to mention words, which fill and billow like a sail to his Breath, and glow with his translucence. …

[Imagine] Paul breaking into song while living in and for Christ in Nero’s world…The joy and wonder  were to continue unabated through all the troubles and pitfalls that lay ahead. In the world ye shall have tribulations: but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world – how often I have said over to myself with feelings of inexpressible comfort these words Jesus spoke to his disciples, knowing that when the test came they would scatter and lose heart, and regret ever having been associated with him . Jesus had indeed overcome the world, and forever…He had overcome the world by revealing its true nature, its reality contrasting with the layer upon layer of fantasy which the human ego is endlessly constructing out of itself, like a monstrous coral reef. The revelation was Jesus’ good news, the kingdom he came to proclaim. In its light, we may know ourselves to be displaced persons, who yet are given eyes, if we care to use them, capable of seeing here on earth, all the contours and of our true habitat and dwelling–place–to–be. Thus St Augustine’s preaching…after hearing the news of the sack of Rome:

You are surprised that the world is losing its grip? That the world is grown old and full of pressing tribulations? Do not hold on to the old man, the world; do not refuse to regain your youth in Christ, who says to you: the world is passing away, the world is losing its grip, the world is short of breath. Do not fear, thy youth shall be renewed as an eagle.

Christianity Is An Experience
The war goes on; and suddenly in the most unlikely theater of all, a Solzhenitsyn raises his voice, while in the dismal slums of Calcutta a Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity go about Jesus’ work of love with incomparable dedication. When I think of them, as I have seen them at their work and at their devotions, I want to put away all the books, tear up all the scribbled notes. There are no more doubts or dilemmas; everything is perfectly clear.

What commentary or exposition, however eloquent, lucid, perceptive, inspired even, can equal in elucidation and illumination the effect of these dedicated lives? What mind has conceived a discourse, or tongue spoken in it, which conveys even to a minute degree eh light they shine before men? I was an hungred, and  ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me – the words come alive, as no study or meditation could possibly make them, in the fulfillment in the most literal sense of Jesus’ behest to see in the suffering faces of humanity his suffering face, and in their broken bodies, his.

The religion Jesus gave the world is an experience, not a body of ideas or principles. It is being lived that it lives, as it is in loving that the love which it discloses at the heart of all creation becomes manifest. It belongs to the world of a Cervantes rather than a Wittgenstein; to Rabelais and Tolstoy rather than to Bultmann and Barth.

Our Transformation At Death
So at last I may understand, and understanding believe; see my ancient carcass, prone between the sheets, stained and worn like a scrap of paper dropped in the gutter, muddy and marred with being trodden underfoot, and hover over it, myself, like a butterfly released from its chrysalis stage and ready to fly away. Are caterpillars told of their impending resurrection? How in dying they will be transformed from poor earth — crawlers into creatures of the air, with exquisitely pained wings? If told, do they believe it?

Is it conceivable to them that so constricted an existence as this should burgeon into so gay and lightsome a one as a butterfly’s? I imagine the wise old caterpillars shaking their heads — no, it can’t be; it’s a fantasy, self–deception, a dream. Similarly,  our wise ones. Yet in the limbo between living and dying, as the night clocks tick remorselessly on, and the black sky implacably shows not one single streak or scratch of grey, I hear those words; I am the resurrection, and the life, and feel myself to be carried along on a great tide of joy and peace.

Two Great Propositions
Jesus summarized all his teaching for us in two great propositions which have provided Christendom with, as it were, its moral and spiritual axis. The first and great commandment, he said , was: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and the second , like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these commandments, he insisted, hang all the law and the prophets. His manner of presenting them indicates their interdependence; unless we love God we cannot love our neighbor, and correspondingly, unless we love our neighbor we cannot love God.. Once again , there has to be a balance; Christianity is a system of such balanced obligations –To God and Caesar, to flesh and spirit; to God and our neighbor, and so on. Happy the man who strikes the balance justly; to its imbalance are due most of our miseries and misfortunes, individual as well as collective.

What Does Loving God Mean?
We can love the world he created and the universe which is its setting…All this we can love; but still it is not loving God…We may love the godly works of man…all this can be loved as emanating from God, and yet not even this is God. Yet again there are Man’s own particular and private loves, all of which pertaining to love partake in some degree of God’s love…how beautiful in old age to note in the grandchild newly born some trait remembered form long ago …like the echo of a distant bell…yet this is still not God…How is God to be found and loved? Not as philosophically conceived as a first cause or Categorical Imperative…still less are we capable of loving God as scientifically conceived…the life force which has triumphantly carried our species form primeval slime to Professor Ayer…the simple fact is that to be truly loved God has to become a Man without thereby ceasing to be God. Hence Jesus who provides the possibility of loving God through and in him.

Thus the two commandments become one; to be celebrated in a Man – Jesus —- who died and sanctified in a Man — also Jesus — who goes on living.. As out of Jesus’ affliction came a new sense of God’s love, and a new basis for love between men, so out of our affliction we may grasp a the splendor of God’s love and how to love one another. Thus the consummation of the two commandments was on Golgotha; and the cross is at once their image and their fulfillment. “It is affliction itself.”

Simone Weil writes, ‘that the splendor of God’s mercy shines; from its very depths, in the heart of its inconsolable bitterness.’ We feel ourselves to be forsaken, as Jesus momentarily did on the Cross; and if then we persevere in our love, we end by coming into contact with something which is neither joy nor sorrow, something necessary, pure and essential; something apart form the senses, partaking of both joy and sorrow. Then, at last , triumphantly, we know what it is to love God and looking outwards from within this love, we see our fellow men, all of them, the sick and the well, the beautiful and the plain, the stupid and the clever, mongols and beauty queens, and  imbeciles and athletes, every variety and category of humankind; see them all as brothers and sisters, members of one family, at once enfolded in God’s love and chained together by it, as though they were His galley–slaves, and this servitude their perfect freedom.

Jesus And Jerusalem
In his [Jesus’] only recorded personal outburst, he cried out at his first glimpse of Jerusalem in the distance, set amidst the hills, so strangely and beautifully aloof, as though floating in the sky, and more like a visionary city than an actual one: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

The Cloud Of Unknowing: Quotation
Love is such a great power that it maketh all things to be shared. Therefore love Jesus, and all things that he hath, it is thine. He by his Godhead is maker and giver of time. He by his Manhood is the true heeder of time. And he by his Godhead and Manhood together, is the truest judge and the asker of account of the spending of time. Knit thee therefore to him, by love and by belief.

Judas
And Judas?…Was he the most skeptical of them all about Jesus’ Messianic pretensions and the powers that went therewith, and so the readier to be a paid renegade? Or was he the most understanding of them all, the one with the greatest certainty that Jesus was indeed all he claimed to be, Incarnate God, which made Judas feel he must at all costs get rid of him The method he chose suggests as much – betraying Jesus to the Sanhedrin gang for a paltry sum of money, thirty pieces of silver, which at the then market rate was less than the cost of a mediocre slave.

As does also the manner he chose to identify Jesus — with a kiss. After all there were plenty of other means of identification than a kiss; such as pointing Jesus out and pronouncing a Devil’s version of Ecce Homo—Behold the Man! Surely that kiss was an indication that Judas betrayed Jesus, not because he hated him, but because he loved him.

A Stupendous Riddle
They call him Master and rightly so, but in washing their feet the Master deliberately abases himself in order to demonstrate that greatness lies not in self–assertion, but in self–abnegation. Earthly authority displays itself in giving orders, in magnificent apparel, in hordes of servitors, in sycophantic addresses; the authority  Jesus disposes of is, by contrast, spiritual, and expresses itself in serving, not in being served, in seeking to be the least instead of the greatest, the last instead of the first, in finding wisdom in the innocence of children and truth in the foolishness of men rather than in those who pass for being sagacious and experienced in the world’s ways. When we want to adulate men, we say they are godlike; but when God became Man, it was in the lineaments of the least of men…

If the greatest of all, Incarnate God, chooses to be the servant of all, who will wish to be the master? If he receives orders, who will venture to give them? If those who climb are descending, and those who descend, climbing, who will aspire after eminence? These are the questions Jesus leaves with us; not to answer — because they have no answer — but to live with and by. Christianity is a stupendous riddle without a solution; a stupendous joke without a point; a stupendous song without a tune; a stupendous waking dream that we lose in sleeping; a death in life and a life in death.

The Way, The Truth, The Life
Thomas, the doubter, asked, not unreasonably, how, if they did not know where Jesus was going, they could possibly be expected to follow after him. It was then that Jesus came out with one of his greatest sayings — that he was himself  the way, the truth, and the life. For his followers, to know him is to know where they’re going, and why they are going there, and to be vouchsafed the strength to follow the way to the end where Jesus awaits them. There are many signposts, but he is the way. There are many words and meanings, but he is the truth; there are many ways of living and dying, but He is life itself.

The Trinity
First God the Father who is everywhere and nowhere; the oneness of all things rather than any particular thing. It is material or temporal beauty? Surely not. Not the brilliance of earthly light, the sweet melody of harmony and song, the fragrance of the flowers, and perfumes; not manna or honey or limbs such as the body delights to embrace. It is none of these he loves when he loves his God. Yet, in loving God he also loves them; but in his inner self, when the soul is bathed in illimitable light, when it breathes fragrance not borne away on the wind, listens to sounds that never die away, clings to an embrace not severed by desire’s fulfillment.

What then is his God? He asks the earth, and it answers: I am not God. Likewise he asks the sea, the winds that blow, the sky , the sun, the moon and the stars, all things that can be admitted by the door of the senses, and the answer is of one and all is the same – they are not God. Where then is God And the answer is at the very core of creation, and in all its parts God is creation’s soul, and because we have souls which are components of His as the tiniest particle of moisture in sea spray is a component of the ocean, we are one with God and God is one with us.

So Augustine triumphantly concludes: ‘He is the life of the life of my soul.’ …Between the earthly city and the heavenly city there is a deep impassable chasm ….Jesus is the suspension bridge to God the Father. Through him we may know God truly as a Father; through him the universal becomes the particular, the immanent becomes the transcendent, the implicit becomes the explicit. Always becomes now. The pure of heart are blessed because thy may know God the Father; but thanks to God the Son, so may the impure of heart through knowing Jesus.

It was for this purpose – to open up a way for sinners to know God – that Jesus came amongst us. By the same token, this was the offense for which he was crucified. God the Son is God the Father’s probation officer to a fallen world, who, by his death on the Cross, expiated Adam’s sin, and reversed the fall. Under the dispensation of God the Father, Adam brought death into the world; under the dispensation of God the Son, Jesus abolished death….

Then there is the Holy Spirit…this is the conception the most nebulous, but in terms of experience, the most actual. The Holy Spirit first descended upon the disciples in the Acts of Apostles, on the first Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, on what is celebrated by Christians as Whit Sunday…Whatever may have been the precise intimations and nature of the experience, it s certainly the case that thenceforth these hitherto easily scared, rather quarrelsome and confused men became worthy and effective servants of their Master; propagandists of genius and martyrs of indomitable heroism…

h1

Reading Selections From The Great Liberal Death Wish — Malcolm Muggeridge

December 14, 2009
 

 

Malcolm Muggeridge

In 1979 Malcolm Muggeridge gave a short speech at Hilsdale College that more or less repeated some thoughts he had published in various essays before. There he reflected over his life and upbringing to underline how deep his connections with the liberal community had been.

 Muggeridge was one of a small cadre of western journalists who recognized the evil of Soviet Communism when most were still entranced by the Marxist utopia.He relates some of that experience below.

 

For his honest reporting on the Stalinist show trials he lost his job and was blacklisted for a time. Happily he never lost his critical touch. In the 1980’s Malcolm Muggeridge emerged, along with his friend  William F. Buckle,y as one of the most delightful, articulate, brilliant thinkers and conversationalists in the world. His career (related below) has included journalist and Moscow correspondent for the Manchester Guardian; agent for British Intelligence in Africa during World War II; Liaison – Officer with the Free French; Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph; Editor of Punch; and Book Reviewer for Esquire. In addition to several anthologies of his own writings, he is a published novelist and playwright. His television career began when television began, and has continued in the United States, the United Kingdom and throughout the English-speaking world. In England he had worked extensively with the B.B.C. and in the U.S. with PBS.

In 1970 Muggeridge went to Calcutta to do a special documentary on Mother Teresa for the BBC-TV. At the time Muggeridge was Europe’s Tom Brokaw. On that fated morning of their meeting (a morning that would change him for the rest of his life) he met her as she was working out in the streets with sick and poor people in a ghetto like he had never seen before, amid stench, filth, garbage, disease, and poverty that was just unbelievable. But what struck Muggeridge more than anything else, even there in that awful squalor and decadence, was the deep, warm glow on Mother Teresa’s face and the deep, warm love in her eyes.

“Do you do this every day?” he began his interview.

“Oh, yes,” she replied, “it is my mission. It is how I serve and love my Lord.”

“How long have you been doing this? How many months?”

“Months?” said Mother Teresa. “Not months, but years. Maybe eighteen years.”

“Eighteen years!” exclaimed Muggeridge. “You’ve been working here in these streets for eighteen years?”

“Yes,” she said simply and yet joyfully. “It is my privilege to be here. These are my people. These are the ones my Lord has given me to love.”

“Do you ever get tired? Do you ever feel like quitting and letting someone else take over your ministry? After all, you are beginning to get older.”

“Oh, no,” she replied, “this is where the Lord wants me, and this is where I am happy to be. I feel young when I am here. The Lord is so good to me. How privileged I am to serve him.”

Later, Malcolm Muggeridge said, “I will never forget that little lady as long as I live. The face, the glow, the eyes, the love-it was all so pure and so beautiful. I shall never forget it. It was like being in the presence of an angel. It changed my life. I have not been the same person since. It is more than I can describe.”

After Malcolm Muggeridge made those comments, Mother Teresa continued to serve in that sacrificial way until the end of her life-nearly twenty-seven years later.

***********************************************************

The Great Liberal Death Wish
The Great Liberal Death Wish” is a subject that I’ve given a lot of thought to and have written about, and it would be easy for me to read to you a long piece that I’ve written on the subject. But somehow in the atmosphere of this delightful college, I want to have a shot at just talking about this notion of the great liberal death wish as it has arisen in my life, as I’ve seen it, and the deductions I’ve made from it. I should also plead guilty to being responsible for the general heading of these lectures, namely, “The Humane Holocaust: The Auschwitz Formula. “

Later on I want to say something about all this, showing how this humane holocaust, this dreadful slaughter that began with 50 million babies last year, will undoubtedly be extended to the senile old and the mentally afflicted and mongoloid children, and so on, because of the large amount of money that maintaining them costs. (DJ – If that is not prophetic, I don’t know what is)

It is all the more ironical when one thinks about the holocaust western audiences, and the German population in particular, have been shuddering over, as it has been presented on their TV and cinema screens. Note this compassionate or humane holocaust, if, as I fear, it gains momentum, will quite put that other in the shade. And, as I shall try to explain, what is even more ironical, the actual considerations that led to the German holocaust were not, as is commonly suggested, due to Nazi terrorism, but were based upon the sort of legislation that advocates of euthanasia, or “mercy killing,” in this country and in western Europe, are trying to get enacted. It’s not true that the German holocaust was simply a war crime, as it was judged to be at Nuremberg. In point of fact, it was based upon a perfectly coherent, legally enacted decree approved and operated by the German medical profession before the Nazis took over power. In other words, from the point of view of the Guinness Book of Records you can say that in our mad world it takes about thirty years to transform a war crime into a compassionate act.

The Dostoevsky Connection
But I’m going to deal with that later. I want first of all to look at this question of the great liberal death wish. And I was very delighted that you should have got here for this CCA program the film on Dostoevsky for which I did the commentary, because his novel The Devils [More commonly translated as The Possessed] is the most extraordinary piece of prophecy about this great liberal death wish. All the characters in it, the circumstances of it, irresistibly recall what we mean by the great liberal death wish. You cannot imagine what a strange experience it was doing that filming in the USSR. I quoted extensively from the speech that Dostoevsky delivered when the Pushkin Memorial was unveiled in Moscow, and his words were considered to be, in terms of then current ideologies, about the most reactionary words ever spoken. They amounted to a tremendous onslaught on this very thing that we’re talking about, this great liberal death wish, as it existed in Russia in the latter part of the last century.

The characters in the book match very well the cast of the liberal death wish in our society and in our time. You even have the interesting fact that the old liberal, Stephan Trofimovich Verkovensky, who is a sort of male impersonator of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, with all the sentimental notions that go therewith, is the father of Peter Verkovensky, a Baader Meinhof character, based on a Russian nihilist of Dostoevsky’s time, Sergey Nechayef. To me, it’s one of the most extraordinary pieces of modern prophecy that has ever been. Especially when Peter Verkovensky says, as he does, that what we need are a few generations of debauchery – debauchery at its most vicious and most horrible – followed by a little sweet bloodletting, and then the turmoil will begin. I put it to you that this bears a rather uneasy resemblance to the sort of thing that is happening at this moment in the western world.

Muggeridge’s Father
Now I want to throw my mind back to my childhood, to the sitting room in the little suburban house in south London where I grew up. On Saturday evenings my father and his cronies would assemble there, and they would plan together the downfall of the capitalist system and the replacement of it by one which was just and humane and egalitarian and peaceable, etc. These were my first memories of a serious conversation about our circumstances in the world. I used to hide in a big chair and hope not to be noticed, because I was so interested. And I accepted completely the views of these good men, that once they were able to shape the world as they wanted it to be, they would create a perfect state of affairs in which peace would reign, prosperity would expand, men would be brotherly, and considerate, and there would be no exploitation of man by man, nor any ruthless oppression of individuals. And I firmly believed that, once their plans were fulfilled, we would realize an idyllic state of affairs of such a nature. They were good men, they were honest men, they were sincere men. Unlike their prototypes on the continent of Europe, they were men from the chapels. It was a sort of spillover from the practice of nonconformist Christianity, not a brutal ideology, and I was entirely convinced that such a brotherly, contented, loving society would come to pass once they were able to establish themselves in power.

My father used to speak a lot at open air meetings, and when I was very small I used to follow him around because I adored him, as I still do. He was a very wonderful and good man. He’d had a very harsh upbringing himself, and this was his dream of how you could transform human society so that human beings, instead of maltreating one another and exploiting one another, would be like brothers. I remember he used to make quite good jokes at these outdoor meetings when we had set up our little platform, and a few small children and one or two passers-by had gathered briefly to listen. One joke I particularly appreciated and used to wait for even though I had heard a hundred times ran like this: “Well ladies and gentlemen,” my father would begin, “you tell me one thing. Why is it that it is his majesty’s navy and his majesty’s stationery office and his majesty’s customs but it’s the national debt? Why isn’t the debt his majesty’s?” It always brought the house down.

The Fabian Society
Such was my baptism into the notion of a kingdom of Heaven on earth, into what I was going to understand ultimately to be the great liberal death wish. Inevitably, my father’s heroes were the great intellectuals of the time, who banded themselves together in what was called the Fabian Society, of which he was a member – a very active member. For instance, Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Harold Laski, people of that sort. All the leftist elite, like Sydney – and Beatrice Webb, belonged to this Fabian Society, and in my father’s eyes they were princes among men. I accepted his judgment.

Once I had a slight shock when he took me to a meeting of the Fabian Society where H. G. Wells was speaking, and I can remember vividly his high squeaky voice as he said – and it stuck in my mind long afterward -”We haven’t got time to read the Bible. We haven’t got time to read the history of this obscure nomadic tribe in the Middle East.” Subsequently, when I learned of the things that Wells had got time for, the observation broke upon me in all its richness.

Education: An Overrated Experience?
Anyway, that for me was how my impressions of life began. I was sent to Cambridge University, which of course in those days consisted very largely of boys from what we call public schools, and you call private schools. Altogether, it was for me a quite different sort of milieu, where the word socialist in those days – this was in 1920 when I went to Cambridge at 17 – was almost unknown. We who had been to a government secondary school and then to Cambridge were regarded as an extraordinary and rather distasteful phenomenon. But my views about how the world was going to be made better remained firmly entrenched in the talk of my father and his cronies. Of course, in the meantime had come the First World War, to be followed by an almost insane outburst of expectations that henceforth peace would prevail in the world, that we would have a League of Nations to ensure that there would be no more wars, and gradually everybody would get more prosperous and everything would be better and better. That rather lugubrious figure Woodrow Wilson arrived on the scene, to be treated with the utmost veneration. I can see him now, lantern-jawed, wearing his tall hat – somehow for me he didn’t fill the bill of a knight in shining armor who was going to lead us to everlasting peace. Somehow the flavor of Princeton about him detracted from that picture, but still I accepted him as an awesome figure.

My time at Cambridge was a rather desolate time. I never much enjoyed being educated, and have continued to believe that education is a rather overrated experience. Perhaps this isn’t the most suitable place in the world to say that, but such is my opinion. I think that it is part of the liberal dream that somehow or other – and it was certainly my father’s view – people, in becoming educated, instead of on Sundays racing their dogs or studying racing forms, or anything like that, would take to singing madrigals or reading Paradise Lost aloud. This is another dream that didn’t quite come true.

Teaching in India
Anyway, from Cambridge I went off to India, to teach at a Christian college there, and I must say it was an extremely agreeable experience. The college was in a remote part of what was then Travancore, but is now Kerala. It was not one of the missionary colleges, but associated with the indigenous Syrian Church, which you may know is a very ancient church, dating back to the fourth century, and now there are a million or more Syrian Christians. In its way it was quite an idyllic existence, but of course one came up against naked power for the first time. I had never thought of power before as something separate from the rest of life. But in India, under the British raj, with a relatively few white men ruling over three or four hundred million Indians, I came face to face with power unrelated to elections or any other representative device in the great liberal dream that became the great liberal death wish.

However, it was a pleasant time, and of course the Indian nationalist movement was beginning, and Ghandi came to the college where I was teaching. This extraordinary little gargoyle of a man appeared, and held forth, and everybody got tremendously excited, and shouted against Imperialism, and the Empire in which at that time the great majority of the British people firmly believed, and which they thought would continue forever. If you ventured to say, as I did on the boat going to India, that it might come to an end before long, they laughed you to scorn, being firmly convinced that God had decided that the British should rule over a quarter of the world, and that nothing could ever change this state of affairs. Which again opened up a new vista about what this business of power signified, and how it worked, not as a theory, but in practice. We used to boast in those days that we had an Empire on which the sun never set, and now we have a commonwealth on which it never rises, and I can’t quite say which concept strikes me as being the more derisory.

Marriage, Egypt, The Guardian and Hasheesh
That was India, and then I came back to England and for a time taught in an elementary school in Birmingham, and married my wife Kitty. (I wish she were here today because she’s very nice. We’ve been married now for 51 years, so I am entitled to speak well of her.) She was the niece of Beatrice and Sydney Webb, so it was like marrying into a sort of aristocracy of the Left. After our wedding, we went off to Egypt, where I taught at the University of Cairo, and it was there that the dreadful infection of journalism got into my system. Turning aside from the honorable occupation of teaching, I started writing articles about the wrongs of the Egyptian people, how they were clamoring, and rightly so, for a democratic setup, and how they would never be satisfied with less than one man one vote and all that went therewith. I never heard any Egyptian say that this was his position, but I used to watch those old pashas in Groppi’s cafe’ smoking their hubble-bubble pipes, and imagined that under their tabooshes was a strong feeling that they would never for an instant countenance anything less than full representative government. That at least was what I wrote in my articles, and they went flying over to England, and, like homing pigeons, in through the windows of the Guardian office in Manchester, at that time a high citadel of liberalism. That was where the truth was being expounded, that was where enlightenment reigned. In due course I was asked to join the editorial staff of the Guardian, which to me was a most marvelous thing. I may say that the work of teaching at Cairo University was not an arduous job, essentially for three reasons. One was that the students didn’t understand English; the second that they were nearly always on strike or otherwise engaged in political demonstrations, and thirdly they were often stupified with hashish. So I had a lot of leisure on my hands.

Incidentally, to be serious for a moment, it seems to me a most extraordinary thing that at that time you wouldn’t have found anybody, Egyptian or English or anybody else, who wasn’t absolutely clear in his mind that hashish was a most appalling and disastrous addiction. So you can imagine how strange it was forty years later for me to hear life peeresses and people like that insisting that hashish didn’t do any harm to anybody, and was even beneficial. I see that in Canada it is going to be legalized, which will mean one more sad, unnecessary hazard comes into our world.

The Golden Days Of Liberalism
Anyway, these were the golden days of liberalism when the Manchester Guardian was widely read, and even believed. Despite all its misprints, you could make out roughly speaking what it was saying, and what we typed out was quite likely, to our great satisfaction, to be quoted in some paper in – Baghdad or Smyrna as being the opinion of our very influential organ of enlightened liberalism. I remember my first day I was there, and somehow it symbolizes the whole experience. I was asked to write a leader – a short leader of about 120 words – on corporal punishment. At some head-masters’ conference, it seemed, words had been spoken about corporal punishment and I was to produce appropriate comment. So I put my head into the room next to mine, and asked the man who was working there: “What’s our line on corporal punishment?” Without looking up from his type-writer, he replied: “The same as capital, only more so.” So I knew exactly what to tap out, you see. That was how I got into the shocking habit of pontificating about what was going on in the world; observing that the Greeks did not seem to want an orderly government, or that one despaired sometimes of the Irish having any concern for law and order; weighty pronouncement tapped out on a typewriter, deriving from nowhere, and for all one knew, concerning no one.

We were required to end anything we wrote on a hopeful note, because liberalism is a hopeful creed. And so, however appalling and black the situation that we described, we would always conclude with some sentence like: “It is greatly to be hoped that moderate men of all shades of opinion will draw together, and that wiser councils may yet prevail.” How many times I gave expression to such jejune hopes! Well, I soon grew weary of this, because it seemed to me that immoderate men were rather strongly in evidence, and I couldn’t see that wiser councils were prevailing anywhere.

The depression was on by that time, I’m talking now of 1932–33. It was on especially in Lancashire, and it seemed as though our whole way of life was cracking up, and, of course, I looked across at the USSR with a sort of longing, thinking that there was an alternative, some other way in which people could live, and I managed to maneuver matters so that I was sent to Moscow as the Guardian correspondent, arriving there fully prepared to see in the Soviet regime the answer to all our troubles, only to discover in a very short time that though it might be an answer, it was a very unattractive one.

Power As The Absolute And Ultimate Arbiter
It’s difficult to convey to you what a shock this was, realizing that what I had supposed to be the new brotherly way of life my father and his cronies had imagined long before, was simply on examination an appalling tyranny, in which the only thing that mattered, the only reality, was power. So again, like the British raj, in the USSR I was confronted with power as the absolute and ultimate arbiter. However, that was a thing that one could take in one’s stride. How I first came to conceive the notion of the great liberal death wish was not at all in consequence of what was happening in the USSR, which, as I came to reflect afterward, was simply the famous lines in the Magnificat working out, “He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek,” whereupon, of course, the humble and meek become mighty in their turn and have to be put down. That was just history, something that happens in the world; people achieve power, exercise power, abuse power, are booted out of power, and then it all begins again.

The thing that impressed me, and the thing that touched off my awareness of the great liberal death wish, my sense that western man was, as it were, sleep-walking into his own ruin, was the extraordinary performance of the liberal intelligentsia, who, in those days, flocked to Moscow like pilgrims to Mecca. And they were one and all utterly delighted and excited by what they saw there. Clergymen walked serenely and happily through the anti-god museums, politicians claimed that no system of society could possibly be more equitable and just, lawyers admired Soviet justice, and economists praised the Soviet economy. They all wrote articles in this sense which we resident journalists knew were completely nonsensical. It’s impossible to exaggerate to you the impression that this made on me. Mrs. Webb had said to Kitty and me: “You’ll find that in the USSR Sydney and I are icons. ” As a matter of fact they were, Marxist icons.

Liberal Pundits And Fatuity
How could this be? How could this extraordinary credulity exist in the minds of people who were adulated by one and all as maestros of discernment and judgment? It was from that moment that I began to get the feeling that a liberal view of life was not what I’d supposed it to be – a creative movement which would shape the future – but rather a sort of death wish. How otherwise could you explain how people, in their own country ardent for equality, bitter opponents of capital punishment and all for more humane treatment of people in prison, supporters, in fact, of every good cause, should in the USSR prostrate themselves before a regime ruled over brutal-ly and oppressively and arbitrarily by a privileged party oligarchy?

I still ponder over the mystery of how men displaying critical intelligence in other fields could be so astonishingly deluded. I tell you, if ever you are looking for a good subject for a thesis, you could get a very fine one out of a study of the books that were written by people like the Dean of Canterbury, Julian Huxley, Harold Laski, Bernard Shaw, or the Webbs about the Soviet regime. In the process you would come upon a compendium of fatuity such as has seldom, if ever, existed on earth. And I would really recommend it; after all, the people who wrote these books were, and continue to be regarded as, pundits, whose words must be very, very seriously heeded and considered.

Mau-Mauing the Intelligentsia
I recall in their yellow jackets a famous collection in England called the Left Book Club. You would be amazed at the gullibility that’s expressed. We foreign journalists in Moscow used to amuse ourselves, as a matter of fact, by competing with one another as to who could wish upon one of these intelligentsia visitors to the USSR the most outrageous fantasy. We would tell them, for instance, that the shortage of milk in Moscow was entirely due to the fact that all milk was given nursing mothers — things like that. If they put it in the articles they subsequently wrote, then you’d score a point.

One story I floated myself, for which I received considerable acclaim, was that the huge queues outside food shops came about because the Soviet workers were so ardent in building Socialism that they just wouldn’t rest, and the only way the government could get them to rest for even two or three hours was organizing a queue for them to stand in. I laugh at it all now, but at the time you can imagine what a shock it was to someone like myself, who had been brought up to regard liberal intellectuals as the samurai, the absolute elite, of the human race, to find that they could be taken in by deceptions which a half-witted boy would see through in an instant. I never got over that; it always remained in my mind as something that could never be erased. I could never henceforth regard the intelligentsia as other than credulous fools who nonetheless became the media’s prophetic voices, their heirs and successors remaining so still. That’s when I began to think seriously about the great liberal death wish.

News And Intelligence
In due course, I came back to England to await the Second World War, in the course of which I found myself engaged in Intelligence duties. And let me tell you that if there is one thing more fantastical than news, it is Intelligence. News itself is a sort of fantasy; and when you actually go collecting news, you realize that this is so. In a certain sense, you create news; you dream news up yourself and then send it. But that’s nothing to the fantasy of Intelligence. Of the two, I would say that news seems really quite a sober and considered commodity compared with your offerings when you’re an Intelligence agent.

In The Name Of Progress And Compassion
Anyway, when in 1945 I found myself a civilian again, I tried to sort out my thoughts about the great wave of optimism that followed the Second World War –or me, a repeat performance. It was then that I came to realize how, in the name of progress and compassion, the most terrible things were going to be done, preparing the way for the great humane holocaust, about which I have spoken. There was, it seemed to me, a built in propensity in this liberal world-view whereby the opposite of what was intended came to pass. Take the case of education. Education was the great mumbo–jumbo of progress, the assumption being that educating people would make them grow better and better, more and more objective and intelligent. Actually, as more and more money is spent on education, illiteracy is increasing. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it didn’t end up with virtually the whole revenue of the western countries being spent on education, and a condition of almost total illiteracy resulting therefrom. It’s quite on the cards.

The Humane Holocaust
Now I want to try to get to grips with this strange state of affairs. Let’s look again at the humane holocaust. What happened in Germany was that long before the Nazis got into power, a great propaganda was undertaken to sterilize people who were considered to be useless or a liability to society, and after that to introduce what they called “mercy killing.” This happened long before the Nazis set up their extermination camps at Auschwitz and elsewhere, and was based upon the highest humanitarian considerations. You see what I’m getting at?

On a basis of liberal-humanism, there is no creature in the universe greater than man, and the future of the human race rests only with human beings themselves, which leads infallibly to some sort of suicidal situation. It’s to me quite clear that that is so, the evidence is on every hand. The efforts that men make to bring about their own happiness, their own ease of life, their own self-indulgence, will in due course produce the opposite, leading me to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that human beings cannot live and operate in this world without some concept of a being greater than themselves, and of a purpose which transcends their own egotistic or greedy desires.

Once you eliminate the notion of a God, a creator, once you eliminate the notion that the creator has a purpose for us, and that life consists essentially in fulfilling that purpose, then you are bound, as Pascal points out, to induce the megalomania of which we’ve seen so many manifestations in our time – in the crazy dictators, as in the lunacies of people who are rich, or who consider themselves to be important or celebrated in the western world. Alternatively, human beings relapse into mere carnality, into being animals. I see this process going on irresistibly, of which the holocaust is only just one example. If you envisage men as being only men, you are bound to see human society, not in Christian terms as a family, but as a factory–farm in which the only consideration that matters is the well–being of the livestock and the prosperity or productivity of the enterprise. That’s where you land yourself. And it is in that situation that western man is increasingly finding himself.

Reasons Not To Despair
This might seem to be a despairing conclusion, but it isn’t, you know, actually. First of all, the fact that we can’t work out the liberal dream in practical terms is not bad news, but good news. Because if you could work it out, life would be too banal, too tenth-rate to be worth bothering about. Apart from that, we have been given the most extraordinary sign of the truth of things, which I continually find myself thinking about. This is that the most perfect and beautiful expressions of man’s spiritual aspirations come, not from the liberal dream in any of its manifestations, but from people in the forced labor camps of the USSR. And this is the most extraordinary phenomenon, and one that of course receives absolutely no attention in the media. From the media point of view it’s not news, and in any case the media do not want to know about it. But this is the fact for which there is a growing amount of evidence. I was reading about it in a long essay by a Yugoslav writer Mihajlo Mihajlov [“Mystical Experience of the Labor Camps,” included in his excellent book Underground Notes], who spent some years in a prison in Yugoslavia.

He cites case after case of people who, like Solzhenitsyn, say that enlightenment came to them in the forced labor camps. They understood what freedom was when they had lost their freedom, they understood what the purpose of life was when they seemed to have no future. They say, moreover, that when it’s a question of choosing whether to save your soul or your body, the man who chooses to save his soul gathers strength thereby to go on living, whereas the man who chooses to save his body at the expense of his soul loses both body and soul.

He Who Hates His Life In This World…
In other words, fulfilling exactly what our Lord said, that he who hates his life in this world shall keep his life for all eternity, as those who love their lives in this world will assuredly lose them. Now, that’s where I see the light in our darkness. There’s an image I love —  if the whole world were to be covered with concrete, there still would be some cracks in it, and through these cracks green shoots would come. The testimonies from the labor camps are the green shoots we can see in the world, breaking out from the monolithic power now dominating ever greater areas of it. In contradistinction, this is the liberal death wish, holding out the fallacious and ultimately destructive hope that we can construct a happy, fulfilled life in terms of our physical and material needs, and in the moral and intellectual dimensions of our mortality.

I feel so strongly at the end of my life that nothing can happen to us in any circumstances that is not part of God’s purpose for us. Therefore, we have nothing to fear, nothing to worry about, except that we should rebel against His purpose, that we should fail to detect it and fail to establish some sort of relationship with Him and His divine will. On that basis, there can be no black despair, no throwing in of our hand.

Augustine and Catastrophe
We can watch the institutions and social structures of our time collapse – and I think you who are young are fated to watch them collapse — and we can reckon with what seems like an irresistibly growing power of materialism and materialist societies. But, it will not happen that that is the end of the story. As St. Augustine said — and I love to think of it when he received the news in Carthage that Rome had been sacked: Well, if that’s happened, it’s a great catastrophe, but we must never forget that the earthly cities that men build they destroy, but there is also the City of God which men didn’t build and can’t destroy. And he devoted the next seventeen years of his life to working out the relationship between the earthly city and the City of God – the earthly city where we live for a short time, and the City of God whose citizens we are for all eternity.

This Limbo Between Life And Death
You know, it’s a funny thing, but when you’re old, as I am, there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen to you. One of them is, you realize that history is nonsense, but I won’t go into that now. The pleasantest thing of all is that you wake up in the night at about, say, three a.m., and you find that you are half in and half out of your battered old carcass. And it seems quite a toss-up whether you go back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body, or make off toward the bright glow you see in the sky, the lights of the City of God. In this limbo between life and death, you know beyond any shadow of doubt that, as an infinitesimal particle of God’s creation, you are a participant in God’s purpose for His creation, and that that purpose is loving and not hating, is creative and not destructive, is everlasting and not temporal, is universal and not particular. With this certainty comes an extraordinary sense of comfort and joy.

Reality Means Knowing God
Nothing that happens in this world need shake that feeling; all the happenings in this world, including the most terrible disasters and suffering, will be seen in eternity as in some mysterious way a blessing, as a part of God’s love. We ourselves are part of that love, we belong to that scene, and only in so far as we belong to that scene does our existence here have any reality or any worth. All the rest is fantasy — whether the fantasy of power which we see in the authoritarian states around us, or the fantasy of the great liberal death wish in terms of affluence and self-indulgence. The essential feature, and necessity of life is to know reality, which means knowing God. Otherwise our mortal existence is, as Saint Teresa of Avila said, no more than a night in a second–class hotel.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 273 other followers