by John Kersey
Let us begin with the Bible – for that is where, as Christians, we must always begin. And I must crave the indulgence for a moment of those who do not share my faith, but who will perhaps acknowledge that it has been directly formative upon the character and culture of our isles, and therefore has a place, however restricted, in our public discourse.
Psalm 14: 1 puts the matter very succinctly: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” This seems by any standard to be a condemnation of atheistic belief, not merely in itself, but in terms of the character which such belief – and it is belief, not “the absence of belief” as Dawkins’ followers sometimes tautologically argue – engenders in its adherents.
Atheists have not been responsible for the creation of civilisation or its constituent parts. Those political movements that are predominantly atheistic – chief among which is communism – have not contributed to the world’s bounty one iota and have resulted in the display of callous inhumanity on a massive scale. That is not to say that an atheist cannot have a moral code, or act in a moral way. The difficulty, above all, is that the said atheist does not share that moral code with other atheists, nor indeed with his or her fellows who are adherents of a faith. When morality atomizes or is replaced by ideology, society breaks down. Even within an anarchist construct such as a Hoppean covenant community, there will be a common moral outlook that unites the community. It may be aligned with a particular faith, or it may be an agreed code that, while constructed outside the framework of faith or syncretically from a variety of faith and/or non-faith beliefs, nevertheless provides a direct analogue to that which would arise within such a framework. If we discard faith, we invent that which substitutes for faith, rather as if we discarded the wheel and then tried to recreate it ab initio.
I grow weary of the arrogance, intolerance and general self-destructive stupidity of those atheists, particularly of the younger generation, who hold that the rectitude, nay, certainty, of their beliefs gives them a right to dismantle the spiritual foundations of our country. To their credit, the representatives of the National Secular Society have generally been supportive of freedom of speech for those who disagree with them. But I reserve a greater degree of ire altogether for those individuals who claim to exercise Christian ministry while ignoring its basic foundations. Of their company the late Anthony Bridge, erstwhile Dean of Guildford in the Church of England, had this description in mind:
“A bureaucratic annexe to the Welfare State with a few pious and neo-Gothic overtones. Hag-ridden by committees and worm-eaten by synodical government, it has dedicated itself to activism, having banished prayer, mystery, silence, beauty and its own rich musical and liturgical heritage to a few remote oases in order to make way for hymns written by third-rate disciples of Noël Coward and sung to the strident noise of guitars played by charismatic curates in jeans.”
One cannot help but reflect that when the devil cannot find a way in from the outside, he will mount his attack from within. And he has been most successful. We are fast approaching a time where to make a public statement about what the Bible teaches is some form of criminal offence. The representatives of the larger churches seem to have done little to protect their members from this; indeed, too often the impression that is given is that where a challenge to the state – or to the liberal agenda which many of them support – is involved, they have simply washed their hands, or indeed sided with the state against their own brethren.
One difficulty is that Christianity is not a “fluffy” religion. Its precepts are tough and uncompromising. Jesus Christ is not merely “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. As He says in Matthew 10:34, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The purpose of the Church – and if it neglects this purpose, it is nothing – is to encourage individuals to find and follow Christ in all His complexity. And while it would to my mind be impossible to read the Bible and come away with the view that its chief message is that mankind is eternally damned, it remains the case that central aspects of the Christian faith will always pose problems for its adherents. They challenge and provoke; we wrestle with faith because it is often at odds with what we might believe (wrongly) to be “natural” or “fair”. Out of that process can come transcendance. As C.S. Lewis says in “Mere Christianity”,
“…a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble–because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.”
There is a term for those who wish to pick and choose which doctrines of Christianity they wish to follow and those which they do not – “cafeteria Christianity”. All too often, it is reducible to the idea of “be nice to each other”, as if we were all children in a playgroup. All too often, it is distorted to conform with various brands of socialism, be they dressed up as “liberation theology” or in other guises. It is a form of faith in which Christ is made less than God and man greater than man. It is that which Dietrich Bonhoeffer identified as the deadly enemy of the Church – cheap grace.
Robert Gladwin, a young man from Attleborough in Norfolk, articulates his own version of this bowdlerization when he says “It is my basic understanding that Christianity is inclusive and loving in nature.” Mr Gladwin has objected to his local Baptist church putting up a poster outside the church that suggests that atheists will go to Hell. He has complained to the police, who have recorded the matter as a “hate incident” and required the pastor of the church to take the poster down. We are told that it has been replaced by one featuring meerkats.
Let us examine, for a moment, what the Bible has to say on the matter of atheists and Hell. There is this, for example, from Revelation 21:8-9:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death,
That seems pretty clear, then. Now consider Matthew 12:31:
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
and Matthew 13:49-50:
The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
and, indeed, Matthew 3:12:
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
There is a legitimate theological debate to be had on the nature, permanency and inhabitants of Hell, and indeed upon the effect of all this for the believer in this world. The Pope has recently engaged in this debate. But to suggest that Christian churches in this country should refrain from proclaiming what their faith teaches and muzzle it according to a secular code of imagined “offence” and “hatred” is worse than an obscenity. We are not told if Mr Gladwin has studied theology. He may well be the next John Shelby Spong, though I have my doubts. The fact remains that his actions do harm to our culture. They bring nearer the time when Christians will face a sort of inner death in which their faith will be effectively banished from public life and to confess its tenets will be to invite formal or informal sanction from those in power. We should be clear: this is persecution.
Mr Gladwin and the Baptists are not the only ones who have been talking about Hell recently. Anjem Choudhary has also been advancing the tenets of his particular brand of Islam. He tells us, speaking of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby,
“So as an adult non-Muslim, whether he is part of the Army or not part of the Army, if he dies in a state of disbelief then he is going to go to the hellfire. That’s what I believe so I’m not going to feel sorry for non-Muslims.”
The news report tells us “Choudary insisted he had not ‘said anything incendiary’ and claims he does not fear being arrested.” There is no reason to doubt his words. There is a double standard at work here, and any student of Cultural Marxism will be aware of how it operates.