CHRISTIAN CLASSICS

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JESUS
by Muggeridge

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MARGIN NOTES
Malcolm Muggeridge
Born in 1903, Malcolm Muggeridge has become one of the notable figures of the twentieth century. He is well-known as an author, journalist, media personality, and in his later years, a leading spokesman for Christianity. His upbringing was, as he termed it, "socialist;" his father was involved in politics and served as a member of Parliament. He attended Cambridge University, and after his graduation in 1924, went to India as a teacher. He returned to his native England in 1927, where he married Katherine (Kitty) Dobbs and worked as a substitute teacher. After six months, the young couple moved to Egypt to assume another teaching post. It was here in Egypt that Muggeridge's career as a journalist began in earnest, a life of writing that would include work for the Manchester Guardian , Calcutta Statesman , Evening Standard , Daily Telegraph , and other newspapers.

Malcolm and Kitty Muggeridge spent the fall and winter of 1932-33 in Moscow, where he was a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian . He witnessed the Ukranian famine and was the first western reporter to write truthfully about the resultant death and devestation. This sojourn in the Soviet Union ended Muggeridge's infatuation with Communism as a panacea for the ills of the world.

Returning briefly to England, he subsequently accepted a post in India as assistant editor for the Calcutta Statesman . While there he completed a biography of Samuel Butler. During the Second World War, Muggeridge joined the Army Intelligence Corps and served in Mozambique, Italy, and France. Resuming his career as a journalist following the war, he spent almost two years in Washington, DC as a correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.

Muggeridge's wit and style endeared him to many as he became a popular (and controversial) figure on radio and television. From 1953-57 he served as editor of the British humor magazine Punch . During the 1960s this former Socialist and vocal agnostic gradually modified his positions on religion and became a Christian. This journey is recorded in his book Jesus Rediscovered . From that time his writings reflect his increasingly orthodox stance on matters of faith. In 1983 Malcolm and Kitty Muggeridge became members of the Roman Catholic Church.

In his latter years, Muggeridge expressed a growing concern about moral and ethical issues. He opposed abortion and euthanasia while supporting the rights of the mentally and physically handicapped. His opposition to birth control led to his controversial resignation as Rector of Edinburgh University. He was greatly influenced by Mother Theresa of Calcutta and her efforts on behalf of the forgotten people of the world. She is the subject of his book Something Beautiful for God.

A leading Christian apologist, Muggeridge is sometimes cited as the G. K. Chesterton of the latter twentieth century. There appears to be a widening audience hungering for his sometimes cynical, yet always insightful opinions.

Malcolm Muggeridge, after a fruitful life of constant interaction and tension with life, entered eternal rest November 14, 1990.








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JESUS
by Malcolm Muggeridge


There was nothing written down, no membership forms or minutes of the last meeting; no badges even, until, with his death, he gave the world the greatest badge ever known - the Cross. No halls were hired, as St. Paul did in Ephesus; except for occasional social gatherings, and, of course, the momentous Last Supper, everything would appear to have happened in the open air. For me, it is a reminiscence of Jesus when I catch a glimpse of a lonely orator holding forth, say, in Lincoln's Inn Fields, on some theme or other - as it might be, proportional representation, or the imminent end of the world. This, more than High Mass in St. Peter's, or the consecration of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, conveys the image of Jesus proclaiming the coming of his Kingdom. Listeners are few - a faithful follower or two, part of the speaker's equipe; some passers-by briefly pausing, an occasional stray dog. Yet how extraordinary if once again a new era were being ushered in, signalized by the coming of another Kingdom and another Saviour! Just to be on the safe side, I edge nearer and listen. Quite often new eras and last days are being proclaimed, but so far I have not come across another Saviour.

How small a band they were! And how small the distances covered in their journeyings! Repeating the same words, re-enacting the same scenes; the sick gathering and crying out, the blind for their sight, the halt for their limbs, the lepers for uncontaminated flesh. Such itinerant exaltes usually manage to make a stir. Even in our own time the Maharishis flourish, the self-styled prophets multiply, the soothsayers who claim to have all the answers find enough support to print and circulate their nostrums. In cities like New York fortune-tellers are as numerous as psychiatrists, and star-gazers provide popular and lucrative newspaper and magazine features. The wilderness is large, and there are always many voices crying in it.

This particular itinerant exalte, alone of them all, made the preposterous claim that he was God's only begotten Son, and what is more, the claim was accepted; not just by others as crazy as himself, but by the master-minds and hearts of a great civilization, into whose art and law and literature and learning it was to be indelibly written. At the time, a paltry affair; in the end, to prove the greatest affair ever enacted. Our contemporary Media captains may marvel at the astonishing result of so insignificant a beginning, imagining to themselves what they would have made of the opportunity; the lavish presentations they would have mounted, his words carried by satellite to every corner of the globe, his Kingdom presented at prime time in living color to hundreds of millions of viewers of every race and nationality; the very Second Coming itself appropriately simulated, with a Jesus riding in on clouds of glory as a super-super-super star. Who then, would have been able to resist him? The late Lord Beaverbrook, in his book on the subject (The Divine Propagandist ), sees in Jesus a propagandist of stupendous possibilities, provided, of course, that all the nonsensical notions about him, as a Man of Sorrows who took a poor view of riches and advocated crazy practices like loving our enemies, are put aside. Suitably sub-edited, Beaverbrook claimed, the New Testament might yet prove a circulation builder.

In addition to the healing and the fulfillment of his Messiahship, and the mysterious apocalyptic sayings that went therewith, capable of baffling those who heard them at the time as well as those who have brooded upon them subsequently, Jesus had things to say about how we should behave which captivated his listeners, and have continued to captivate succeeding generations. This is not because the standards he proposed were lax and easy-going, like today's permissiveness. Far from it. They asked more of his followers than any other teacher ever has - to do good to those who harm us, and pray for those who persecute us; when we are struck on the right cheek to turn to the smiter the other cheek also, and when someone has taken our coat to hand over our cloak; to give to whoever asks, and lend to whoever would borrow, and when someone presses us to go with him one mile, to go with him two. Not just to refrain from adultery, but to refrain from desiring, which amounts to the same thing, and not just to refrain from killing, but from being angry or calling someone a fool, these being also mortal sins - alas!

No less startlingly contrary to what passes for being human nature are the Beatitudes, enunciated by Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount, which, according to the Gospels, was delivered to his disciples from a hill-top where he had taken refuge from the press of people who, with many sick among them, had gathered round him. It is quite possible, however, that they never were delivered as a single sermon, but represent a collection of Jesus' most characteristic utterances on the subject of human behaviour for the convenience of the early churches. Either way, they are sublime, and have been woven into the very texture of the Christian era's thought and moral and spiritual aspiration.

What the Beatitudes say is that the poor, not the rich, are blessed; that the meek, not the strong, inherit the earth; that the merciful obtain mercy, the pure in heart see God, and Heaven belongs to those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. Jesus was the sweetest of all moralists in that he formulated no code and invoked no earthly sanctions. The punishments and rewards, if there were any, would be in Heaven and Hell; the dynamic of his morality was love, not law, and its realization in Eternity, not in Time. None the less, there had to be law; and Jesus insisted that he had not come to destroy but to fulfill it. Not one jot or tittle, he said, would pass away until the whole destiny of man had been accomplished. Without law there can be no order, and without order no virtue, but law is the measure of our human imperfection, as virtue is its image. Or, put another way, law and virtue are two sticks on which we hobble along despite our mortal infirmities, when otherwise, like Bunyan's Pilgrim, we should sink without trace in the Slough of Despond or perish at the hands of the Giant Despair. Nor is it the case, as Jesus tells us, that because he has superseded the Law, as his followers we can do whatever we have a mind to. On the contrary, our standards have to be, not more lax, but even stricter than those of the Law. Thus, if the Law allows divorce for adultery, that is only out of consideration for the frailties of men; a concession almost contemptuously granted. In the eyes of God, Jesus insists, a man and a woman who marry become one flesh; God has joined them together, and no human agency should be allowed to part them asunder. For true Christians, the bond between a husband and wife can never be broken, as their love can never depend on their bodily union. The body is only the book in which love's mysteries are written; they grow in souls and are harvested in Eternity. In the early days of the Church the Apostle Paul had to set his face strongly against the notion that, under the dispensation of Jesus, his followers could do what they liked - the more so because, as they might reason, the world was soon to end, so what did it matter anyway? The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, Paul insisted to the Christians in Galatia, and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. Significantly enough, it was Luther's favorite text.

Go, and sin no more.

Did Jesus mean, then, that we should take his sublime moral propositions as mere beautiful aspirations: to be admired, and even adored, but not practiced? This is the view of men of action, who smile rather pityingly at the notion of loving our enemies and doing good to those who harm us. Or, worse, who insist that their own fell purposes are an expression of these very propositions; so that they love their enemies by dive-bombing them, or do good to those who harm them by handing them over to firing-squads, or assassinating them, or otherwise procuring their disappearance. I discussed this once with Enoch Powell, the two of us standing in twin pulpits in the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow in London's Cheapside. Our theme was God and Caesar; the arc-lights had been installed, and the cameras - Caesar's eyes keeping us under surveillance - were rolling. To Powell it was quite clear that no one - certainly no one engaged in politics - could literally follow Jesus' precepts of loving his enemies and doing good to those who harmed him. It would bring the Government down, and induce other even worse disasters. How could you be expected, as Leader of the Opposition, say, to love the Prime Minister? Or vice versa? Or to do good to an Honourable Member who moved an awkward amendment? Such precepts were not meant to be put into practice, and to suppose otherwise was merely humbug; in any case, ridiculous. A religious with no stake in any human society, no wife, no children, no domestic or social responsibilities, might live in accordance with the precepts in the Sermon on the Mount. Thomas a Kempis, yes; but then he was not Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton sw. As Powell was speaking with the arc-lights shining down, and Caesar's eyes fixed steadily on him, it seemed to me that his black suit turned into a cowl, and that a tonsure disclosed itself on the crown of his neatly brushed head. How easily he might have been a monk instead of a politician, his eyes blazing and his voice rising in the service of God, as now in the service of Caesar! The two services in their extremities meet. After all, Jesus himself, while calling on us to love and be considerate towards our enemies, could angrily denounce his, the Pharisees, as whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, as ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Such inconsistencies are, perhaps, a special mercy for those of us, weaker brethren, among his followers, with an incurable love for such barbed words.

Contrasting with Powell's position is that of the extreme pacifist, as taken by a Gandhi, or, for that matter, a Tolstoy. As advocates of non-violence in accordance with Jesus' principle of turning the other cheek and returning good for evil, they considered it to be possible to contract out of the coercion on which all human societies are based, while still enjoying the security of person and property the Law, as enforced by the police and other organs of power, provides. In the case, particularly, of Gandhi, who found himself leader of the Swaraj movement in a political struggle for Indian independence, the intrinsic contradictions became all too apparent. Professing non-violence, he indirectly stirred up much violence, before, during and after the achievement of Indian self-government, and he died by an assassin's hand deeply disillusioned with the results of the independence he had been largely instrumental in achieving. If Jesus had been lured into similarly associating himself with the Zealots, or Jewish nationalists, he would have found himself in the same case as Gandhi, who has now lost all the glory of being a great moral teacher, and become merely the symbol of a dying and deeply corrupt political movement.

Jesus' subsequent followers have been less careful. They have sent him on Crusades, made him a freedom-fighter, involved him in civil wars and conspiracies, sent him picketing and striking and leading cavalry charges, and finally made him a paid-up member of the British Labour Party, with the strong expectation that in due course he will be given a life peerage and take his place in the House of Lords. In the light of these aberrations I have sometimes asked myself how Jesus would have fared if he had been born into one of the points of conflict in our world as Galilee was in his - in South Africa, say. As a white South African he would assuredly have been killed by his fellow whites for insisting that they should love and serve their black fellow citizens; as a black South African, he would likewise have been killed by his fellow blacks for telling them they must love and serve their white oppressors. In neither case, it is safe to assume, would he have been a beneficiary under the World Council of Churches' munificence in providing financial support for African guerrillas aiming to achieve national independence by means of terrorism.

Though, in the Sermon on the Mount and other discourses, Jesus proclaimed the loftiest moral standards the world has ever heard, at other times he would take a severely practical view of human behaviour and the ethical attitudes that go therewith. In the parable of the talents, for instance, the servant who failed to invest money entrusted to him is severely blamed on the ground that, as he admittedly knew his master to be a hard man, taking up that {he} had laid not down and reaping that {he} did not sow, he should have acted accordingly. Whereas the other servants who invested the money are allowed to keep it along with the increment earned, this one loses even what he had so carefully hoarded, and is cursed into the bargain as a wicked as well as a stupid servant; the moral being that unto everyone which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. It is a hard saying, but who can deny that it is true to the ways of the world? Again, on another occasion an unjust steward is praised as having acted prudently when, under notice of dismissal, he ingratiates himself with his master's creditors by writing down their liabilities. It is - putting it mildly - sharp practice, but none the less commended on the ground that we need to make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light - in other words, those who are active participants in the world of money and power will understand its workings much better than those who, being followers of Jesus, are living in terms of quite different values and seeking quite different ends.

Blessed are the poor in
spirit: for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven.


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"Jesus had things to say about how we should behave which captivated his listeners, and have continued to captivate succeeding generations. This is not because the standards he proposed were lax and easy-going, like today's permissiveness. Far from it. They asked more of his followers than any other teacher ever has..."