Articles

If Christ Came Today

BEVERLEY BAXTER December 15 1948
Articles

If Christ Came Today

BEVERLEY BAXTER December 15 1948

If Christ Came Today

Articles

BEVERLEY BAXTER

AFEW nights ago the aircraft carrier Illustrious lay uneasily in Portland Harbor. A heavy gale was tormenting the waves into a swirling frenzy. As the storm reached its climax one of the boats carrying 50 ratings to the ship overturned almost at the moment it seemed to have completed its journey.

There were cries from recruits who could not swim, the scene was terrible. A marine stripped off his clothes and dived into the vortex of the waves. With enormous strength he brought first one and then another sailor to safety. The third whom he reached was in a panic and the marine had to strike him a blow before he stopped struggling. Then he brought the lad safely to the ship’s side. In all, 30 ratings and the midshipman in charge of the boat went down to their deaths.

Who was the marine? I could not even give you his name, or his age or tell you anything about him. He was not a UN delegate, or a Communist leader, or a murderer or a film star, or a famous athlete, or a notorious divorce. Probably he had come from one of the cottage homes of Portsmouth or Southampton where Navy men live when on shore.

All we know is that he dived into the waters of death to save others. He was a one-day story and then the newspapers and the nation forgot about him.

This is the month of Christmas when we pay homage to the birth of Christ. His mission was to save mankind. Jesus lived nearly 2,000 years ago but never has He seemed so dim, so distant as today. Perhaps the marine on the deck of the Illustrious was momentarily nearer to him than the rest of us. If Christ came to Palestine today He would be shot with guns financed from New 'ork and produced by the Skoda works, shot ithout. mercy as was His disciple Bernadotte. If le came to Europe and preached the commandment f love, He would either be executed, sent to concentration camp, or ignored as a harmless fiddist according to which country He was in. At ^ast under the Romans the Son of God was llowed freedom of

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If Christ Came Today

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movement and freedom of speech until He was considered politically undesirable. But the world was more civilized then.

I am well aware that when a politician writes on religion he must arouse two suspicions—one that his brain is softening, and the other that he is a hypocrite. Religion has come to be regarded as something to be hidden almost like a secret sin. In many cases it is so successfully hidden that it disappears altogether.

But in this Christmas number of Maclean’s I do not intend to affect the superiority of the Pharisee. On the contrary, I want to approach this subject from a historical and even political angle, sincerely believing that it transcends in importance all other problems that beset us.

Ever since man was able to think there has been a war against God, but never has that war been conducted so openly or so successfully as now.

Two powerful instincts are born in every man—to believe and to doubt. He looks at the stars, watches winter’s death and spring’s rebirth, feels the inspiration of beauty, sees kindness and greatness in humanity and is moved to cry like Maeterlinck: “There are

no dead.” His soul rebels against the I meaninglessness of death and he comes I to believe that the essence of his spirit i will go on in communion with the I Supreme Being. Immortality is his answer to the riddle of existence, and immortality means God.

Then doubt sets in. Of all living creatures in the sea and in the air man is overlord. He becomes infatuated with the fertility of his mind and the

miracle of the human body. Why pretend that there is anything higher than himself.'’

Was not his former belief in immortality just an expression of his own vanity, a rebellion against the dictate of death? Since there is a limit to the life of the body, why not a limit to the life of the soul? Science whispers to him that idealism, beauty and genius are the result of glandular secretions. Rationalists tell him that religion is nothing but a childish superstition borne of fear of the dark. “Every man is a god,” declare the Theosophists, “you yourself are Heaven and Hell.”

Gradually he puts God out of his life and makes of this world both his mortality and immortality. Yet the hunger of his soul cannot be appeased. He clutches at any new thing which promises to feed or ease that hunger. He cannot find peace.

It is part of the tragedy of the human story that so many cultivated minds have enlisted in the war against God. Doubt does not come from the man who plows the land or sails the sea. I’hey are in touch with the elementáis, the grandeur and anger and peace of nature. Such men leave doubt to the town dwellers.

Voltaire was a mighty leader in the war against God. He challenged his age by demanding proof before belief. The acid of his mind burned into the souls of men, influencing both the cub tured and the ignorant. Atheism and revolution were the fruits that came from his seed. Yet on his deathbed he lost faith in Iris own lack of faith and cast himself upon the forgiveness of God.

Spinoza, that most gentle of all philosophers, rejected the God of our fathers. Yet his sense of pity and his Continued on page 46

Continued from page 44 essential goodness could not accept the barren decision of his own mind. Groping further for the truth, he came to the same conclusion which has held most of us at some time in our development —that God is the culmination of all good and all knowledge.

So we reach the savagery of the French Revolution when the starving forces of the hungry and the oppressed shrieked that there was no higher power than the strength of their blood -drenched hands. Even so, Robespierre rose in his place after the first frenzied tide had receded and said: “The

French people recognize the existence of the Supreme Being, and of the Soul, and they acknowledge the worship of the Supreme Being as one of the duties of man.”

It is so easy to doubt. It is so difficult to find in doubt the answer to men’s yearnings.

Now let us cross the Channel and have a look at Victorian England. It is a fact, and not merely a paradox, that atheism is produced by material success as well as by despair.

The English God

It has been said that at the end of the Napoleonic wars and in the subsequent industrial revolution the upper classes of Britain allowed their conception of God to lapse into unimportance. The charge is made that they did not feel the need of God. The fullness of the earth was theirs. Every ship that sailed the waters paid its tribute to London, the money centre of the world. The industrial machine, sprung from the brain of man, had become a spinner of endless wealth. The rich and powerful needed no higher guidance or spiritual solace. England was all the Heaven they wanted.

It is true that John Wesley set out on his horse to recall the nation to religion, but he only succeeded in bringing God to the poor. 1 do not say that the Victorians rejected God. On the contrary, they observed the ritual of religion and even family prayers but they made Him conventional, respectable, and in their own image. Perhaps looking back on this period we might i teel that Britain was the first country in Europe to try and create a tribal God.

Yet it was left to Karl Marx to j combine atheism and government. His j contention was that the birth of the j mind only came with the denial of religion. Seventy-three years later Lenin denounced all religious bodies as organs of bourgeois, reaction.

Nazi Germany tried to elevate the state to a religion and Hitler to god. The Japanese simplified things by worshipping their emperor. Look where you will, the story is the same, and all the time the world was plunging toward the blasphemy of two World Wars, a period of scientific horror and cruelty which has no equal in all history. And that is the situation today as we celebrate the birth of Christ the Savior.

But the realist, the legalist, the logician might ask what all this has to do with the war against God. What connection is there between the neglect of Christ and the worship of Hitler, or the rise of Communism with the decline of Christianity? To me they are closely connected. The fading light of day makes way for the darkneas of night. When faith dies or even when it sleeps the gates of the soul are opened to disbelief.

However, let us make a concession to our critics. Supposing their minds cannot accept the divinity of Christ —then will they deny His genius? I have long considered the Sermon on

the Mount to be the greatest political utterance of all time, it was a way of Jife for all the peoples of the world.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Thus spoke Jesus to the multitudes who had followed Him from Galilee, Deçà polis and Jerusalem, from Judea and from beyond Jordan.

Hitler’s reply was: “Blessed are the strong for they shall deny mercy and be masters of the earth.”

“Foolish are the merciful,” said Clemenceau at the peace conference in Versailles, “for our enemies will rise up against us once more.”

Would Germany be a nation in ruins today if she had accepted the teachings of Christ rather than follow her own black-hearted Messiah? Would France have endured defeat and degradation if she had extended the hand of forgiveness to a defeated Germany in 1918?

Again the logical mind may demand proof that Christ’s policy would have brought better results. I cannot prove it, but I can ask the question: “Could mercy have brought a greater disaster than this?”

When Christ gave to the multitudes their form of prayer he included as a guide to human conduct:

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Many of us remember that dramatic moment after the first World War when Arthur Balfour, speaking for Great Britain, offered to forgive Britain’s debtors if America would forgive the debts of Britain to her. The Christian Government of the United States smiled at the naïveté of such a suggestion. The bankers of Wall Street shrugged their shoulders—or should we say they washed their hands? They knew that debts were sacred, more sacred than human life or human destiny.

So there came the world economic crash and out of despair was born Hitler and the second World War. I wonder if the wisdom of Christ was so inferior to that of the financial experts. Supposing France had been merciful, supposing America had forgiven her debtors . . . was the risk so great? Could the result have been more tragic?

Give us this day our daily bread. Christ never underestimated the material needs of men and women. Between the two World Wars there was

abundance of food but because of petty nationalism, self-sufficiency and fear we failed to distribute what the earth provided.

Communism marches behind hunger. Once more we are preparing to pay for the faltering vision of men.

Finally Jesus laid down a new commandment:

But I say unto you love your enemies.

One can almost hear the scoffing that such a pronouncement would create in a modern world. How can we love our enemies if we love our friends?

I think Christ would have replied: “Fortunate are those who have friends; but what raen and women are your enemies?”

Twice since 19-45 I have gone across Germany and watched the people pickirigTheir way through the rubble and even managing to smile. These were our enemies. But can I hate this child, this mother, this honest workman?

In Berlin I went to see the memorial to the Red Army. A Russian sentry of 17 or 18 years was on guard, a fair-haired boy with smiling eyes. As I left the steps I waved my hand in

good-by and, against discipline, he waved back. He is a Russian and Russia is our enemy. But can I hate that boy or his brother or his parents?

Every day we listen to Western statesmen denouncing the Soviet and no one could blame them. But would it weaken their case if they held out the hand of friendship to the Russian people? Communism must be fought — must be fought and defeated by a Christian way of life that is better for the bodies and souls of men. It will never be defeated by hatred or the atomic bomb.

Again the rationalist will cry that this is weakness, pacificism, irresponsibility. On the contrary, let us be strong in arm and spirit, but let the spirit be the stronger.

This is not compromising with evil, this is isolating it like a germ. Communism is the strongest anti-Christ philosophy that has ever scourged the world. Those who say that if Christ lived today He would be a Communist utter the extreme blasphemy. How could Jesus accept the rule of the secret police, the concentration camp, the labor slaves, the myriad of spies and the final justice of the firing squad?

All dictatorships reject the Son of of God. Perhaps that is why all dictatorships crash in ruins.

Yet such is the irony of fate that Communism with its bleak, cruel barrenness is being preached with passion, while the nations that believe in the sanctity of the human body and soul are faltering and fainthearted. What voice speaks for Christendom today?

* * *

“Let Christendom Arise”

Christmas 1948. 1 n countless homes, yours and mine and in every country we shall look at our sons home from school and feel the question in our hearts: “Is it war?” Will the failure

of the politicians, or the evil in men’s hearts force the world once more to the arbitration of the reeking tube and iron shard?

The task of Christendom is to free mankind from slavery. We cannot do it with bread alone, or even with trade, although it is good that men should exchange the products of their hands. We cannot do it with armaments, although it is right that the just man should be strong.

With humble and contrite hearts we should repeat this litany—

There cannot be peace on earth until then' is good-will to men:

There cannot be rule of love until we put an end to hatred:

We cannot respect God until we respect man:

We cannot hare peace until we drive war from men’s hearts.

Once more the charge could lx; made that this is the philosophy of weakness, of pacificism. It could be all of that but it need be none of it.

Science has become a mercenary that sells its services to both sides in a war. Two World Wars have proved that the only result can be in the degree of defeat. It is only in the realm of the spirit that there is room to manoeuvre and there is a chance of victory.

That marine on the deck of the Illustrious heard the cry of helpless men in the water. He did not apply logic to the issue or debate the dangers. Humanity today is in the vortex and is crying for help.

The war against God is nearing its climax. The battle for men’s souls is raging across the world. Let Christendom arise in its dignity and strength and advance under Christ, its Leader. Then indeed would the chimes of Christmas ring out with a new meaning and a new inspiration. +

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