Winston Churchill: Some Agnostic, Some Atheist (Part 1)
*Posted by Dr. Jerry A. Johnson
*This post is the first part of an extended commentary on Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 , the last volume in the epic series The Last Lion by William Manchester and Paul Reid. You can read the second and third posts here and here.
Was Winston Churchill a humanist with a godless ethic, an agnostic, or even an atheist? He was all threeif you believe his latest biographer, Paul Reid. But not so fast. Before you relegate Churchill to the secular dustbin of history, Question Time about the Prime Minister seems in order. What are Reids claims about Churchill? What is his argument for secularizing Churchill? Moreover, does the argument make sense and does the evidence support Reids conclusion? Furthermore, why is this important?
Taking that last question first, the answer is: the back story. Reids work is the long awaited finale of a much celebrated trilogy entitled The Last Lion. William Manchester wrote the first two volumes that were highly rated by Churchill aficionados and sold about 700,000 copies. While fans of Churchill, and Manchester, were disappointed to hear of the authors death before he finished the project, they were happy to learn that Manchester had handpicked Reid as his successor and looked forward to its release.
So far, the reviews have been flowing, and mostly glowing. I should announce now that there is much that is good in Reids work. While reading Reid is not the same as reading Manchester, and while some reviewers have noted a few historical errors, Reid channels the Manchester method enough that it looks and feels like it belongs to the textual trio. It is weighty. It does not come off as just the latest Churchill book of the month. People are taking Reid seriously because they took Manchester and this series seriously. This book matters because it completes an exclusive triangle of three books and three men: Churchill, Manchester, and Reid.
Added to this, the heroic Prime Minister as atheist or agnostic is important because Churchill, the man, is important. The full title of Reids volume drives this point homeThe Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. When Hitlers Nazi threat was at its worst, the British Bulldog was at his best. Standing alone, for good, against evil, Churchill prevailed. But did the great leaders conviction and resolve flow from a God-fearing sense of the right and trust in Providence, or was it merely the natural outworking of a godless ethic from an atheistic heart? If we are to have heroes, celebrate them, or follow their example, it is essential that we think rightly about them. We must weigh what motivated them and what sustained them. This book matters because heroes matter. For many, Churchill has been and still is a hero.
No God for Churchill?
Reids secularizing claims matter too; they are new and they are escalating. With a scheduled release just before Thanksgiving, Reids book was on my Christmas gift list and I was not denied at the tree. On Christmas Day, while working through the preamble that provides readers with an overall introduction to the historical giant, this line caught my attention: as a young man, Churchill declared for agnosticism, (p. 18). For the next three pages, Reid develops this agnostic theme as the defining religious characteristic for Churchills adult life as well.
Something about this did not seem right, so I decided to be attentive to Reids treatment of this topic as I worked my way through the text. I discovered that Reid continues this approach all over the book as the religious narrative for Churchills entire life (pp. 18-21, 263, 782-84, 816-17, 927). Indeed, Reids take on the mature larger than life figure is, He regularly reminded those around him that he had declared for agnosticism early in manhood, (p. 783). This concerned me. Granted, Churchill was not what Americans today would call an evangelical or what the Brits then would call a religious enthusiast. But Churchill as life-long agnostic? Was Reid deliberately misrepresenting Churchill or was I reading too much into this?
These doubts did not last long. A quick online search revealed that before the Thanksgiving turkey was gone from the refrigerator, Reid had already upped the ante. In a November 26 interview on Diana Rehms NPR radio program, Reid said of Churchill: he was an atheist. Yes, he actually said atheist. I double checked the transcript by comparing it to the audio recording. Later on Christmas Eve, Reid interviewed with Brian Lamb on CSPAN and said that this man who saved England adopted a humanist, but godless ethic. My son suggested that on Easter Paul Reid would reveal that Churchill was secretly a charter member of the Church of Satan! Hyperbole aside, it was clear from these interviews that I was not reading too much into Reid, nor misreading Reid. Paul Reid means to say that Winston Churchill was an agnostic, an atheist, and a humanist with a godless ethic. This is news. This is important.
One should actually start with Reids book to test the validity of these claims. As noted, Reid maintains that Churchill jettisoned Christianity for an agnosticism that stuck with him for the rest of his life. Reids argument for this enduring agnosticism: it is something about which Churchill informed the world at large in his autobiography, My Early Life, (p. 783). Here Reid asserts that Britains rising star embraced old-fashioned British empiricism and cites his confessional bio again, I therefore adopted quite early in life a system of believing whatever I wanted to believe. On the surface, this might make Reids case sound plausible.
However, Reid cant avoid mentioning that Churchill himself wrote that he passed through what he called this violent and aggressive anti-religious phase. The transient nature of this juvenile stage is made more explicit in My Early Life. Yet Reid soft pedals the temporal qualification, leaving out the authors hindsight quote about it, had it lasted, might easily have made me a nuisance. Churchills reflection on the anti-religious stage, both its interim and irritating quality, makes this omission huge. Also telling, Reid admits that in the same text Churchill wrote that he practiced prayer in times of need, after this anti-religious period passed.
More conclusive is what Reid fails to acknowledge at this juncture. He only considers Churchills embrace of the rational and the empirical. Reid does not discuss what occasioned the therefore conclusion from the above quotation in the autobiography. Namely, Churchill had just noted three beliefs, along with prayer, that brought joy and were evidently part of his believing what I wanted to believe. They are how Christ turned the water into winewalked on the lakerose from the dead. While a close reading of this section in My Early Life admittedly reveals that Churchill struggled to reconcile faith and reason, it equally shows that he was not an atheist or even an agnostic as he matured. To the contrary, Churchill not only valued reason but also wanted to believe and did believe, especially about Jesus.
Reid does produce a powerful primary source that appears, on the surface, to back his secular hypothesis. To be fair, Churchills own words should be quoted in full:
If the human race ever reaches a stage of developmentwhen religion will cease to assist and comfort mankindChristianity will be put aside as a crutch which is no longer needed, and man will stand erect on the firm legs of reason, (p. 21).
This statement places reason over Christianity and reflects a condescending attitude towards religion, fitting words for an agnostic or a humanist. However, Reid errs by using this as hard evidence for his proposal. Why? Because according to Reids own end notes, this sentence is taken from Churchills letter to his mother dated no later than 1900, when he is no older than 26 years of age. It is indicative of the youthful anti-religious mood; again, according to his own testimony it was a phase he passed through. Gradually as one continues to investigate Reids hypothesis, the counter-finding that Churchill outgrew this viewpoint becomes more apparent, and more important.
No Prayer, Worship, or Church for Churchill?
Reid tries similar negative assertions about prayer, worship, and the church. He states bluntly, Churchill didnt write prayers, and he didnt say prayers, (p. 782). Reids evidence: The wartime leader skipped a prayer service to look over battle maps. Some who did attend the service interpreted a dove that flew over as a sign of peace and reported it back to Churchill. He responded, There is nothing in such stuff, (p. 783). This anecdote proves little. I can think of many Christians, myself included, who might have chosen to study war maps instead of attending the service (It could depend on the military situation or the quality of preaching). Also, I probably would not have taken the dove as a sign, and I am no atheist, not even an agnostic!
Contra Reids agnostic thesis, he cannot help recounting the famous 1941 meeting with Roosevelt and the sailors on the battleship Prince of Wales. Churchill had personally choreographed a worship servicethe hymns to be sung.He was seen to dab away tears as he and Roosevelt joined the ship crews in singing, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, (pp.393-94). Absent from Reids record is Churchills theological commentary on radio about this Christian hymn from that service, in which the brief, precarious span of human life is contrasted with the immutability of Him to whom a thousand ages are but as yesterday, (August 24, 1941). Do agnostics, do atheists, typically organize worship services with Christian prayers and hymns, theologize via radio on those hymns, or participate in worship with sincerity that moves them to tears?
Also left out of Reids account are Churchills written words about what he called this Divine Service with the Americans. In his The Second World War: The Grand Alliance memoirs, the P.M. wrote: This service was felt by us all to be a deeply moving expression of the unity of faith of our two peoples. Lets see, what faith would that beatheism, agnosticism, or humanism? No, Christianity. In this textual description of the event, Churchill glories in the pulpit.the reading of the prayers.sharing the same books and joining fervently together in the prayers and hymns familiar to both.Every word seemed to stir the heart. None of this is in Reid.
In spite of these facts, other anti-church insinuations are scattered throughout Reids publication: Churchill detested superstition, thought the Witchcraft Act was all absolute tomfoolery and thought much the same for churchgoing. Yet one also finds in Reid evidence to the contrary: Churchill attended a service.After the minister delivered his sermon, the Old Man walked up to the pulpit and delivered one himself, (p. 19). And again, He loved the glory and pageantry of christenings, funerals.was deeply moved by the melodic grace of hymns, by the power of voices uplifted in song, (pp. 19-20).
This evidence notwithstanding, Reid still tries to pit Churchill against the church with the Prime Ministers well-known saying that he was not a pillar of the church but a buttresshe supported it from the outside, (p. 19). Ha, Ha. There are three problems with Reids comedic premise, found in three words from the quote itself: 1) he (Winston Churchill); 2) supported (helped); 3) it (the church). In other words, Winston Churchill helped the church. Even if this church aid was from the outside, the quotation demonstrates the opposite of what Reid maintains. Churchill described himself as pro-church, even if not in church.
Winston Churchill: Some Agnostic, Some Atheist (Part 2)
*Posted by Dr. Jerry A. Johnson
*This post is the second part of an extended commentary on Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, the last volume in the epic seriesThe Last Lion by William Manchester and Paul Reid. You can read the first part here and the third part here.
No God-Talk in Churchill Speeches?
Reid throws out another negative claim that the war leaders inspirational speeches were atheistic, as in god-less. Reids Churchill put little faith in higher powers, (p. 263); He did not ask Providence for the strength or wisdom to win the war, (p. 783); and He did not begin his speeches with pleas to the Almighty for guidance, nor did he end them with supplications for divine blessing, (p. 783). Reids most exclusive, and most ridiculous, claim portrays Churchill as absolutely agnostic in terms of Divine war aid: God would play no part in the saga, because God, if indeed there was a God, was unwilling or unable to intervene.Churchill, not God, would safeguard the future of Europe and the British Empire (p. 21).
These claims are demonstrably false as a few examples from his famous speeches prove. In the first speech to the Commons as Prime Minister on May 13, 1940, Churchill offered blood, toil, tears, and sweat and announced the policy to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us. How can Reid miss this? According to Churchill, it is Churchill and God. According to Reid, it is Churchill, not God.
Then, on May 19, Churchill gave his major radio address, Be Ye Men of Valor. He closed with a reference to Trinity Sunday and ended with these lines, As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be. Does this sound like an atheist or agnostic?
Later, in his Dunkirk speech to the House on June 4, Churchills final sentence stated that the New World could rescue and liberate the Old in Gods good time. In his Put Your Confidence in Us radio talk dated February 9, 1941, the Prime Ministers closing lines appealed to Roosevelt, Give us your faith and your blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well. Reid is simply wrong. In major speeches, Churchill often began or ended with God and expressed a reliance on Gods strength, timing, and Providence with a capital P.
Reid pushes the secular motif again with an example from the end of the war, on May 8, 1944. He makes much ado of Lord Morans comment to John Masefield that Churchills victory speech on the radio made no mention of God. Masefield responded, Id rather have the honest utterance of Winston than the false rhetoric of a lesser man, (p. 927). Yet later that very day Churchill presented the same statement to the House of Commons and added that this House do now attend at the Church of St. Margarets (sic), Westminster, to give humble and reverential thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance from the threat of German domination, (p. 927). Reid implies that Churchill added this merely because it was the same motion that the House adopted years earlier when it learned of the Armistice at the close of World War I. Reid conveniently omits the words Churchill used to introduce the old language. Churchill explained that the House did not feel inclined for debate or business, but desired to offer thanks to Almighty God, to the Great Power which seems to shape and design the fortunes of nations and the destiny of man. Following Masefield and Reids reasoning, was Churchill honest on the radio while spewing false rhetoric in the House of Commons, all on the same day? In addition, why does Reid omit the most telling religious language here? One thing is for sure, it does not fit his agnosticism/atheism narrative.
After these two speeches, Reid notes that Churchill spoke to thousands from a balcony in Whitehall. To huge cheers, the old champion said, This is your victory! Reid records that the crowd yelled back, No, it is yours, (p. 927). I count eight sentences when reading my copy of this brief address. Reid does not print the first sentence, or the last sentence. They are identical. Churchill began and ended with, God bless you all. The next day, May 9, he used the same God bless phrase in another public talk. Again, Reid ignores these passages. They do not fit his thesis.
These are not obscure Churchill speeches, available only to Churchill illuminati. These speeches are included in almost every incarnation of Churchills Greatest Hits, of which there are many. What is Reid thinking, that no one will remember these words or find them, or that they dont matter?
No Biblical Guidance for Churchill?
For Reid, Churchills relationship to the Bible is also evidence of his agnosticism. Referencing Churchills home, Reid acknowledges that a Bible rests to this day on his bedside table at Chartwell, a sight that moves many visitors to conclude he sought guidance in Scripture, (p. 20). But Reid insists He did not. The evidence produced for this denial is passed down from Lord Moran who related that Churchill told him he read it only out of curiosity. In the Diane Rehm atheist interview Reid spins it another way, He read the Bible cover to coverfor cadence instruction for his speeches and what have you.
So, as Reid would have it, the orator only read the Bible because he was curious or needed help with rhyme and rhythm for his speeches. But why does Reid rely on the second hand word of Moran when there is ample primary source material published by Churchill on the topic of Scripture? It is not as if Reid is unfamiliar with the book of Churchill essays, Thoughts and Adventures, which contains biblical material. Ironically, he refers to this text just three paragraphs before he conjures his Churchill as agnostic narrative (p. 17; cf. pp. 18-21). But as with other possible religious material, Reid practices selective amnesia.
There is no mention of Churchills most detailed discussion of Scripture from this book, namely his essay entitled Moses: The Leader of a People. This essay, and its omission, is devastating for Reids claim. First, the overall presentation goes against any agnostic hypothesis. Churchill starts with an italicized citation of Deuteronomy 34:10-12 and then spends most of his essay, about eight pages, re-telling the Moses/Pharaoh Exodus story. Churchill writes as matter of fact: Moses spoke in person to the God of Israel.God spoke to Moses from the Burning Bush.God gave all the guarantees.The liberation of the Children of Israel was only a part of His high Purpose.Jehovah did not fail. Skeptics might suspect that Churchill was just restating what the Bible presents without affirming the validity of the story. The style alone reflects otherwise; instinctively, anyone who reads it will know.
Second, Churchill actually takes on the role of apologist here. While there is a moment of equivocation on the numerical details in the Biblical text, he tries to resolve this dilemma for the reader with the intent of defending the Bible. Churchills conviction to fly the colors, for the Biblenot against it, is clear. He takes the trouble to verify details from the Biblical story with assurances like the Egyptologist Naville has uncovered the city of Pithom, which was indeed built in the time of Rameses, and lies in that Land of Goshen. Likewise, the author defends the miraculous plague accounts, rationalistic and scientific explanations only prove the truth of the Bible story. In just two sentences, Churchill states his belief in the text, affirms the Mosaic Law, and fires a counter-blast at skeptics of Scripture:
We believe that the most scientific view, the most up-to-date view and rationalistic conception, will find its fullest satisfaction in taking the Bible story literally, and in identifying one of the greatest of human beings with the most decisive leap forward ever discernible in the human story. We remain unmoved by the tomes of Professor Gradgrind and Dr. Dryasdust.
On top of this Churchill concludes, We may be sure that all these things happened just as they are set out according to Holy Writ. Adding authority to his apologetic, the British P.M. quotes a predecessor, In the words of a forgotten work of Mr. Gladstone, we rest with assurance upon The impregnable rock of Holy Scripture. Apparently Reid has forgotten (if he ever knew) Churchill on the Bible, or Churchills agreement with Prime Minister Gladstone on the Bible.
Third, the Moses essay draws observations from the Bible with a devotional tone and even point the reader to a redemptive message. Churchills relationship with Scripture here goes far beyond that of mere curiosity or cadence resource. The whole point of the essay is to affirm Moses as a leader. The aforementioned Bible for guidance theory, assumed by naive Chartwell visitors, ends up being more probable than not. Some of Churchills concluding words in this essay would never flow from the pen or mouth of an agnostic or atheist:
Many Centuries were to pass before the God that spake in the Burning Bush was to manifest Himself in a new revelation, which nevertheless was the oldest of all the inspirations of the Hebrew peopleas the God not only of Israel, but of all mankind who wished to serve Him; a God not only of justice, but of mercy; a God not only of self-preservation and survival, but of pity, self-sacrifice, and ineffable love.
This is certainly not atheism, and not even agnosticism. This is not mere theism. To the contrary, a close reading reveals an attempt to frame a basic Christian understanding of the relationship of the Old Testament to the New. Churchills theologizing here retains Gods attributes of justice and mercy, but at the same time adds divine personality traits of pity, self-sacrifice, and love, which are consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not bad for a non-evangelical layman. Too bad for Reid, and his claims. It is especially bad for his assertion that Churchill found no reward in theological exercises (p. 18).
No God Based Ethics for Churchill?
Then there is Reids declaration from the Brian Lamb interview that Churchill adopted a humanist, but godless ethic. In The Last Lion, Reid likewise writes concerning ethics that this Englishman believed in Virtue and Right, not as matters of dogma, but as objective realities (p. 22). Before and after this quote, Reid weaves a secular Churchillian ethic based upon the Nietzscheanview that also draws from the Darwiniansurvival of the fittest, continuum and at the same time reflects the Aristotelian mean of Greece or Rome (pp. 20-23).
Speaking of miracles earlier, one would come in handy here. Most moral philosophers would need several to tie together: 1) rejection of Virtue and Right as dogma, 2) affirmation of both as objective realities, 3) Nietzsche, 4) Darwin, and 5) Aristotle, or Greco-Roman ethics. Reid is throwing everything he can against the wall to see if he can make something stick in the place of a Divine moral compass. Reid strains to show that Churchill viewed ethics, right and wrong, without reference to God.
Problems abound with this thesis. For one thing, Reid himself cant stay consistent with this secular scenario. His counter interpretation of Churchills ethic: He subscribed to the Christian values of mercy and forgiveness, (p. 18). Is Reid refuting Reid? Godless ethic, or Christian values, which is it?
Beside this equivocation by Reid, the best evidence does not support his theory. Primary source material in Churchills writing reflects his view that virtue and right have been revealed by God. In the Moses essay cited earlier, he described Moses as the supreme law-giver, who received from God that remarkable code upon which the religious, moral, and social life of the nation was so securely founded. If Reid is right, the Mosaic code would not be described by Churchill as securely founded but instead ill-founded. Nor would it be labeled remarkable.
In a similar way, Reid reverses Churchills estimation of Greco-Roman morality, contrasted with the Ten Commandments. Churchill wrote that the Jewish people proclaimed an idea which all the genius of Greece and all the power of Rome were incapable. The writer then located that Mosaic ethic as rooted in theology. There was to be only one God, a universal God, a God of nations, a just God, a God who would punish in another world a wicked man dying rich and prosperous; a God from whose service the good of the humble and of the weak and the poor was inseparable. Churchills writing does not reflect someone who ignores the God-factor when judging ethical norms. Reid is wrong again.
Additional primary source material from Churchills speeches demonstrate a belief that the Allies are not the moral equivalent of the Axis, but instead enjoy a favorable ethical positionone that is not without reference to God. In his World broadcast about Polands defeat, Churchill launched a moral salvo against Hitler and his group of wicked men, whose hands are stained with blood and soiled with corruption, (October 1, 1939). Churchill knew better than to quote Nietzsche or Darwin if he was to claim the moral high ground over and against Hitler. To the contrary, he linked Divine help with the moral value of being civilized and free. Now with the help of God, and with the conviction that we are the defenders of civilization and freedom, we are going to persevere to the end.
Likewise, his radio talk about possible invasion and the Blitz links God and ethical norms. It is with devout but sure confidence that I say: Let God defend the right, (September 11, 1940). For Churchill, God and right go together. For Churchill a la Reid, they do not.
Again, in his Finest Hour speech to the House of Commons, Churchill measured the stakes of the Battle of Britain in moral-ethical terms that are religious: Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization, (June 18, 1940). He does not say that life under the Aristotelian mean is at risk if they lose to the Nazis, but instead, that Christian civilization is in the balance.
In his famous Iron Curtain address at Fulton, Missouri, Churchill identified the threat that could jeopardize the moral order. The communist parties or fifth columns constitute a growing challenge and peril to Christian civilization, (March 5, 1946). Somehow it is difficult to imagine Churchill warning that a communist victory would destroy a Darwinian ethic. To the contrary, when the big battles raged, Churchills oratorical guns named, and aimed at, evil. He did this, according to his own words, in defense of a culture that was based upon a Christian concept of what it means to be civilized. He never asked the West to stand against Communism, or the Allies to stand against Hitlerism, in a moral vacuum.
Winston Churchill: Some Agnostic, Some Atheist (Part 3)
*Posted by Dr. Jerry A. Johnson
*This post is the final in a three-part commentary on Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, the last volume in the epic series The Last Lion by William Manchester and Paul Reid. You can read the first and second parts here and here.
No is a Simple Thing to Refute
Reids religious paradigm for Churchill is essentially negative. Think about it, an agnostic holds the view that there is no knowledge of God, or that nothing can be known about God. Likewise, an atheist insists categorically that there is no God. Similarly, a humanist with a godless ethic factors no God into questions of personal or national morality. Reid makes Churchill all three. Then, like a ventriloquist, Reid props up these denials with a dummy version of Churchill who also says no to prayer, no to worship, no to the Church, and no to the Bible.
But arguing a negative is risky, because the other side only needs one positive counterfactual to debunk any denial. In this case, there are many. We have reviewed the speeches, the memoirs, and the essays by Churchill and they favorably reference God, prayer, worship, the Church, the Bible, and Christian Civilization. These facts, and facts they are, negate Reids negations. Facts are stubborn things, indeed. Reids agnostic theory is an illusion.
Someone may counter that ghostwriters inserted the God language here and there for Churchill. But this does not square with Reids own insistence that the Prime Minister dictated all speeches, memos, and letters to his typists (p. 28) and wrote every word of every speech; no committee of speechwriters toiled at No. 10 (p. 26).
Others might want to grant Reid some sort of creative license with Churchill, but this goes against Reids agreement with Manchester that the biographer must get out of the way of his subject, who should be placed squarely within his times and be allowed to speak and act for himself (p. xv).
Given this standard, Reid should have seen all sorts of red flags. Why did he regularly have to explain away evidence that seemed to contradict his secularizing hypothesis? Why did he pass over other contradictory evidence such as God-language in Churchills well-known speeches? Why did he rely so heavily on second hand stories from people like Moran, instead of the man, himself? Firsthand, primary source material always beats playing the telephone game.
Also, why did Reid have to leverage Churchills early letters over so much material from subsequent years to make this theory plausible? Why did he think he saw something that Manchester had not seen in his previous two volumes when he covered the same Churchill era? Reids focus was supposed to be the later years; therefore, he is out of his assigned time period and perhaps out of his depth. De facto, Reids secularizing thesis amounts to a revision of Manchesters Churchill. But maybe Manchester changed as co-author of this book and agreed with Reids secular take on their subject? Unlikely, what pages Manchester contributed to the third volume before he died (about pages 35-150) are silent on the agnostic argument.
These questions lead to the ultimate quiz. Does Reid have a secular agenda? Yes, it seems to be an obsession. When asked in the Brian Lamb interview what he would ask Churchill if he could, Reid answered: I would ask about his religious beliefs or lack thereof. When given the chance to puff his book on CSPAN and NPR, Reid lobbed the atheist/agnostic/godless grenade, in your face. Reids agnostic scheme mirrors a disturbing trend to scrub the Almighty out of our culture.
As Churchill might have put it: From Dawkins in the United Kingdom, to Dennett in the United States, a secular screen has descended upon Western Civilization. Behind this filter, lie all the Judeo-Christian traditions of our public life, out history, and our heroes. Emboldened by the new atheism, secular revisionist historians tease out the Christian, or even God-fearing, symbols when re-telling the stories that define us as the English Speaking Peoples. Has Reid joined the cause? His book and interviews indicate just that. While the new atheists may be smiling, we know a mirage when we see one.
Winston Churchill: Some Atheist. Some Agnostic.
Winston Spencer Churchill should have the last word in this dispute. Before the Canadian Parliament on December 30, 1941, the British Prime Minister told how he warned the surrendering French leaders that Britain would fight the Nazis alone. In light of Englands endurance and improved war prospects, Churchill could playfully recount the French response and the British reality: their generals told their prime minister and his divided Cabinet, In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken. Some chicken. Some neck.
So Reid has called Churchill an agnostic, an atheist, and a humanist with a godless ethic. How does one respond? Try this. When Winston Churchill wrote that he passed through his anti-religious phase, when the gifted orator used God language in his speeches, when the Prime Minister organized a prayer and hymn singing service with the President, and when the great thinker made an effort to explain and defend the Bible, all you need to say is: Some atheist. Some agnostic.
But I said he should get the last word. So, as any good agnostic or atheist might conclude a talk, the last words in Churchills Some Chicken. Some Neck speech were: whatever the cost, whatever the suffering, we shall stand by one another, true and faithful comrades, and do our duty, God helping us, to the end.
Late to the ConversationThoughts On Rob Bells Love Wins
*Posted by Everett Berry
Approximately five months ago, Rob Bells ruminations on hell hit the market in his book Love Wins. In that time, many reviewers, pastors, scholars, and bloggers provided lively interaction with his proposals. However, I believe there is one point in particular that Bell presses regarding the idea of hell which still lingers in the minds of many who are sympathetic to his case. And that is the idea that God eternally punishing unbelievers is a moral indictment against Christianity as a whole. I think Bell is on to something important here. He hits the right nerve when he claims that it is psychologically crushing to say God is loving only up to the point of death and then he suddenly becomes a bringer of unending judgment. He contends that this is the very reason why unbelievers are reluctant to embrace Jesus because they do not feel they can trust the God he represents. Put another way in an interview about his book, Bell questions whether someone who may live for 17 years and die must be punished for more than 17 million years for only 17 years of sin. How does one respond to such a critique?
I believe the answer simply is that Bell is wrestling with the right concern but obviously considering an even more problematic alternative. At the intuitive level, Bells caricature of God is unacceptable. The rub however is that the unsavory idea of finalized judgment is an intrinsic part of the biblical storyline and therefore a non-negotiable part of the gospel itself. Furthermore, as to the charge that a God who punishes unbelievers forever is psychologically damaging, one must not forget that Scripture is filled with scenarios that are emotionally jolting and frankly unacceptable to the modern mind. God destroys all the inhabitants of the earth except for Noah and his family (Gen 7:23); Aaron the High Priest is not permitted to mourn publicly for his two sons who were killed (Lev 10:4-6); Moses is denied entrance to the Promised Land for one act of disobedience (Num 20:11-12); Ezekiel is told not to mourn for his dead wife (Ez 24:15-17); An angel warns Joseph of Herods plot to kill baby Jesus but did not inform all the other mothers in Bethlehem (Matt 2:13-18); and God comforts yearning martyrs with the promise that more will suffer the same fate (Rev 6:9-11).
The real problem for Bell is that ironically, he is inescapably western. Why? Because he wants to domesticate God so he will be intellectually permissible to people who want to consider Christianity as somehow viable in an age where any idea of hell is out of the question. The problem though is that God cannot be tamed or deconstructed. The same One who will judge unbelievers in the future (2 Thess 1:5-10) likewise stands as wrathful against them now (Jn 3:36). So God does not change from being loving to wrathful at death. Rather the full realization of his wrath begins after death (Heb 9:27).