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


When the local inhabitants saw the man whom they regarded as a dangerous homicidal maniac beyond all hope of recovery, now, after his encounter with Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind, and heard of what had happened to the herd of swine, then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear. Jesus duly departed by boat, back across the Lake, doubtless reflecting that it was not only in his own country that a prophet was without honor, but also wherever he had allowed his insights and healing powers to become apparent; in this case by pacifying and making sane someone who had become a byword for the fury and ferocity of his ways. The man himself, understandably enough, wanted to stay with Jesus to whom he owed so much, but this was forbidden, and he was told to return to his own house and show by his continuing sanity what great things God had done for him.

Jesus saw sickness as an outward and visible sign of the imperfection which belongs to our human condition. He came to show us perfection, to be attained, not by perfecting our bodily existence (assuming that to be possible, as some overweening contemporary minds have supposed), which in practice would only serve to remove us further away than ever from perfection as Jesus understood it; achieving a kind of grainy Scandinavian excellence, a matte or glossy Playmate finish attained by using this or that hair-wash or skin-food, visiting this or that resort, and otherwise falling in with the persuasion of the advertisers and the Media pundits of progress. Rather, reaching after perfection by dying in order to be reborn, sloughing off the old man, our fleshly being, as a snake does its old skin irrespective of whether it is frail or robust, ungainly or comely, drab or dazzling. In giving the blind back their sight Jesus made us understand that we are all anyway in need of seeing eyes. When the crippled and even the dead rose up at his behest, they illustrated a truth more ineffable than any miracle - that in suffering and dying we live, while in living and abounding for life's own sake alone we sicken and die.

This truth is evident most dramatically among the mentally sick, which is doubtless why Jesus was especially compassionate towards them. Their blank faces and stumbling words, their clumsy gestures and movements, their very fury and violence, have a weird kind of inner beauty, and even grace, as their wild laughter and grotesqueries - exaggerated courtesies and formalities, like kissing hands very elaborately, bowing and scraping and uncovering, can seem, in a poignant sort of way, truly funny. Among Moslems lunatics are positively revered, as in pre-psychiatric times English village idiots were affectionately regarded. In the sane, different impulses are blended; the loving smile can turn into a scowl, the sweet affection into clamant lechery, without its being clear where one begins and the other ends. In the deranged, on the other hand, everything is separate and demarcated; the body and the soul, the will and the imagination, desire and love, disengaged. Their consequent schizophrenia is a kind of confused integrity, which makes social life difficult, if not impossible for them. Hence the urge to accommodate them in special institutions, where, with a kind of moral gentility, they are designated 'mentally handicapped' rather than mad.

Jesus was spared becoming acquainted with such institutions for the insane, who in his time, like the man in the country of the Gadarenes, ran wild - an arrangement doubtless inconvenient for others, and perhaps cruel to them, though in other respects preferable to herding them together, to be confined, drugged and subjected to treatment of various kinds according to whatever happens to be in vogue at the moment. Even then, puzzled and lethargic, they have their strange beauty, which comes of being uninvolved and uncommitted. They are earthy mystics whose Cloud of Unknowing is a ground-mist rather than aerial; often frowning, their features set in some sort of vague, clumsy longing, as though they were pining, like animals in the zoo. But for what? Maybe for freedom, maybe for dinner, maybe for love, maybe just for oblivion. Who can tell? In any case, pining

I have a particularly vivid memory of worshipping with them one Sunday morning in Bethel, near Bielefeld in Germany, where there is a large Lutheran settlement for mental cases of all kinds. The service was held under the trees, where an altar, a pulpit and seats are arranged for outdoor worship when weather permits. Most of the congregation were inmates, the epileptics wearing leather headgear like footballers in case they fell while the service was in progress. An inmates' band accompanied the singing, which was spirited but erratic; through the sermon and the prayers there were occasional broken shouts, and much twitching and turning. Yet I had a sense of great devotion; it was all very beautiful and uplifting. Walking away afterwards, I saw two white-haired deaconesses seated in a bench with some of the inmates considered to be unfit to attend the service. Under the direction of the deaconesses they were all joyously singing together, reminding me of Bunyan's description in Grace Abounding of how before he was converted he heard some women singing on a Sunday morning in Bedford. I dare say the notes were somewhat cracked, but I think I never heard such beautiful singing, and wondered whether any more acceptable songs of praise rose to heaven that Sunday morning. It was a place, I decided, where Jesus would have been very much at home. Indeed, I think I can say that he was at home there. Similarly, at L'Arche - the Ark - the community in the Forest of Compiegne founded by Jean Vanier, where the ostensibly sane and the ostensibly insane live, work and worship together in the spirit of Jesus, the Masses in their little chapel are unforgettably beautiful in their joyousness, devotion and Christian unity.

There is the further question whether Jesus himself may not have been in some sense mad. This is not an irreverence. Many of the noblest and most inspired people, like Blake and Dr. Johnson, St. Francis and the Apostle Paul, have been considered mad. The only recorded comment by de Gaulle on Simone Weil, the most luminous intelligence of our time who served for a while in the Second World War with the Gaullists in London, was: 'Elle est folle!'' William Cowper was put in a strait-jacket, the coming on of his periods of insanity being signalized by the production of some of his most beautiful hymns - like 'God moves in a mysterious way'. Nietzsche died in a mad-house and in our own time Ezra Pound was put in one for refusing to unsay what he had said in his broadcasts from Rome during the Second World War. The Soviet Government likewise has availed itself of psychiatric institutions to get rid of its choicest spirits.

S
anity is Eternity's surrender to time,
and I cannot believe that a man who was God would strike other men as wholly sane. The saintliest soldier I ever knew, when he was serving in Kenya, was diagnosed as a head case, as an alternative to being put on a charge - actually, for distribution to some hungry Africans lurking round the cookhouse door the contents of swill-buckets intended for the pigs. Again, at the first Pentecost, when the disciples met together, and there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind . . . And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them, and they all began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance, skeptical observers considered they must be, if not mad, then full of new wine. Peter indignantly repudiated the suggestion, pointing out that anyway they could not possibly be drunk seeing it is but the third hour of the day - an alibi familiar to all old topers.

Jesus' apocalyptic utterances will have seemed very wild to his contemporaries - for instance, his account of the last days which, he insisted, were to occur within the lifetime of some who were then living, when the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. This was to be the prelude to his own return to earth, coming in the cloud with great power and glory, and seated on a throne of judgment. There were also to be twelve thrones on which the twelve disciples would judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Such visions of a final dramatic denouement in the story of mankind were common enough in Jesus' time, and are by no means unknown today. In Jesus' case there was the confusing factor that in other moods he might deprecate these lurid prophecies, or ask his disciples to keep them to themselves, as he asked them to keep to themselves his claims to be the Messiah and on intimate terms with God as His only begotten Son. At times he would identify himself with the lowliest among men; at other times proclaim himself a greater preacher than Jonah, and wiser than Solomon. On occasion he would boast of his miraculous cures, and then particularly ask the person cured under no circumstances to advertise what had happened. All this is human enough; we are all given both to boasting and to self-depreciation, and sometimes to indulging in the one in the guise of the other - which is worse than either. In his Manhood, Jesus was liable to such infirmities, as in his Godhood he was capable of realizing a total disinterestedness which took him into sublime regions of the spirit beyond the reach of any mere man. The writers of the Gospels, too, in their love and admiration for Jesus, will have wanted to endow him with every kind of greatness, however contradictory; to make him, at one and the same time, the mightiest and the lowliest of men, very God and very Man. Adulation, even at its most exalted, is undiscriminating.

I have myself encountered a number of crazy people who claimed to be someone else; as de Gaulle, or Napoleon, or Alexander the Great. Blake likewise would disconcert his visitors by casually remarking when they visited him that he had some historical celebrity with him, like Edward the Confessor or Robert Bruce, whose portrait he was engaged in painting. Once I was visited by someone who told me, in the greatest confidence, that he was Jesus Christ, and that it had been revealed to him that I was the Apostle Paul, my acceptance of this role being my reward for acknowledging my visitor as being indeed Jesus. To get rid of such awkward intruders I easily decided they were mad. Subsequently I had qualms of conscience, thinking: Suppose it was Jesus! And I sent him away! After all, this was just how Jesus would have appeared during his ministry to unbelievers - as a megalomaniac crackpot prattling of being God's Son, and authorized to speak on His behalf. Alas, had I lived in the time of Jesus, I fear I should have been among the scoffers, and missed the glory of those who heard and saw him and believed.

As for Jesus' apocalyptic utterances - all imaginative minds are prone to them, as, equally, to utopian fantasies. A heightened consciousness of human imperfection points to the imminence of some cosmic catastrophe, as a heightened awareness of human potentialities points to the possibility of living happily ever after. These two impulses may be seen at their most vulgar in someone like H.G. Wells, who, on the one hand, envisaged the coming to pass of a scientifically planned and directed kingdom of heaven on earth, and, on the other, in face of the achievement of atomic fission - in itself, no great matter - turned his face to the wall and insisted that mind was now at the end of its tether, and that the last days were upon us, with only the prospect of beginning the evolutionary process all over again in the hope that it might produce some creature more satisfactory and amenable than the shortly to become extinct Homo sapiens. The same impulses existed in Marx's over-heated mind. He likewise imagined the final emergence of a perfect human society when the proletariat of the world took their destined place as the definitive ruling class whose beneficent rule would go on for ever and ever. At the same time, in the light of the actual condition of the world in the later stages of the Industrial Revolution, he could only foresee conflicts and disasters. It would be ridiculous, as well as in the worst of taste, to equate Jesus with Wells and Marx, but it may properly be said that during his sojourn on earth, like them, he partook of the alternations of mood belonging to a discerning, intuitive and audacious mind.

At times the splendor of our human destiny presented itself to him as a prospect of eternal life, when our music would be the songs of angels, and what was imperfect in us would be made perfect, and we should neither hunger nor thirst, know neither fear nor hatred, neither marry nor be given in marriage, but attune ourselves to the harmony, the joy, the effulgence of God's universal love in His very presence. At other times, the blindness and obtuseness of men, even of his chosen Twelve, their inability to grasp what he meant or to comprehend even the simplest imagery of his parables, their proneness to lick the earth rather than reach up to the heavens, to fold their egos round them and lock themselves up in the dark prison of their own carnality, minding not the things of God but the things of men - all this led him to ask: What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Lest anyone should think that these were remote contingencies, arising in a remote future, he went on to say that the Son of Man would be coming in the very near future in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. And to rub in the point that this was going to happen soon, he continued: There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

It was a warning which struck home; the early Christians were, to their great edification, to be worried for half a century and more as to whether they would thus be called to account while still living in this world. To haunt them, there were those fateful words about knowing neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh, and about how ill it would fare with any who might be found unprepared and forgetful when the moment arrived. Also, about how in that time there would be wars and rumors of wars. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places - a state of affairs so dangerous and unaccountable that if anyone were on the housetop it would be highly imprudent to come down and take anything out of the house, or if in the fields to turn back to collect some clothing. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days. But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day: for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

If, for the early Christians, with Jesus' actual words of warning still echoing in their ears, the prospect of the coming apocalypse was very actual, in the subsequent centuries there have always been some unhinged or prophetic souls who felt certain that the last days would shortly be upon them. Today the feeling is particularly strong, not without reason. The truth is that famines and pestilences and wars and rumors of wars have been the constant lot of mankind. Crisis is not the exception, but our permanent condition; and awareness of this, as Dr. Johnson said of waiting to be hanged, wonderfully concentrates the mind. To believe that men living in time can know lasting peace, prosperity and contentment is far more fallacious and demented than to expect the end of the world in the near future. The world is always about to end, but utopias never even begin; and so the Devil, who feels most at home in fantasy, and sees more mileage in the Guardian than in the News of the World, in Eleanor Roosevelt than in Marilyn Monroe, in the World Council of Churches than the Mafia, as being more amenable to his purposes, can work more readily through utopians than through apocalyptists, as the post-Rousseau era has all too clearly shown.

No future without anticipation of something better to come...
I cannot see how the Church could possibly have survived through all the decadence, disorder and wickedness of the last centuries of the Roman Empire if there had not been this built-in expectation of a Second Coming and the end of history. Otherwise, the early Christians, like the later ones, would have got themselves enmeshed in the risings and rebellions and illusory earthly expectations which are the invariable accompaniment of a decomposing civilization. Who, expecting the end of the world today or tomorrow, is going to concern himself about further nationalizing the means of production, freedom-fighting, raising the school age to nineteen and lowering the age of consent to ten, and other such enlightened enterprises? The only way to be sane about history is to keep its end in view, as the only way to be sane about living is to keep death in view. Jesus catered for this need by promising to return to us, and soon rather than late, so that we should be under the necessity of always expecting him, and constantly made aware that the span of life, like the span of the Bible, is from a Garden of Eden to an Apocalypse; its course from innocence, through knowledge of Good and Evil, to the Incarnation.

The fluctuations in Jesus' moods about his miracles are equally marked. Sometimes he boasted that if like wonders had been performed in Sodom as in Capernaum, then Sodom would have remained until this day, whereas Capernaum will go down into Hades; at other times he told those he had cured, at all costs to keep to themselves their miraculous deliverance, and resolutely refused to provide, through miracles or in any other way, a sign of his special relationship with God and the divine inspiration of his mission on earth. Indeed, the impression conveyed by the Gospels is that Jesus performed his miracles with a certain diffidence, and even reluctance. Compassion urged him on. There was suffering and pain and anguish which he could cure. So how could he withhold his help? At the same time, he had to take account of the danger that his miracles would impress the crowds rather than what he had to say and what he had himself to be and endure before his ministry was fulfilled. By pronouncing forgiveness of sins he could make the blind see, the lame walk, the demented sane; yet, as he well knew, when this happened, the popular reaction was not to abjure the sins which had been forgiven, but rather to marvel at the cure that had been effected.

Martha, Martha, thou are
careful and troubled about
many things: But one thing
is needful: and Mary hath
chosen that good part, which
shall not be taken away
from her.


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"Alas, had I lived in the time of Jesus, I fear I should have been among the scoffers, and missed the glory of those who heard and saw him and believed."