The push-back chronicles

My idea of Christianity came from reading the Gospels. There was the Christ of Hungerford Bridge (whom I have mentioned elsewhere), but too, the Christ of intellectual apprehension, upon whose acts and sayings one might make notes. Or if gentle reader will indulge, the Mystical and the Theological, respectively. These are not contraries. As very God and very Man, they are not two natures.

I had been subjected to some Bible reading as a young lad, though not much. Most came from a New Testament, with Psalms, published by Messrs Gideon, that had been set into my pocket by the school authorities. I would take it hiking with me, and there was a brief phase of fundamentalist Christianity around the age of ten. This washed over quickly, however. It was when I came back to the thing as a curious adolescent — an atheist reading “the Bible as Literature” — that it began to make sense, the way books do, when they are coherent.

The Christ I met then came as a surprise.

Already, by the ’sixties, in the time after Vatican II — or by the ’twenties, according to plausible sources — the Milquetoast Christ had prevailed in the “freethinking” popular culture. By 1970 at the latest, complete fatuity had been achieved. The Good had been reduced to niceness; coupled with sanctimonious moral display. Moreover, Christ had become a team player, a kindly captain (as of a team that always loses) accommodating of our little foibles; a benevolent figure of smiling encouragement. A kindergarten teacher.

But this was not the frankly confrontational Christ of the Gospels. Several times, before I embraced Christ as Christ myself, I recall thinking, “Has anyone actually read this stuff?” If He wasn’t the Son of God, He was a dangerous madman (as C. S. Lewis explained, in a widely circulated tract).

The puzzle is that I know many who have read Scripture; and either I have missed the point, or they have. For like old age, the Christ of the Gospels is not for cissies. Often He is not even charming. Ask the money changers outside the Temple if he knew how to crack a whip. Ask the Roman soldiers if He could take a beating. Ask the thief on Golgotha what kind of man he was. For the mob that had followed to the foot of the Cross couldn’t tell you. They were too busy laughing.

Christ’s followers weren’t cherubs, either. They did not, unarmed, take over the Roman Empire, by being shy or “engaging in respectful dialogue.” The dialogue in which they did engage was, by any standard ancient or modern, rather edgy. It got all but one of the Apostles killed.

My Chief Western Ireland Veterinary Correspondent claims in email this morning that he is a coward. However, he does not consider his cowardice a virtue. That, I would say, would be a difference between him and several other self-declared Catholics in old Eire at the present time.

Me too, me too. Total coward. Or rather, we are somewhat incomplete, for sometimes we see some unpleasantness in which we must intervene, or forfeit our claim to be Christian. And we do it flinching; my own prayer being: “O Lord, do I have to?” When the answer is obviously, “Yes.”

I feel sorry for the miserable munchkins of modernity. They had no good examples, growing up. I’d have had Christ, had I stuck with Him. But meanwhile I had my papa, who though no formal Christian had the lionheart Christian sensibility, and was not inclined to tolerate evil. Got himself fired innumerable times; might get himself gaoled were he young today. Flew Spitfires against the Prussians in his time. I think of him every day, and of how inadequate I am to his example.