Two Faces to Hate: Some (timid) Thoughts about Christchurch

In the latest episode of horrifying shock-murders a white Australian man opened fire last week on a mosque-full of Islamic worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand. The murderer, a savvy media manipulator, filmed himself performing the massacre and uploaded a lengthy manifesto detailing his allegiance to various and sundry features of the White Supremacy movement. If nothing else is said about these events, then at least we must admit that in our age we have entered into a new world of evil.

Christchurch Murderer

Media responses have been, as usual, swift and condemnatory. The perpetrator was quickly labelled a terrorist, and media engines shifted into overdrive to minimize and mask his platform. If the logic was to perform a mass murder to gain attention to his platform, then the media is, in this case, muzzling his manifesto, and working hard to restrict access to the video. (Full disclosure: I have neither read the manifesto nor watched the video.)

Let’s admit, before all else, that this is a horrifying situation, and that the perpetrator’s actions are justly condemned by all right-thinking people. You shouldn’t murder people. You shouldn’t murder people while filming yourself murdering people. And you shouldn’t murder people while filming yourself murdering them as if the murders were a kind of video game with a soundtrack. What is more, you shouldn’t attempt to justify your actions by means of lengthy equivocations. There is nothing good about either what the perpetrator wanted, or how he proceeded in his plan.

At the same time, I confess that I am unsettled. Above all else, I am unsettled by certain features of how media coverage operates, even in their muzzling, counter-intuitive narrative. To explain this, consider two faces.

MAGA and Egg Boy Close up

This first is the face of Nick Sandmann, a Catholic high school student, who is—quite apart from his planning—brought awkwardly face to face with a Native American activist named Nathan Phillips. The other image is of William Connolly, smashing an egg on the head of Australian senator Fraser Anning. Both images have caught the attention of the media. Both images have evoked strong emotional responses.

The image of Sandmann, with his MAGA hat and “smug” face, invited the vitriol of the media world. This, they argued, is what is wrong with America. Disrespectful teens, smirking in the face of a peaceful Native American elder. A MAGA hat—the emblematic sign of modern racism!—sneering in its own right down on a person from whom Americans long ago robbed America. Condemnation—and hate—was swift. This was a boy who should be punched in the face. This Catholic school breeds hate. MAGA supporters are all closet white supremacists, and so forth.


Of course, the truth came out eventually. The boy wasn’t being aggressive, but he and his classmates had been the recipients of substantial aggression from a group of Black Israelites, who had been hurling abuse at them for some time. The Nathan Phillips had arrived to “make peace,” but had done it awkwardly—walking up to and making eye contact with Sandmann, who was just a bystander—and as a result Sandmann’s face wasn’t smug so much as uncomfortable. He was an awkward teen, caught in an incredibly awkward moment, and the world witnessed his awkwardness and was all too ready to caption it with its own preferred labels. In this circumstance, the label of ‘hate.’

This second image, of Connolly smashing an egg on a Senator’s head, has been met—as far as I can tell—with universal acclaim. Senator Anning had written a letter, outlining his belief that there were, indeed, real immigration problems, and real cultural divides between Islam and the West. Connolly’s timing is admittedly poor, and his judgments may be flawed, but you don’t have to agree with him to recognize that he has a right to his opinion, and a responsibility as a senator, even, to share it. People, knowing how he thinks, elected him after all. But in response, here we have another teenaged boy, this time with a camera to record his own actions, and an egg to smash on Connolly’s head. And this time, the boy’s actions are acclaimed. He’s a hero. He deserves a scholarship.

Fraser Anning Egg

In the one circumstance, we have a boy who has done, literally, nothing, and is deserving of pure hatred because he is associated with things the media dislikes. As a result, he ought to be punched in the face. On the other side, we have a boy who has done something stupid (and let’s admit that filming yourself doing things like this is stupid), who does indeed get punched in the face, but who is really deserving of adulation because he is associated with things the media likes.

Here we come to why I am unsettled. These two faces of hatred display, in a unique way, the unbelievable power that the media holds to sway and shape our opinions. It’s okay to hate X, it’s praiseworthy to love those who egg the representatives of X. It’s okay to hate the people we don’t like. Narratives, context, motivations, impact—none of these factors matter. Only the manifestation of hatred and ready judgment.

Governments reacting to terrorism is the object of terrorism. One of the governing tenets of the pseudo-right, (semi-)white supremacist movement, is that the media controls perception. The belief that the media lies to me is the catalyst for so much of the emotional content which gives rise to these manifestations of hatred and xenophobia. And when the media pulls these kinds of stunts, they are proved right.

Several years ago I accidentally (and I mean it!) joined an alt-right group on Facebook. I’ve never commented or participated in the group, but I watch, and listen, and attend to what makes them tick. The group is sizeable, with something close to 80K members—so this isn’t exactly a fringe group. Their response to these killings has been pretty sickening, and I won’t go into all of it, but two predominant features emerge: first, they believe that the media coverage has universally prevaricated on the story of Islam in New Zealand, and second, they want to incite further Islamic retaliation, to aggravate the hornet’s nest further, so that, perhaps, the West might ‘wake up’ and respond. Whether their vision is right or wrong, evil or not, this attack, and the media coverage, fulfils either outcome they desire. And that might be the most unsettling thought of all.

Grace, Truth, and Kavanaugh

“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” ~ Proverbs 18:17

Whenever big public hearings take place, whenever big political kerfuffles dominate my newsfeed, I am reminded of the Proverb above—that the first to speak seems right. Our media world is dominated by first impressions, and the first to speak, to get the scoop, to tell the story, has an ongoing advantage in public discourse. We humans are also, as a rule, quite bad at impartiality—when we tell a story we weight the evidence in our favour. But these first impressions always get a little rattled when “another comes and examines him.” We get to hear the other side of the story, and, the more we listen carefully, as often as not, that other person begins to sound plausible.

All of this has, of course, been rattling about in my head as I’ve witnessed the nightmare Senate hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Christine Blasey Ford has accused Kavanaugh of attempted rape from 35 years ago. Brett Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegation. And at this point, things have boiled down to what amounts to a fairly straightforward he said/she said. What that means, in the briefest possible sense, is that the only sure conclusion we can draw from this stalemate is that somebody isn’t telling the truth. Either Blasey Ford, or Kavanaugh, is deceiving or deceived. And in such a climate both Grace and Truth are the real casualties.


Before we wade into these complexities, let’s outline, for a moment, what I think are the only six options for what has happened. We’ve got three options each for Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford:

K1) Kavanaugh is innocent, and ignorant of this attempted rape because he didn’t do it.

K2) Kavanaugh not innocent, but is ignorant of this attempted rape because he doesn’t remember it.

K3) Kavanaugh is not innocent, and is consciously lying about it.

BF1) Ford was assaulted by Kavanaugh as described.

BF2) Ford was assaulted, but has misidentified her attacker.

BF3) Ford was not assaulted, and is accusing Kavanaugh out of malice.

In each case option one presumes honesty, option two considers the possibility of some form of self-deception, and option three presumes a kind of malice. I think it’s fair to reason, given their vivid public testimonies, that neither party is here engaged in malicious denial or accusation. The cost of leveling a false accusation (socially and politically), or of perjuring oneself before the court, is too high and improbable. That means that, most likely, some combination of options one or two for both Ford and Kavanaugh are probably the case—in other words, either Kavanaugh is telling the truth and Ford as misidentified her attacker (K1 and BF2), or Ford is telling the truth and Kavanaugh doesn’t remember (BF1 and K2). But how are we to determine the truth? What evidence will we gather that can effect a change one way or the other? And, in this politically supercharged scenario, does anyone even care about the truth at all?


An impartial scale doesn’t weight evidence unfairly ahead of time.

What has emerged, instead of a sincere desire for the truth of what happened, is a welter of politically motivated partisanship and of culturally motivated virtue signaling. Viewers, failing even an attempt at impartiality, have entered the foray of opinions with their pre-judged conclusions in hand, little ready to listen and readjust their thinking to the other who “comes to examine.” On the political right, Democratic tactics look suspiciously like a purely political smear campaign. On the political left, Republican tactics look suspiciously like a hastening to get Kavanaugh in place before mid-term elections (potentially) swing key votes in the Senate. On the conservative side, a good man is being destroyed because of his pro-life stance and what that means for the Supreme Court. On the liberal side, the ‘rights’ of women are being threatened by a man who appears to be himself the embodiment of white, privileged male power. On both sides, tribalism reigns, impartiality withers, and the truth suffers.

In this maelstrom, the tribalism of #metoo emerges as a particular threat to impartiality. For those of you who read this blog, you will know that I have been, generally, supportive of the aims of the #metoo movement. There is something vital, and deeply Christian, about listening to the voices of people who have suffered and seeking justice on their behalf. But in the present public displays we see some of the real ugliness of the movement as well. There is in its accusations an immediate presumption of guilt, a guilt by association, a condemnation by gender, and an abandonment of due process. The hashtag #believewomen is itself emblematic of this trouble. Women can be deceived as well as men. Women can be mendacious as well as men. Women can be malicious as well as men. An accusation is never in itself definitive proof of guilt, and the supposition that Ford, because she is a woman, ought to be believed outright is a distortion of the very justice #metoo claims to seek. In fact, these kinds of single-declaration accusations are not the stuff of American democracy, but of Maoist “Struggle Sessions” and of Stalinist “public denunciations,” where politically unfavorable persons may be publicly destroyed, without recourse, simply by the accusations of their peers.

Struggle Session

Struggle sessions, like this one, were a crucial factor in social control during the communist regimes of Mao and Stalin.

At the same time, as conservatives double down on their narrative of liberal obstructionism (whatever its political merits) they communicate to a host of women that women’s voices don’t matter. In the minds of many Republicans the primary story here is about the Supreme Court and the Democratic hatred of the Republican agenda. In their minds, #metoo has nothing to do with that process, and yet by ignoring its subtext Republicans appear to be callous and uncaring. These are the horns of the dilemma.

On both sides of the political divide, the truth plays a secondary role. Political or social aims are primary, and in the battle for the Supreme Court I think it fair to say that both Ford and Kavanaugh are reduced to pawns in other people’s fights.

But let’s imagine that we could, definitively, discover the truth. (This is, for the record, highly unlikely.) What if we discover that, indeed, Kavanaugh attempted to rape Ford in 1982 when he was 17 years old. Of course, if such a thing could be proved, Kavanaugh’s perjury about the incident would render him unfit for a seat on the Supreme Court. But laying that aside for the sake of argument, a bigger lurking question pertains to what is to be done about the past. Where is grace, accountability, and transformation? When the allegations about Bill Cosby became more than allegations, and as the scores of women emerged to accuse him of serial sexual assault, it was clear that in Cosby’s case there was a habitual pattern of predatory sexual behavior. The same was true of Harvey Weinstein, as the stories about his life emerged. But with Kavanaugh we have a different story. We have a lifetime of admirable service and (so far) impeccable character. So how do we judge a person’s past when the past is truly ‘in the past’? What do we do with the Jean Valjeans? With the Apostle Pauls? With the Chuck Colsons?

Cosby Mug Shots

I’m a pastor, and that means I’m in the forgiveness business—I believe in change, I testify personally to change. I am not (thank God!) the same person I was in high school. I am not, of course, a candidate for high office, but nevertheless I can’t help but feel that we’re in the grip of a world that is high on vengeance and knows little of forgiveness and change. John 1:17 records that “the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” The law, with its dictates and death penalties, was the old order. The law provided a courtroom where the truth could be a thing that was distorted by the lack of impartiality in its witnesses. But with Christ we encounter both truth and grace—truth, in that Christ reveals the secrets of our hearts, the secrets of our actions, of our self-deceptions, of our sins omitted and committed. But in Christ we also encounter grace, the gift of a saving God who takes of our imperfect flesh and transforms it into something new, something fresh, something that restores.

We may never find out what happened in 1982 to Christine Blasey Ford, and we may never achieve full satisfaction with regard to the character of Brett Kavanaugh. If we listen only to our newsfeeds, then we will likely be mired endlessly in partiality, vengeance, and partisanship. I would hope, however—and speaking as a Christian—that we might take this opportunity presented to us as a Church and rise above our political and cultural turmoil to advocate for truth, justice, grace, and forgiveness. They are things for which our world deeply hungers. They are gifts that Christ has entrusted to us for his world.

A Call to Elevate Our Discourse

The Problem

If you are at all like me then you lament the ongoing state of Christian creativity, that is, of the specifically Christian imagination as it is expressed in both the public sphere and the Church. Christian cinema, Christian radio, Christian television productions, Christian media personalities, Christian artwork, Christian music—for each discipline appending the label “Christian” has the effect of qualitatively lessening the seriousness and effectiveness of the creative effort. Regrettably, a so-called “Christian” artist is almost universally not a very good artist.

Left Behind

This is an ironic state of affairs, especially since the Christian story truly is the greatest story ever told, tapping into the full range of human emotions and situations, possessing power to reach humans of any background, any socioeconomic status, any stage in life. Strangely, possession of this story has not succeeded (at least in this century) at making of Christians particularly good storytellers. Christians have at their disposal access to the immeasurable depths of the God who created the universe, but settle instead to pander about as intellectual infants. Christians have the capacity to speak with immense cultural resonance, and yet frequently appeal to the merely sentimental. We have the potential to instruct the heart in the depths of the knowledge of God, but instead choose to bludgeon the emotions with saccharine, simplified, and perpetually “safe” content. We have set as our standard the wisdom of doves, and the consequence is that at times our creative efforts are as harmful as serpents.

The Cause

A root cause of this situation is an overarching obsession with utility. In the Christian world, if a thing is not considered directly useful for the gospel, then it is not considered beneficial. To expand on this, if a media form does not fit directly within the narrow confines of a specific area of church life—such as evangelism, encouragement, or instruction—then it is immediately suspect. What use is a painting that doesn’t instruct? If it’s not about a specific Bible story, how can I know it is safe? What use is a song that doesn’t function in worship? What use is a radio station that doesn’t encourage? If a movie has “worldly” content in it, doesn’t that mean it is poisoning my mind and my purity? Our ability to categorize and appreciate creative efforts is thus sharply filtered through a lens which measures the inherent usefulness of the effort. Creativity has been enslaved to utility.

Jesus and the Businessman

This utilitarianism is augmented by a cultivated suspicion of things that are practiced. For some time Christians have concluded (falsely) that something produced by an individual without training is superior to something produced by another individual with training. We elevate the amateur on the grounds that he or she displays a special anointing of the Spirit—in other words, lack of credentials is implicit evidence of the work of God. This was brought into clear focus for me recently when I encountered the following passage in Phillips Brooks’s Lectures on Preaching,

As I begin to speak to you about literary style and homiletical construction, I cannot help once more urging upon you the need of hard and manly study; not simply the study of language and style itself, but study in its broader sense, the study of truth, of history, of philosophy; for no man can have a richly stored mind without its influencing the style in which he writes and speaks, making it at once thoroughly his own, and yet giving it variety and saving it from monotony. I suppose the power of an uneducated man like Mr. Moody is doing something to discredit the necessity of study among ministers and to tempt men to rely upon spontaneousness and inspiration. I honor Mr. Moody, and rejoice in much of the work that he is doing, but if his success had really this effect it would be a very serious deduction from its value. When you see such a man, you are to consider both his exceptionalness and his limitations. In some respects he is a very remarkable and unusual man, and therefore not a man out of whom ordinary men can make a rule. ~ Phillips Brooks, Lectures on Preaching, 146-147

DL Moody a friend of ECM in the Revivals of 1873 and 1880s026Brooks’s target is preaching, and in his view he has the powerful and popular ministry of D.L. Moody, the uneducated but globally effective evangelist. If we make a model of Moody, appealing to his lack of education to undercut our own requirements, then we are ignoring the uniqueness of Moody. Not all men are Einsteins, but the existence of a single Einstein does not lead us to conclude that any old person can give a lecture on advanced physics. Why then would we assume that untrained individuals are similarly suitable for Christian service? The source of such an attitude, in Christian praxis, is clearly a form of laziness; I will trust in the Spirit, that is, so that I don’t have to do my homework.

Laziness, let us be clear, is a form of utilitarianism. It states that I will only pursue those tasks which I find directly beneficial to what it is that I am doing. It foreshortens our ability to perceive of how the Christian faith might bear impact on a wide range of subjects. To put this another way, the lazy utilitarianism of the Christian mind sets a list of approved subjects for study; then, searching within that list, typically finds only what it looks for. And it is precisely this simplicity that generates simple-minded, emotionally monotonous media as well. Instead, the Christian mind ought to stretch out into the breadths of the world equipped with the depths of Christian understanding. The Christian mind is not a mind of Christian things, but a mind equipped with the mind of Christ prepared to encounter all the things of the world.

A First Repair: Recovering the Breadths of Christianity

How will we go about aspiring to such a mind, breaking the bonds of our utilitarianism? The first way to repair will be to recapture our conviction of the breadths of Christianity. Brooks’s words about preaching therefore bear impact here as well. He challenges ministers (and I extend this to all Christians) to be individuals who read widely and richly, to explore the depths of the knowledge of God as that knowledge is revealed in all the diversity of the world. This is to recover our conviction, in Arthur Holmes’s phrase, that “All truth is God’s truth.” Practically, this means that the particularly Christian attitude is not to assemble the list of preapproved and “safe” subjects for Christian study, but instead to search out how to expand our Christianity into every subject, to attend for those glimmers and glimpses of God’s revealed character as they present themselves to us in each and every matter. Paul, speaking in Second Corinthians to his actions as an apostle, hints at this process in a way that I think is fair to extend here, that “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). We are not specifically in search of only obedient thoughts, but we are striving to bring all thoughts into obedience to Christ.


If such an attitude is right, then it ought to change the Christian approach to art and creativity, thus elevating our discourse in society. Our focus will not be to be good “Christian” artists, but to be good artists who happen to be Christian. C.S. Lewis speaks to this in a talk he once gave on apologetics: “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent” (Undeceptions, “Christian Apologetics,” 67). The supremely evangelistic task, in other words, while it is occasionally served by directly apologetical books (e.g., Mere Christianity), is in fact better served by the faithful presence of Christians doing their own individual work well as Christians. We need not Christian movies, but good movies made by Christians with their Christianity informing their work; not more Christian recording artists, but good music made by Christians with their Christianity bleeding out into their songs. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for expressly pedagogical Christian work. Just the other day I listened to some songs which were scripture, set to music for children. But the purpose of such pedagogy—and the purpose, I might suggest, of our public worship and education as well—is to expand the Christian mind so that it can encompass the world. Our education should not narrow, but broaden the mind, and it must begin by remembering that the Christian story envelops the whole of the world, past, present, and future. Until we regain a conviction of those breadths we will fail to effectively speak our depths into the deep needs of the world.

A Second Repair: Recovering a Conviction of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good

A second treatment for our utilitarianism is to recover our conviction of the true, the beautiful, and the good. If Christian creativity is not to be based on its usefulness, then its basis must be some other thing. We must create, in other words, because we are convinced that a thing is true, or that a thing is beautiful, or that a thing is inherently good, and our creative efforts ought to tether back to these factors. And yet it is possible that a key reason why we have retreated from these three transcendentals to the merely useful is because we have become deeply confused about what they are. Just recently I read an article in the Independent about students who struggle to read all their assigned textbooks. The closing quote was illuminating about the state of the human mind, “Lizzy Kelly, a history student at Sheffield added: ‘Students might be more inclined to read what academics want them to if our curricula weren’t overwhelmingly white, male and indicative of a society and structures we fundamentally disagree with because they don’t work for us.’” Books, in other words, are not worth reading on their own merits, nor because they might communicate something true, beautiful, or good, but because they ought to “work for us.” Utility thus assassinates the true.

TheRoadThere is further confusion even in identifying the qualities of these characteristics. A year ago I heard a Christian literature professor give a lecture on the image of God in Cormac McCarthy’s startlingly dystopic The Road. She persistently described that book, which remains one of the grittiest, darkest, books I have ever read, as “beautiful.” Now, I was willing to agree with her that the book was both gripping and theologically compelling, but to describe it as beautiful felt like a profound misapplication of terms. The book was decidedly not beautiful. The language might have been beautiful, and the contents might have illuminated something of the truth of human depravity and God’s faithfulness, but the contents themselves were fundamentally ugly, even hideous. She had confused the true and the beautiful, and the consequence was to muddy our Christian understanding of the world, rather than illuminate it.

I want to suggest that if we have failed to properly identify these characteristics, it is because we have left off educating ourselves in their pursuit. I find myself drawn again and again to the following passage in C.S. Lewis’s magnum opus, The Abolition of Man,

“Can you be righteous,” asks Traherne, “unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours and you were made to prize them according to their value.” St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics: but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful. ~ C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 28-29, emphasis added)

The point is that we must train ourselves to see those things which are worth seeing. We become hungry and on the lookout for truth, no matter where it might be found. We train our eyes to see the beautiful and strive to find it in all of life. We cultivate a taste for the good and are eager to experience it in all things. We admit complexity and nuance, that God is communicating to all people at all times, reaching out in love through all the world’s corrupted creativity to show something of His glory. And in this way we reject the simplistic, the saccharine, and the safe–exchanging them directly for the true (which is not simplistic), the beautiful (which is never saccharine), and the good (which is rarely safe).

Christian education—that process by which individuals who profess Christ are guided into deepened maturity in all the fullness of Christ, that process by which we are taught to feel pleasure and disgust at those things which are really pleasant or disgusting—is a weakened and sickly thing. We have retreated when we ought to have advanced, circled our wagons when we ought to have gone walkabout. The world is there, each stone eager to declare the glory of God. The furrows of the world are deep, anticipating the clear water of Christ to irrigate and bring forth fresh fruit. But it is only as Christians reject utility and commit to educating ourselves in the true, the beautiful, and the good that we will succeed in elevating the level of our discourse, and thus bring the full weight of our creative potential into the greater service of the Kingdom of God.

Chronicles of a 20th Century Prophet

Malcolm Muggeridge, in his autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time (Regent College, 2006), makes the following observation about D.H. Lawrence: “He was one of those men, tragic and gifted, who work out in themselves the conflicts and dilemmas of their time; who are themselves our own fever and pain” (66). We are not sure, reading Muggeridge’s ambiguous assessment of Lawrence, whether he means this as a compliment, a jibe, or both. One thing, however, is certain: it is a description that matches Muggeridge’s own life with ironic clarity. This double-edged, almost backhanded compliment is a shining example of the wit and life of this compelling Christian prophet.

Malcolm Muggeridge was a British journalist who lived from 1903 to 1990. He was raised in a staunchly socialist home, moved with his wife to Soviet Russia in the 1930s in order to be part of the great new world that Stalin was supposedly spearheading, but left disaffected. He served in the British Intelligence services during World War II, later became editor of Punch magazine, and even later, in his mid-sixties, converted to Christianity. In Chronicles of Wasted Time Muggeridge works out in his own body the conflicts and dilemmas of his era, providing a personal snapshot of the 20th century’s struggles with socialism, with government, with sex, and with media. To all these he preaches a message of prophetic denunciation. Each thing, after all, is a promise of heaven on earth, and Muggeridge’s message is imbued with authority because he has tried and experienced first-hand the best that the 20th century had to offer in terms of answers to the ills of man. “The really terrible thing about life,” he observes, “is not that our dreams are unrealised but that they come true” (50). Having witnessed the great dreams of the 20th century, Muggeridge testifies that their realization was, far from the promised utopia, a horror. Rejecting, then, the false anesthetics of the 20th century, he asserts instead that the answer to the ills of humankind is the one given in the 1st century, God alone in Christ.

Chronicles of Wasted Time was originally two separate volumes. The Green Stick documents Muggeridge’s early life and his journey out from the illusion of socialism. For a variety of reasons it is the stronger half of the book; Muggeridge inhabits a literary world there are many figures with whom the reader will be familiar (D.H. Lawrence, George Orwell, and others). Furthermore it has a special cohesion because it is the self-contained story of Muggeridge’s ideological journey. The second volume, The Infernal Grove, covers Muggeridge’s war years, but lacks the cohesion of the first volume and is, on the whole, a darker book. A third volume was planned but left unfinished, and might have framed the second volume differently (as the third act gives redemption to the dark second act in a play). Consequently, The Infernal Grove lacks some of the depth and energy of The Green Stick.

Still, Muggeridge’s autobiography is a pleasure to read for a variety of reasons. His many anecdotes on important and famous personages are humorous, eye-opening, and insightful. His self-deprecating style is endearing. As a witness to numerous historical events his testimony is important. But above, perhaps, even these, it is his incisive commentary (offered in his uniquely Muggeridge-ian style) on the particular issues of the 20th century—issues that maintain their relevance today—that makes his book valuable reading. Throughout all of these runs a pervasive sense of the fallenness of mankind, especially as it is exhibited and magnified in media.

Consider the following passage, which is a brilliant example of Muggeridge’s unique style, where he comments on his first forays into the movie theater:

“The reign of the camera had begun. I cannot pretend that I was aware of the implications of my protracted Saturday afternoon communings with shadows flickering across a screen, but it is certainly true that, increasingly, when I emerged, what was outside took on the character of the pictures I had been looking at, rather than the other way round. All the world in a picture palace.” (69)

In these subtle sentences Muggeridge has done several things. First, he speaks of the ‘reign’ of the camera, which points to the increasing dominance he (accurately) perceives media will attain in our lives. Second, the idea of ‘communings’ evokes a religious aspect of the cinema—here we go to find our spiritual experiences, to find enlightenment for our world. Third, he notes the power of cinema to begin to edit our world, rather than our world interpreting cinema—identifying the chief danger of an escape from reality into the pipe-dream promised by a false reality. Those are Muggeridge’s obvious points, but beneath them, by citing the “shadows flickering across the screen,” he has colored his criticism with a reference to Plato’s famous Cave, where chained intellects were bound to ignorance, their only knowledge attained through the projection of shadowy figures on a wall. In Plato’s story, one figure is freed from the cave, enlightened by the sun, and returns to bring the news to those still in the cave. The new depth, then, of Muggeridge’s criticism is that he asserts we have, in allowing the cinema to have its reign, capitulated to a stupefying of our intelligence. We have abdicated our enlightenment, choosing, in 20th century media, shadows over reality.

It's an interesting tale about T.S. Eliot.

No doubt because of his profession, media, journalism, and socialism are linked ideas for Muggeridge, and they become his lens into human sinfulness, especially (in concert with his assessment of the cinema) our willingness to twist reality to our own desires. “People, after all,” he writes, “believe lies, not because they are plausibly presented, but because they want to believe them. So, their credulity is unshakeable” (274). While living as a journalist in Soviet Russia he traveled on a train through the countryside, aware through his sources (and later through personal observation) of the mass starvation occurring outside the cities. However, against these realities, he noted that “These fellow passengers provided my first experience of the progressive elite from all over the world who attached themselves to the Soviet régime, resolved to believe anything they were told by its spokesmen” (212). Those who dared to be critical of the regime—even in Britain—were silenced. Muggeridge writes that “Even Animal Farm, one of the few undoubted works of genius of our time, was rejected by fourteen publishers on the ground that it was too hostile to the Soviet régime, before being accepted. One of the rejectors was T.S. Eliot on behalf of Faber & Faber” (272). The book is replete with examples such as this, many more terrifying in aspect. Despite this, throughout the book Muggeridge doesn’t overstate his ironies; he merely presents them for the absurdities that they are. His ultimate assessment of the era was that a whole host of people,

…all resolved, come what might, to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook anything, however villainous, to approve anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good causes to which they had dedicated their lives. (275-6)

Hence, Muggeridge’s distrust of humanity—of human reasoning, human spirituality, and human optimism—is based on his personal experience of human mendacity. The 20th century is a century of lies, willingly embraced.

“Learning from experience,” Muggeridge writes, “means, in practice, learning from suffering; the only schoolmaster” (19). Muggeridge’s life lesson, shared with us, learned through his own personal suffering, is that earthly justice, earthly efforts, and all the works of man are utter and unredeemable suffering apart from the grace of God. His voice, then, speaks to us from the ‘inside’ of the 20th century—not as someone who merely lived in his century, but as one who has both acted on the stage and looked behind the scenes. And the insider’s view that he offers us—the personal appraisal and rejection of the siren calls of our world—is precisely the strength of Muggeridge’s prose. If you will, he is a Christian cynic—not a pessimist, just someone vastly more realistic than everyone else and consequently suspicious of everything in the world that isn’t God. He is a man who refused to be taken in by any ideology, any false promises (whether of marketing or propaganda), any movements or governments. Reading his autobiography one gets a clear sense of Muggeridge’s awareness and insight into a fallible world and its desperate need for God. As a result it is Muggeridge’s personal experiences, here on display and under self-criticism, that generate the potent perspective of the prophet; in the name of Christ he denounces all things for the sake of Christ. And if he is a grouchy prophet of doom, it is because he has seen the glory to which we are called and wants us to seek it, rather than settle for the cheap, distracting thrills of our time.

A few mullable Muggeridge Quotes:

About sex:

“Sex is the only mysticism offered by materialism…. Sex pure and undefiled; without the burden of procreation, or even, ultimately, of love or identity. Just sex; jointly attained, or solitary—derived from visions, drug-infused; from spectacles, on film or glossy paper.” (142)

About news:

“News [is] an expression of the hypochondria of a sick society—like endlessly sucking at a thermometer, standing on the bathroom scales… In a civilisation dropping to pieces, news takes some of the sting out of happenings. So, more and more of it; all day long, and often all night long, too. A sort of Newzak, corresponding to Muzak; instead of a melange of drooling tunes endlessly played, a melange of drooling news endlessly heard.”  (179)

About spirituality:

“After Miss Corke [a friend] had retired to bed, I stayed awake a long time thinking of the chasm which divides those who believe in a mortal destiny, however glorious, and those who cannot find the heart to live at all, to go on from day to day, except on the basis of an immortal one. Belonging, as I do, so strongly to the latter category, the former seem to me fated, either to suppose themselves to be gods and, like Icarus, fly into the sun, there to perish, or to fall back upon their animal natures, and the Sisyphus task of maintaining a condition of permanent rut.” (65)