April 4, 2024

Onward, Christian Soldiers

We cannot ignore Christianity’s beneficial role in making this world a better place.

As I often do over the Easter holiday, I watched a film that has the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ central to the story. This year, it was “Risen,” a film about a Roman soldier named Clavius (played by Joseph Fiennes), an attache to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. The crucifixion of Christ has already taken place as the film opens, and Pilate has been warned that Jesus’ followers may steal the body and proclaim that He has risen from the dead. Unlike the other executed criminals, whose bodies are thrown into a pit on the outskirts of the city, Christ’s body is taken by Joseph of Arimathea and placed in their family tomb. Pilate orders Clavius to seal the tomb and ensure that it is not disturbed after he is buried.

Despite Clavius’ best efforts, the ropes and seals of Jesus’ tomb are found burst two days after His burial, the stone that closed it has been moved away, and the body of Jesus is gone. Pilate tells Clavius that he must find the body before the arrival of Tiberius Caesar 10 days hence. In the process of searching for Jesus’ body and interrogating His followers, Clavius is witness to events that prompt him to leave his duties and undertake a quest in pursuit of the truth. I’ll refrain from saying more, should anyone reading this wish to watch the film. (I recommend it.)

I’ve seen “Risen” several times before. But what struck me this time was the farewell scene between Christ and His followers toward the end of the film. As He leaves them, He charges this small group — 11 men who owned little more than the clothes on their backs — with bringing the Good News to the world.

Looking back 2,000 years, it seems impossible that these poor, practically illiterate fishermen and farmers could transform the world. And yet, that is exactly what they did. Their evangelism launched Christianity, a religion that spread across the planet and formed the basis for what we now call “Western civilization,” with all its accomplishments: literary, artistic, musical, architectural, philosophical, political, moral.

That remarkable edifice is under attack.

The threat lies not so much in wars or persecution engaged in by governments or believers of other faiths (although that is certainly taking place throughout the world) but in the softening of Christians’ own resolve, the weakening of our belief in the rightness of our faith, our willingness to watch our values undermined and the institutions built upon those values eroded and corrupted. We stand silent, buffeted by a barrage of euphemisms like “tolerance,” “diversity” and “compassion.” In the absence of the core principles of our faith upon which those concepts ought to be grounded, they become twisted and warped — little more than excuses for moral relativism and anarchy.

Much will be lost if Christianity loses its hold on the world, but too many think that we can have all of Christianity’s benefits without its beliefs. A recent interview with renowned atheist and author Richard Dawkins is illustrative.

Speaking on Easter Sunday on the talk show “Leading Britain’s Conversations,” Dawkins said he was “horrified that Ramadan was being promoted” by the British government rather than Easter. Despite a history of ridiculing Christianity (and religious belief generally), Dawkins referred to himself as a “cultural Christian” who loves hymns and Christmas carols, and “feels at home in the Christian ethos.” The number of people who are believing Christians is statistically shrinking, Dawkins said, and he’s happy about that. “But,” he demurred, “I would not be happy if we lost all our cathedrals and our beautiful parish churches.”

So, he wants a bunch of empty buildings, bereft of purpose because no one worships there anymore?

The show’s host pressed Dawkins on this point, asking his opinion about the planned and ongoing erection of nearly 6,000 mosques across Europe. Dawkins was oddly adamant. “If I had to choose between Christianity and Islam,” he said, “I’d choose Christianity every single time.” He described Christianity as “a fundamentally decent religion in a way that Islam is not.” But, lest anyone think Dawkins has moved from his earlier positions, he said, “I like to live in a culturally Christian country although I do not believe a single word of the Christian faith.”

What rubbish.

Dawkins isn’t a “cultural Christian.” He is a sociocultural “free rider.” That term is sometimes used to describe those who are not vaccinated against diseases like polio, measles and pertussis, but who are nevertheless protected because most people are vaccinated. Similarly, Dawkins is safe in his unbelief, comfortably ensconced in a country whose institutions were built upon Christian values and principles, and where a majority of people still adhere to them.

Ultimately, however, you cannot have a “Christian ethos” without believing Christians. In the absence of the faith, the values that form the basis for that ethos will fade away, and something else will take their place. There is no guarantee that it will be as peaceful, as “fundamentally decent” or as conducive to prosperity and human flourishing.

Just before He was crucified, Christ said that His kingdom was “not of this world.” And when He made Peter the first head of His church, He swore that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” The primary role of Christianity is the salvation of souls. But that does not mean that we can ignore Christianity’s beneficial role in making this world a better place. Those of us who value it must fight to preserve it.


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