Last Word: Anarchy

Picture the scene. Boris and Jeremy join forces. Conservatives and Labour make a pact. Two warring parties work together to usurp a new political force in their capital.

On the eve of a general election, it all sounds rather improbable. But in 33AD – in a nation perhaps more politically divided than our own – it happened. ‘And they sent to [Jesus] some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk.’ (Mark 12:13)

The Pharisees were accepted by some as the true authority owing to their zeal for the law. The Herodians were accepted by others because of their association with Herod. Yet remarkably these two political foes join forces to raze a new king surging in the Jerusalem polls – Jesus.

How do they seek to fell him? They try to tie him to a more powerful and more unpopular authority. No, not Trump… but Rome. They throw Jesus a coin – a hated silver denarius. A coin worth a day’s wages and a coin that represented Roman taxation. And they ask Jesus if they should pay it. If Jesus says ‘no’ the authorities will seize him. If Jesus says ‘yes’ the masses will riot. It’s heads Jesus loses; it’s tails they win.

Yet this episode ends not in anarchy, but in amazement as Jesus sticks to his previous allegory – the Parable of the Tenants (Mark 12:1-11). For as Jesus explained to the crowds, the vineyard (which represented God’s kingdom) will now be given to others. God’s kingdom, which God’s people were previously born into, would now be given to those born of the Spirit – those able to recognise the owner’s son.

No longer a nation state

Hence, shortly after Mark 12, God’s true people became God’s true vineyard. God’s kingdom would no longer be a nation state. The Church, comprised of every nation, would be the alternative polis where pleasing spiritual fruit may be offered to the owner.

As a result, Christians live in two kingdoms. They are citizens of both Church and state. Their true citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), yet their earthly citizenship remains. They receive the passport of baptism when they enter the Church, but their actual passports are not also thrown into the river upon profession. British Christians belong to the truly united kingdom, Christ’s Church, yet they also belong to the literal United Kingdom.

So returning to 33AD, and the political question about authority and taxation… do God’s people submit to a vile government? Jesus’s response is striking: ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ (Mark 12:17).

His political riposte is not only stunningly clever, it is stunningly instructive. According to Jesus this evil, pagan, non-Christian Roman government is a legitimate authority. The fact that God’s people now live in his kingdom under his law does not remove the fact that they still live in particular kingdoms with particular laws.

Evangelicals may feel disgruntled about the United Kingdom in which we live today. We might feel even more disgruntled post-election. Yet on 13 December – when we shall know the victor – we are to remember that whether it is a Boris or Jeremy government (or, who knows, even a Jo or Nigel government) we are to be subject to them.

‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.’ (Romans 13:1-2)

Does that mean that Boris or Jeremy are to be obeyed in all things? No, Christians must be willing to disobey their government if the state tells them to do something which is directly opposed to King Jesus’ law.

When Emperor Nero, a few years later, told Christians to worship him. Christians did not trot out, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ and bow. They were slain for such ‘rebellion’, as many brothers and sisters are, sadly, today. We must certainly be willing to disobey the UK Government and face the consequences.

Yet what of those who will govern us in 2020? The next section of Mark 12 reminds us that not only are our rulers tenants of a momentary kingdom, but that they will rise to judgement. During their fleeting season of power, politicians may band together against the risen and reigning King (as the Herodians and Pharisees did), but we are to remember that Christ will soon usher in His forever kingdom.

‘Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’ (Psalm 2:10–12)

Jonathan Worsley is also pastor of Kew Baptist Church, London.

No New Testament

People slept on the streets outside bookshops the night before the launch of The Testaments this September.

The day of the launch was marked by a programme live-streamed to cinemas across the globe containing an interview with the author and readings from the book. This was, The Guardian told us, ‘the literary event of the year’, with hype on a Harry Potter level.

The centre of attention wasn’t, however, a phenomenon of children’s publishing, but a sequel (and in some ways a prequel) which followed 34 years after Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.

This first book is a well-respected dystopian feminist text, often set for A-level and known for its subtle exploration of fear, loss and longing through the story of Offred, one of the handmaid surrogates brought in to bear children for infertile elite couples in the republic of Gilead. In it we see the distortion of Old Testament narratives to support a totalitarian regime run through surveillance and violence and strict division of the sexes. The three 2017-19 TV series, which extended Atwood’s original and made the handmaid’s red cloak and white winged bonnet an instantly recognisable, have remade (and arguably reduced) the story for the #MeToo generation, reshaping the handmaid as an icon for 21st-century popular feminism.

So, we now have ‘handmaids’ marching against proposed abortion limits and even Kylie Jenner holding a handmaid-themed birthday party. The Handmaid’s Tale, we’re told, has ‘a new prescience in the era of Donald Trump’. Strangely (and this has been noted by others), those marching in Washington don’t seem to dwell on the clearer parallels between the countries under sharia law and the dystopia of Gilead. Nor does anyone seem to apply Atwood’s inditement of surrogacy and polygamy/amory to Western culture today.

If Atwood wrote Th e Handmaid’s Tale against the 1980s backdrop of Soviet totalitarianism and the Iranian Revolution, adding a feminist interpretation of puritan New England, The Testaments has been written against our current background of increasingly mainstream feminism.

It’s also, in a large part, a response to the Handmaid TV show. Atwood acknowledges to her fans that, ‘everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in’. This means that the tone and content of the books are very different. Gone is nuance and fear, in is action and optimism.

The Handmaid’s Tale’s narrator was Offred, a mother and once a wife, now a handmaid. She is essentially a passive character, trapped physically by the regime and bound to her memories of the past. The Testaments has three narrators, whose separate stories become increasingly interwoven as the novel progresses. Of these three, Daisy and Agnes are young girls, one growing up in Gilead, one outside, and Lydia is an ‘Aunt’, a formidable manager of the handmaids and an architect of the system. This means that through Lydia we hear of how Gilead came into being and how complicit women become in their own oppression, scheming against each other for power. Lydia is the most interesting of these narrators, but still, the plot so drives the novel that she isn’t finely drawn.

Like a slightly literary Hunger Games, the story bowls along through its 400+ pages until eventually the baddies (and they really are baddies) are dealt with through sisterly loyalty and a lot of female cunning, as well as some Shakespearean coincidence. Go girl power!

Underneath the action of the thriller-style plot, however, there remains some good Atwood subtlety. When Agnes doubts her faith, she says ‘you feel exiled. As if you are lost in a dark wood’, but is reassured that the Bible tells a different story from Gilead’s doctrine. Still, the shocking Judges 19–21 narrative of the Levite and his concubine referred to in The Handmaid’s Tale makes an appearance here, with, of course no mention of its subtext – that when each of us do ‘as [we] see fit’, disaster for women, and men as well, ensues.

Some readers might see the book as a condemnation of Christianity, and of the danger of a doctrine of revelation which requires submission to an ancient text. But note that in both these books Jesus isn’t mentioned and Bibles are locked up. Gilead religion is all duty, law and power, with no grace and no questions.

What Atwood condemns instead is the extremism possible in any thought system – even MeToo feminism, of which she recently said: ‘Anyone who doesn’t puppet their views is seen as an apostate, a heretic, a traitor, and moderates in the middle are annihilated.’ Her fans may not realise it, but they can be guilty of Gilead-like oppression as well. What should our response be? To open the Bible and point to the God-man who humbled Himself and gave up power to set captives free.

Sarah Allen

Sarah lives in Huddersfield and is a member of Hope Church where her husband is a pastor. She teaches A level English and is currently studying for a Masters in theology.

Bangladesh: Rohingya Christians Persecuted

In September it was reported that a tiny and unknown group of Rohingya Christians have faced violence from some of the 750,000 Muslim Rohingyas who fled Myanmar as refugees.

A church leader told of an upsurge in violence and pleaded for prayers for the estimated ‘several hundreds’ of Rohingya Christian converts from Islam. Already belonging to what some have called the ‘most persecuted people on earth’, the small community of Rohingya believers are now being subjected to anti-Christian violence in the camps in Cox’s Bazaar district.

Violent attack

In May 2019, a group of 17 families (69 people) living next to each other in simple shacks, some with only mud walls and tarpaulin roofs, were violently attacked on at least three consecutive nights by a Muslim mob of several hundred men armed with knives, swords, iron rods, stones and catapults.

A Christian boy was stabbed in the back and needed hospital treatment. A film showed large stones flying over the heads of Christians, including young children, fleeing in a small open truck. The mob also looted possessions, including the equipment of a Christian barber, before destroying his small shop and forcing him to go to the mosque to reconvert to Islam.

Forced back

The May attacks culminated with the threat that the Christians would be killed if they did not leave the camp. The Christians attempted to flee, only to be forced back to the camp by police and security guards. No camp security personnel attempted to protect the Christians and there was no investigation into the attacks.

The rise in violent persecution against Rohingya Christians follows calls by Rohingya Muslims in December 2018 for the Bangladeshi Government to expel Christians from the camps. One asked for Muslim leaders around the world to ‘chase them out of this place’.

Cut off

The isolated community in the camps is cut off from the wider Christian community in Bangladesh.

Rohingya Christians were reported to be struggling to buy food and other necessities due to camp shopkeepers refusing to serve them. These shopkeepers have been under pressure from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA, formerly called Harakah al-Yaqin), an extremist group active in the camps. Christians are also often completely left out when international aid, such as rice and mosquito nets, is distributed by Muslims.

Barnabas Fund is working discreetly to get essential supplies including food, clothes and medication to Rohingya Christians. They are also seeking to repair homes that have been damaged or destroyed, either by violence or by the frequent heavy rains in Bangladesh.

Barnabas Fund

Canada: ‘Making It Up’

An early advocate of ‘gender theory’ now says he was wrong, and admits that, for crucial aspects of his work, he ‘basically just made it up’.

Christopher Dummitt said he was ‘so angry and assertive’ about his views because he was trying to hide the fact that he ‘didn’t have proof’ for much of what he was pushing. In an about-turn published on the Quillette academic website, he said he was disappointed his ‘baseless arguments’ were now being adopted by governments as well as activists.

Bizarre gender theories

Dummitt explained that 20 years ago he was pioneering bizarre gender theories, insisting ‘that there was no such thing as sex’.

‘There’s nothing so certain as a graduate student armed with precious little life experience and a big idea.’ He admitted: ‘The problem is: I was wrong. Or, to be a bit more accurate, I got things partly right. But then, for the rest, I basically just made it up.’

‘I should have known better’

‘In my defence, I wasn’t alone. Everyone was (and is) making it up. That’s how the gender-studies field works. But it’s not much of a defence. I should have known better.’

Dummitt also said the theories were not intellectually sound. ‘[I find it] so disappointing to see that the viewpoints I used to argue for so fervently – and so baselessly – have now been accepted by so many in the wider society’.

He went on to say that his flawed reasoning, is now being used by ‘activists and governments to legislate a new moral code of conduct’.

‘So-called proof’

Dummitt still believes gender roles can be socially constructed, but says critics are right to raise concerns at the ‘so-called proof presented by alleged experts’.

‘Until we have seriously critical and ideologically divergent scholarship on sex and gender, [and peer reviewing is more thorough], then we ought to be very sceptical indeed about much of what counts as “expertise” on the social construction of sex and gender’.

The Christian Institute

Resurrecting Belief

Renowned journalist and author Greg Sheridan explains that the West cannot survive without re-energised trust in the Christian faith

There is no faster way to get yourself classed as dim than by admitting that you hold religious belief, especially Christian belief. Anti-Catholicism used to be the anti-Semitism of intellectuals; now Catholics get no special attention. All believing Christians are regarded as stupid, eccentric or malevolent.

Some conservatives will make the case for the social usefulness of Christian values. The conservative asks: if society prospered with these traditions and customs, is it really wise to throw them away without a moment’s hesitation?

That is just what the West is doing, especially the Anglophone West. Britain, Australia and even the God-fearing United States are becoming atheist societies. Britain is more atheist than Australia, which is more atheist than the US, but the trend of radically-declining belief is undeniable in all three.

This is historically new and it is a very eccentric position for the West to adopt. The vast majority of human beings who have ever lived, and the vast majority alive today, believe in God.

Two explanations for how we got here predominate – the long story and the short. The long traces an evolution over centuries of disillusionment with faith, from the renewed emphasis on humanity in the Renaissance through philosophical challenges to gospel miracles, the discrediting wars of religion, the disassociation of faith and reason in the Enlightenment, and on to our own times of mass affluence and church child abuse scandals.

The other explanation is more straightforward. The West was still widely religious, and religiously observant, until the end of the 1950s. The sexual revolution, the extreme disorientation brought about by the rapid spread of information technology, everything from television to ubiquitous pornography, through to the new conventions of simultaneous abuse and narcissism on social media, mean Christian belief has collapsed in a couple of generations.

The prestige of the West has declined as its belief in Christianity has declined. The world is full of vigorous societies and movements – Chinese and Russian nationalism, Islamism in all its forms, east Asian economic dynamism – which no longer think the West has anything much to say.

I have come to a disconcerting conclusion. The West cannot really survive as the West without a re-energised belief in Christianity. The idea that we can live off Christianity’s moral capital, its ethics and traditions, without believing in it, appeals naturally to conservatives of a certain age. But you cannot inspire the young with a vision which you happily admit arises from beliefs that are fictional and nothing more than long-standing superstition. Christianity is either true, or it’s not much use at all.

That is why I finally decided to write about the truth of Christianity and why, now that I’ve ‘come out’, so to speak, I would encourage other shy Christians to do the same. Owning up to Christian belief is intimidating not only because the culture is so unsympathetic but because you realise how ridiculous it would be to have Christianity judged by your own life. That modesty, however, can also be an excuse for cowardice. And if we leave the defence of Christianity only to the morally qualified, it will be a small platoon.

Dawkins et al assume that faith is irrational. Most British people seem to take it on faith (ironically) that to have faith is stupid. But the way I see it, faith is not the enemy of reason but the basis of reason. First, to be reasonable, I have to have faith in my ability to distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary. Then, for almost everything I know, I need faith in other human beings. I believe I am the son of my late parents. I can’t prove it. It’s a rational belief but not proven. Much of the atheist assault on belief deliberately confuses what it is rational to believe with the much narrower category of what is rationally proven.

Religious belief, of course, is not just the absence of atheism. The fact that belief in God conforms to our intuition, and to the overwhelming history of human experience, is the most powerful evidence for it being true. God is a God of experience. The long human experience of God, and the vast testimony of this, is persuasive.

The culture in the Anglophone West, and much of western Europe, declares this human evidence inadmissible, even as Christianity is partly replaced by every crazy cult you can imagine, from witchcraft to Gaia, with really wacky beliefs mostly given some measure of respect. I saw advertised on the BBC recently a documentary in all seriousness on contemporary witchcraft – exploring the dark side of feminist power, or some such drooling nonsense.

Most of the things alleged against Christian belief turn out, on closer inspection, not to be true. For example, religion is not oppressive but liberating. The most radical statement in favour of human dignity in the ancient world comes in Genesis – human beings are created in the likeness and image of God. When Christianity came along it provided the best deal for women history had offered so far. Each woman, like each man, possessed an immortal soul (though the doctrine of the soul took a little time to develop) and was involved in a personal relationship with the living God.

One of the main reasons Christianity spread so quickly in the years after Christ’s death was its treatment of women and girls. Christian families didn’t kill baby girls, so they had a lot more daughters. As a result they were happier. Christian daughters then converted the pagan men they married.

The Disneyland version of Christian history has it that Jesus was a kindly social worker or at best a political activist – a sort of Jewish Mahatma Gandhi – and the first disciples tried to follow his vague teachings. But then in the fourth century along came Emperor Constantine who made Christianity the state religion and there was nothing but darkness and rule by wicked priests and bishops for a thousand years.

In reality, everything we like about Western liberalism grew directly and organically from Christianity. Tertullian in third–century Carthage declared: ‘Everyone should be free to worship according to their own convictions.’ Benedict in the sixth century established the first democratic, egalitarian communities – the Benedictine monasteries – which combined hard work, social welfare, profound scholarship and a life of prayer. The church wrestled the concept of sin away from that of crime. Both St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas argued that prostitution should not be illegal, because while morally wrong it was inevitable, and the law should not try to enforce every moral teaching.

Across 2,000 years lots of Christians have done lots of bad things. Formal adherence to Christianity does not absolve anyone of the human condition with all its frailties. But Christianity always calls its followers back to the gospel’s first principles.

Liberalism today, in rejecting its Christian roots, is cut off from all limits, all common sense, from a living tradition. It is careening down ever more febrile paths of identity politics, rejecting the Christian universalism from which it sprang. It is harming people in the process. Sociologists have established beyond reasonable doubt that religious belief and practice lead to the greatest human happiness.

There is, however, only one reason that counts for believing in Christianity: it’s true.

Greg Sheridan

This is an edited version of an article published in The Spectator. Greg Sheridan’s latest book – God is Good for You – a defence of Christianity in troubled times, is published by Allen and Unwin and available in the United Kingdom.

Greg Sheridan is the foreign editor of The Australian and has been a visiting fellow at King’s College London this year.