Malcolm Muggeridge was interviewed recently when he was visiting Canada. The interviewers were: Martin Gibling, doctoral student at Ottawa University, Dennis Pape, auxiliary chaplain at the university and pastor of the French Baptist Church in Ottawa, and Sonia Williams, an arts student, also at the university. You may not agree with all of Muggeridge’ s views; we do not, but the interview is thought-provoking, nevertheless. The following article is an edited version of the interview.

Gibling: Why are you a Christian?

Muggeridge: That’s not a simple question for me. I can’t, like some people can, say that on such a minute I was converted, and the whole of my life changed. To me it has been a process, influenced by the professions I’ve practiced in my life—writing, journalism, radio journalism, TV journalism. The world is full of fantasy; there must be some reality somewhere, and the only reality that I’ve found is the reality of the Christian faith. That would be, though oversimplified, how I would explain it.

Gibling: But you have traveled widely yourself in many countries, and I would imagine you have had a wide experience of other religions. Why particularly the Christian?

Muggeridge: Well, when I taught for some years in India, I got to know something about Hinduism. And I taught for a time in Cairo, and my students were Muslims or Coptic Christians. But I think the culture of Western Europe, my culture, finds expression for a Western European most adequately, beautifully, and convincingly in the Christian religion. Perhaps had I been born in Burma, or China, I might have seen it differently. But I think it is true that the culture most people grow up in is related to the religion that appeals to them, and whereas everything in Christianity is related to the literature that I love very much, the music I love, the buildings I know, like the great cathedrals, then that naturally predisposes one to find truth in that. Had I been born somewhere else, then I might have been different.

Gibling: One of your recent books was entitled Jesus: The Man Who Lives. Does the resurrection have an important part in your belief?

Muggeridge: Well, it is a part of the Christian faith. St. Paul said, “If Christ did not rise from the dead, then we are of all men most miserable.” I firmly believe that the Incarnation was a reality. In other words, the idea of God was translated into a man. I never feel that the historical approach to Christianity, or the dogmatic approach to Christianity, is very fruitful. In fact, I think one of the reasons why Christianity is declining is because Christians have been prepared to accept a historical or factual critique of it. I think religion is more like a work of art than a work of philosophy or theology. You see a work of art in its totality, and this impresses one. So does a religion. If you say “Do you believe in such and such and such?” that question does not interest me. It is the totality of the Christian faith as it is expressed in the Gospels, the Epistles, as expressed in the writings of the great Christian mystics, as expressed in the art of the Christians—that seems to me to be true.

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Gibling: It seems to me too that you have always been impressed with the lives of people who have reflected Christian values and their beliefs, like your series on A Third Testament.

Muggeridge: This is because I think a religion is also an experience, rather than a theory. It is something that people live, rather than something they can express as a theory of life. People who live the Christian faith seem to me to convey the reality of religion much better, more fruitfully, than any theoretical abstraction, any set dogma. One of the reasons that I don’t in fact belong to any denomination is because I would resent very much being cross-examined about dogma.

Gibling: Do you feel that the church has relevance in modern society? Because, in the student world particularly, the power and authority of the church is diminishing. Is the church relevant?

Muggeridge: Well, I think the church is relevant, because if Christianity is true, and if the church is in some degree a custodian of Christianity, then it is a custodian of the truth, and truth can never be irrelevant. What was relevance and truth a million years ago, will be so a million years hence. Truth is not a thing that is subject to fashion. The presentation of truth may change, but the central truth cannot lose its relevance. The waning power and influence of the church is a separate thing. That is due to the fact that it had certain affiliations with the structure of power, and those affiliations to a great extent have been lost. I think it might be a good thing for the church that it has. If the church, like the Church of England, is part of the State, part of the setup of power, well, that means that it is committed to the actions of the State. That is very unsatisfactory.

Gibling: How do you see truth as being preserved in society, particularly if there is no dogma?

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Muggeridge: I don’t say there is no dogma. I think it is quite right to have dogma. You need dogma. But I don’t think that they can be equated with, as it were, a scientific proposition, because they are concerned with the dimension of faith, which does not come into the scientific proposition. When I said that I am not going to be cross-examined about dogma, I mean that I am not going to be cross-examined about dogma as though they were scientific propositions. Like, “Do you believe in the Virgin Birth?” as someone might ask, “Do you believe that the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle equals the square of the other two sides?” No, I don’t believe it, in that sense, but I think that with the dimension of faith, which is a gift one gets through believing, that in the light of that, the dogma of the Christian faith are comprehensible, and acceptable, but not in the sense that they are, as it were, propositions.

Williams: Does that mean that if there are no rational propositions, as in science, people cannot understand, appreciate, or consider Christianity, without this dimension of faith? If so, what about dogma?

Muggeridge: Well, I think that without faith Christianity becomes merely a set of propositions, which makes it very admirable, but it is not a religious faith. I think that things like the sacraments are part of this faith. It seems to me that faith is the essential ingredient. I think that it is that extra dimension of faith which makes it difficult to talk about these things to people who have not got it. They say, “How can a woman conceive a child, without going through the normal processes?” because in scientific terms this is impossible.

Gibling: What would you say, for instance, to students who ask you about the question of faith?

Muggeridge: Well, I would say that, first of all, of course, you start off humbly recognizing that the greatest minds, the most creative men and women, for some fifteen or sixteen centuries, have had this faith, and therefore it is absurd to just dismiss it as something that is a mere instance of credulity. Take, for example, Pascal, who was a brilliant intellect, and a most eminent scientist: he came to see in his great apologia of the Christian faith, Les Pensées, that this intellect, that the processes which led him to make remarkable discoveries in science were different processes from the processes which led him to believe in the Christian revelation, though they were related. Therefore, I would say to you first of all, in humility, study the writings of a Pascal, a St. Augustine, a Thomas Aquinas, a Tolstoy, a William Blake. Study these, because these are men to whom faith was a great reality. Then, having done that, in great humility, you may suddenly find that the drama of our Lord’s life, which I quite agree in scientific “either-or” terms is a nonsense, suddenly becomes real: as you might read the drama of King Lear, which is much more real than the vague historical writings about King Lear from which Shakespeare derived the play. Or his Julius Caesar, which he got from Plutarch, a much more profound study of Julius Caesar than Plutarch’s. In humility, and meditation, in prayer, in relating one’s self to the people who have had the greatest insights in these matters that this is the way to go. The way to reach faith is through creative art and literature rather than through metaphysics or theology or a dialectic of any kind. That is how one can understand it.

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Gibling: How does your experience of art and literature, particularly in Europe, contribute to your understanding of the Christian faith?

Muggeridge: To a fantastic degree. Because I think the artists have better understood what faith is and have been able to convey what it is about. I think of books like Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov,” or Tolstoy’s “Resurrection.” These books reveal the nature of the Christian faith better than theological studies, or studies in terms of “contemporary criticism,” “historicity,” and things like that.

Gibling: Do you feel that your own creativity has been enhanced by your understanding of faith?

Muggeridge: I think, in humility, that I can understand reality better.

Pape: The cross of Christ seems so central to the whole Christian story. What do you think about the cross? So many writers think about it as substitution. Christ died for us.

Muggeridge: Well, I think there is no question that it was substitution. To me the cross is central. Take that away and there would be nothing left. In the cross the Resurrection is implied. The cross is one of the most creative and illuminating things in Christianity. Out of this cross and Jesus’ Passion—the scene of suffering and defeat—came two thousand years of creativity and joy and hope. That is the great lesson of the cross. At the same time, there is the sense that through Jesus’ enacting this drama, it is available to all of us to enact, as it were with him, and to receive the same illumination. In that sense, of course, it was for us.

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Pape: So often the cross is spoken of in relation to the sense of man’s guilt and his wrongdoing. Do you see it also in that light?

Muggeridge: I see the cross as an image of man’s inperfection: that man was a fallen creature. Therefore, he and his works are imperfect, but at the same time, through this drama this imperfection can reach after perfection, as through the Incarnation a mortal man can reach after God. It shows us exactly how the inadequacy of our fallen nature can be elevated. In that sense our Lord died for us.

Pape: Do you mean in the sense of restoring the image that we lost?

Muggeridge: That’s right. The Fall involved our degradation. It involved the fact that we are carnal beings. Yet we have this extraordinary possibility that the Incarnation provides, of reaching out from that towards Eternity, which is our true habitat. I like Augustine’s imagery of the earthly city and of the City of God. The Passion is the cable bridge between these two concepts.

Pape: You mean a link between man and God?

Muggeridge: Yes, between time and eternity. A link provided by the Incarnation. It is miraculous and a wonderfully enlarging contribution to human lives. Take away the Incarnation, and what are we? We are simply creatures who play out this little brief drama in time, and then it’s all over; there’s not much to that.

Pape: Then there really is no meaning. It does not matter whether we are good or bad.

Muggeridge: Right. Then you are in the position of the hedonist, or the suicide, or the purely cynical person who says, “Well, here I am briefly, let me snatch what satisfaction I can.” The things you snatch are secondary, unsatisfying things. Then, suddenly, through the Incarnation, you have this new vista, which you can enter into, the image of being re-born, new born. Or, in medical terms, “like coming to, after an anaesthetic.” You have been anaesthetized on the earth, and then you come to, and you see your true life, which our Lord shows.

Gibling: How do you see the issue of human life and abortion, in view of what you have been saying about man’s creation by God, and the Incarnation of Christ?

Muggeridge: Well, I see the act of obliterating a conceived human being as one of the most evil things that could ever happen. A society that would actually tolerate that, or would regard that as a form of humanitarianism, has completely lost all sense of reality, and is therefore doomed. I cannot imagine anything more appalling than that a life that contains the fantastic potential the Incarnation reveals should be put out before it could realize that potential.

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Gibling: Why do you feel that human life is of such great significance?

Muggeridge: Because it is related to the destiny that is revealed to us through the Incarnation. If I did not believe in the Christian revelation, then what is another baby or two? It doesn’t matter very much. Even in worldly terms, though the Western races are destroying themselves by abortion, it is not of great significance. It is only of great significance to the extent that you recognize in the creature a human being, conceived with the potential that was revealed in the Incarnation.

Gibling: How do your experiences in researching the life of Bonhoeffer and of life in German prison camps affect your views on human life?

Muggeridge: Well, it confirmed my feeling that if the Western world adopted similar practices, it would, in one way or another, meet the same end as the Nazi regime. In other words, there was nothing that they could do that would be more destructive or ruinous than to follow this dreadful course. What the Nazis did was, from their point of view, perfectly logical. They did see men as purely “bodies,” and therefore if a body is imperfect, get rid of it. If somebody is coming into being in the womb of a Jewess, and you do not want any more Jews in your society, stop it, and this is quite logical. But of course, as Western peoples come to adopt similar practices, they are simply following in the same way as the Nazis, and they will meet with the same end—destruction. They are offending against the fundamental conditions of civilized existence.

Williams: So, in that way, truth is rational, because of its rational consequences?

Muggeridge: Certainly, certainly. Very true. Human beings themselves, Western people, feel this instinctively. It is very significant to me that they dropped all this clamor for euthanasia when they found out the Nazis had been doing it. It has taken them thirty years to get it out of their system, so that they can face the taunt of following in the steps of the Nazis. And they still don’t like you to mention it. You see, they try to falsify the evidence, and suggest that it was just another piece of Nazi terrorism, but that just is not true. It was perfectly legal, done in a legal way. The German medical profession cooperated fully. It was a logical application of their philosophy of life. And this is what people here who advocate it can’t bear to hear, and which I take every opportunity of assuring that they shall hear! Abortion is part of the same thing. I think, of course, so is contraception. I think the Catholic church is absolutely right. If you divorce eroticism from its purpose, you create the sort of conditions out of which come abortion and euthanasia.

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Gibling: What is the significance of marriage, then, in our modern society?

Muggeridge: You young people talk about modern society as if it were something other! I see the significance of marriage exactly as I would have if I had been born many centuries ago. It is a relationship between a man and a woman. As it happens, my own marriage has been exceedingly happy; I had my golden wedding anniversary this year. When I think of that, and what a lifelong companionship like that is worth at the end of one’s days, and the joy of having children and grandchildren, it overwhelms me. To prefer the sort of fugitive or passing fancies for which young people today are prepared to sacrifice all their lives seems to me absolutely laughable. They throw away something of infinite value. You see again, “God is not mocked,” and unless you recognize the Christian basis of marriage and the value of the Christian home, this is what will happen. If marriage is erotic satisfaction, then it is quite clear that monogamy won’t meet that need. It only meets that need if it represents something much more than that.

Gibling: So you feel upset and concerned about the trends to relax certain sexual practices?

Muggeridge: No, I wouldn’t say I feel upset. Again, it is the question of the greatest drama in existence. It works itself out, and we cannot judge it altogether. When people say “I am upset about the behavior of the young,” or “I am worried about what is happening in Bulgaria,” I never feel like that myself. I think that certain things produce certain consequences. If you say, “I demand sexual gratification, irrespective of any institution, and I demand the right to prevent its consequences,” then I know what will happen to man. Namely: unhappiness. The busting up of the Christian way of life will soon follow. I’m not upset about it, because the consequences are obvious. I feel entitled to point out what the consequences will be.

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Gibling: It seems to me that your views on abortion have a little more emotion in them.

Muggeridge: They have emotion in them, because I love children a great deal. And I love the whole idea of the continuing life. When you are old and see your grandchildren, it is a very beautiful thing. You are coming to the end of your life; they are beginning theirs. You recognize in them similarities to yourself and to your wife. These things are very beautiful, and they give you a tremendous sense of the glory of life. Therefore, this idea that just out of some whim or fancy a woman would be prepared to sacrifice such a tremendous thing is sad.

Gibling: What alternative do you see for people who are considering abortion? How should they cope with this kind of problem?

Muggeridge: They should not have abortions! People have only started having abortions recently. Abortion was unknown when I was your age. You never heard of anyone having an abortion. It was awfully inconceivable.

Pape: Isn’t the question of abortion, though, the result of the liberalization of sex? Shouldn’t we address that question?

Muggeridge: I relate the two; I refuse to separate them. I think it is ridiculous to talk about abolishing abortion. You must talk of abolishing contraception. If you have contraception, you will have abortion. And the two are connected. This is my emphasis.

Williams: Isn’t that rather impractical? What does that mean in terms of overpopulation? In India, for example?

Muggeridge: In practical terms, my dear girl, that’s a lot of phooey. Overpopulation in Canada and Australia! This is part of the most ludicrous con trick I’ve ever known. Imagine twenty million Canadians spread in this huge country! Or the Australians, just clinging to a tiny bit of the coast. When they go to London, they ask what is going to happen to them!

Williams: What about the Indians?

Muggeridge: The Indians? Of course, I’ve lived in India, and know it pretty well. There again, it’s rubbish to say it is overpopulated. The point is, of course, that the whole economy of the world is cockeyed. I mean, it is utterly ridiculous that there should be such enormous consumption in one little bit of it. If the world wanted to, Indian agriculture could be stimulated to produce different foods to support all those people. Clearly, the idea that there is no food for them is absolute nonsense. If the resources of the world were used for that purpose, instead of for such trivial, selfish purposes, there would be enough. The population explosion is one of the great examples of how human beings invent ridiculous things to justify their own selfishness. When I was young, they used to do it about the poor, you see. They would say, “Well, of course the poor live in the slums. They are always having children. There are too many of them.” They used to do it about Ireland. They used to say: “The Irish! They are always producing children. What can you do?” Then they would order another chop, and a bottle of wine! I mean, the whole thing is quite ridiculous. All those things are a lot of nonsense. I know you won’t believe it, but they were all invented to justify selfishness.

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Williams: So we have been brainwashed?

Muggeridge: Yes, you have been brainwashed. If you take just a simple thing: supposing you were able to send people out to India with contraceptives. They are very abhorrent, you know, to Indian women, with their ethical sense, their love of children, and their whole idea of life, which is to bear children. They are sorry if anyone cannot have children, or if they have few children. The idea is that this would solve the question. First of all, it hasn’t reduced the problem, because they don’t choose them, the simple country folk. Secondly, insofar as it has been effective, it is the middle class Indian, the Western-educated Indian, who has adopted this horrible practice, and they are the very people, in a sense, who are wanted. I mean, it is likely that they would be engineers and doctors. They have reduced their numbers, but village people haven’t. If you were to halve the population of India tomorrow, there would be only half as much food, because the bulk of the population is engaged in producing food. I mean, it is astonishing that so ridiculous a proposition could be widely believed.

Williams: Getting more personal, I find it appealing to have the safety of not having children until I want to begin to raise a family.

Muggeridge: My dear, you must judge it for yourself. But it has not been my experience of life that there is anything to be gained from that. I think it is beautiful for women to have children when they are young. It is a joyful thing. It doesn’t stop people from doing anything that really matters, only from doing stupid things. That is my view. It is a very beautiful thing to see a young woman having her first child. You know, there is a glow about it, when these things are fresh and new. Then to think I must go and have a tour of Italy, or something, before that! To me it is complete nonsense.

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Gibling: So your personal experience of marriage has in no way damaged your sense of personal enjoyment?

Muggeridge: It has enhanced it. But of course I have behaved as badly as anybody else. I am not setting myself up as a pattern of good behavior. I just mean that the institution of marriage and the family is a wonderful thing.

D. Bruce Lockerbie is chairman of the Fine Arts department at The Stony Brook School, Stony Brook, New York. This article is taken from his 1976 lectures on Christian Life and Thought, delivered at Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.

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