RUNNING AWAY FROM REALITY
Christianity is of all religions the most earthy. It asserts that God actually immersed himself in human existence for thirty years or so in the first century of our era. It professes to make a profound difference to the way ordinary people behave in their daily lives. So to say that Christianity is escape from reality is a pretty damaging charge.
But that is precisely what people do say. Psychologists and Communists take the lead, and a great many ordinary people with no particular axe to grind agree with them: Christianity is an illusion. To be brutally frank, Christians are escapists, hiding their heads, ostrich-like, in the sands of religion, in order to remain cosily insulated from the stark realities of everyday life. Christianity is the religious man's world of fantasy, his particular type of escape hatch for getting away from it all.
Such is the charge. It merits most careful attention The very fact that so many people believe this about the Christian faith suggests there may be some truth in it. I have no doubt that the church has its quota of escapists, like any other group of people. There are many weak characters who cannot face the reality of their position. There are plenty of Christians in psychiatric wards. There are also many nominal churchmen whose escapism takes a religious form: they call Jesus 'Lord, Lord' but have no intention of involving themselves in costly discipleship; Jesus called them 'wolves in sheep's clothing' of whom he would have to say on the Judgment Day, 'I never knew you.' But these various escapisms to be found among Christians do not, in themselves invalidate Christianity. The vital question is this. Is there reason to suppose that Christianity itself is found upon a fantasy world? Is the basis of the Christian faith so insubstantial that to believe it must be wishful thinking, sheer escapism? That is the question. It is a question which has been put with great force by two giants of nineteenth century, Marx and Freud. It is a quest which demands an answer.
RELIGION: THE OPlATE OF THE PEOPLE ?
The Marxist charge
Communists, following Karl Marx, regard religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as a soporific drug administered by the bourgeoisie to keep the workers docile when they should be rising up in rebellion to shake off their chains. Karl Marx observed the appalling social injustices which went on unchecked in supposedly Christian England in the last century; he saw that victims of injustice in this life were assured by churches of bliss in the next, and in righteous resentment he coined the famous statement, 'Religion is the opiate of the people'. He saw it as the illusory compensation offered to the oppressed, the bogus palliative for the ills of a hopelessly perverted society; and he maintained that religion would die a natural death as soon as true socialism came in.
No-one could deny that Marx had plenty of justification for coming to this conclusion. 'There was sickening hypocrisy in Victorian religion which often appears to have been a sop offered by the exploiters to the exploited. But the best preachers of the day were just as vehement as Marx himself in denouncing this state affairs. They were well aware that Christianity has strong social implications. Charles Spurgeon had thousands flocking to his church each week; he was constant in his attack on formalism and hypocrisy in religion. He castigated employers who cheated their workers and snobs who indulged in class distinction.
This should not in the least surprise us: after all, both are lambasted in the Epistle of James in the New Testament, not to mention the books of the Old Testament, where matters of social justice occupied the attention of the prophets more than any other single theme. In the last century the 'conformists' went to church; today they stay away. This means that there were large numbers of 'hangers on in the Victorian churches who remained untouched by the spirit and attitudes of true Christianity.
But there is nothing more shattering in the teaching of Jesus than his biting invective against formalism, which was as rife then as it was in Victorian England. There certainly was a religion which was the opiate of the people in the first century, and Jesus was scathing in his denunciation of those who dispensed it. 'You devour widows houses and for a pretence you make long prayers', he said. 'Woe to you, hypocrites, . . . how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?' He compared them to their cherished whitewashed tombs, beautiful enough on the outside but revolting within. Ought not Marx to have remembered that, so far from detracting from the value of the genuine article, the existence of counterfeits enhances it?
It was indeed a ghastly thing that little children had to climb up chimneys to clean them for a fifteen-hour day at derisory wages in a country that professed the Christian faith. But during the Industrial Revolution something verging on absolute power became vested in comparatively few men. And they demonstrated the truth of Lord Acton's dictum, 'All power tends to corrupt: absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.' What the horrors perpetrated in the last century really show is not that religion is dope, but that no man is good enough to be allowed absolute power over any one else. And that is a thesis which is Christian through and through: man has a sinister twist in his nature, and without the power of Christ to counteract this, he is likely to become increasingly self-centred. The ugly results of human self-centredness are equally evident in capitalist and in Communist societies. One has only to recall the atrocities of Russian leaders to appreciate both the falsity of the Communist theory that once you remove the economic injustices from society men will behave well, and the truth of the Christian claim that all men suffer from the disease of self-will to which Christ provides if not the total cure (in this life) at least the antidote.
The Marxist mistake
Karl Marx never examined Christianity with any care. He was wilfully blind, in fact, to the historical evidence. Not bothering to look into it for himself, he swallowed the absurd theories about Christian origins put forward by Strauss and Bauer which have many times been decisively refuted. The fantastic thing is that they still figure in Communist propaganda. Christianity arose in the second century AD as a revolt of the masses; Jesus was a mythological figure, and nobody tried to claim his historicity until the middle of the second century; the New Testament writings arose mostly in the second century too, and are totally unreliable. This is the sort of rubbish which is churned out with parrot-like regularity even in comparatively serious atheistic journals like Sputnik Ateista. It comes straight out of Karl Marx, and it is laughably untrue.
The view that Christianity was a mass movement arising from the frustrations of the common man in the war-weary world of the mid-second century is a particularly unfortunate gaffe on Marx's part: that age was one of the most prosperous, contented and stable periods in history! And so far from being a drug to dull the pain of agonized society, Christianity brought to the ancient world a most powerful injection of social equality. Here was a religion which preached that masters and slaves were on precisely the same footing before Cod. The former would have to give account to their Master in heaven of how they had treated their slaves; the latter were to work to please their heavenly Master, not just to get by with their earthly boss. What is more, the Christians acted on this belief. Master and slave were knit together in a bond of love for each other and for Christ who had forgiven them. This love eventually led to the breakdown of class distinction in the
Empire. In the meantime, it produced an attitude like that of Paul in his letter to Philemon, the owner of the
criminal runaway slave Onesimus. Paul had led this man to faith in Christ, just as he had earlier been instrumental in the conversion of Philemon; and he wrote to the latter asking him to receive Onesimus 'no longer as a slave, but. . . as a dear brother, very dear indeed to me and how much dearer to you, both as man and as Christian' (Philemon 16). Not much opiate about that sort of religion!
Unfortunately, Marx never knew what genuine religion was about. Reared in a family which changed its religion as a matter of convenience, brought up in a circle which amused itself by pulling the New Testament to pieces, he had to eke out a precarious living at a time when the state church was practically synonymous with the forces of reaction. No wonder he thought religion the opiate of the people. Christianity is not the drug he thought it was, but the accident of history by which Marx grew up in surroundings where the church was so
far astray from its moorings has had world-wide repercussions. Christians must face this with humility and
shame as they hold dialogue wfth Communists. Marx did get the wrong end of the stick about the Christian faith; but it was by no means all his fault.
The Communists have enthusiastically taken up Marx's views on Christianity. Lenin thought it a deliberate attempt by the ruling classes to keep the masses subservient (in the hopes of a heavenly reward), whilst they themselves salved their consciences by engaging in a little philanthropy. This, he wrote, offered them 'cheap justification for all their exploiting' and 'low price tickets to heavenly bliss'. He originally reckoned that it was not necessary to repress religion; it would die naturally when the social conditions which gave rise to it had been revolutionized. But soon persecution set in; religion was poison running through the veins of society, and a crusade must be launched against it. In the fifty years of Communist rule Soviet governments have wavered between these two admittedly contradictory attitudes to Christianity. Surely one or other of these policies should have worked, if their assessment of religion is correct.
The Communist hatred of religion is, of course, very understandable. The Russian Orthodox Church was in a terrible state at the beginning of the twentieth century. It appeared to be a mere tool in the hands of the Czar, and was implicated in some of the most appalling abuses of government and oppression of the poor. Ghastly
crimes were perpetrated under the aegis of the church. Here, surely, was ample justification for the MarxistLeninist view of religion. Could such a guilty institution survive ?
The revolutionaries were persuaded that it could not. Accordingly, early in 1918 all church property was confiscated, priests disenfranchized, seminaries closed, religious teaching except inside church buildings forbidden, Christian marriage replaced by a civil ceremony - and the church was left to die. But the church refused to die. Persecution was therefore added as early as 1921in order to accelerate the process; in 1929 it was one of the main aims of the first Five Year Plan, and so it has continued, with a few intermissions, ever since. One of these periods of relaxation was the Second World War. During the rigours of the German invasion churches were reopened, museums of atheism closed, church bells heard again on the radio, and the whole country called to prayerl Then with Stalin's savage repressive measures after the war, the battle against this obstinate illusion of Christianity was joined again. The story is well told in Michael Bordeaux's book, Opium of the People, and Nikita Struve's Christians in Contemporary Russia. These books show the vicious methods in force against the Christians, and the intense atheist propaganda which is disseminated
in Russia, while there is, of course, no right to reply. But has the church collapsed ? Far from it. It is stronger than ever. The Baptists and the Orthodox (purged and refined by all they have been through) are both flourishing like hardy oak trees in a winter storm. The Bolshevik theory that religion was illusory, the prop of a decadent capitalist society, has been proved wrong. As Dostoevsky wrote in The Idiot, The religious instinct will not succumb to any argument or to any form of atheism.
One cannot help feeling that many Communists know in their heart of hearts that they are running away from the truth by this senseless persecution of religion. The return of Stalin's own daughter, Svetlana, to religious faith speaks volumes for what is going on in thoughtful circles in the USSR. It reminds one of the resilience of Christianity in Germany after the determined attempts of the Nazis to suppress it. Ironically enough, Hitler's headquarters in Berlin are now a Chriscian chapel. Hitler's lieutenant, Martin Bormann, was passionately anti-Christian. During the War he wrote home to his wife, 'See that none of our children get corrupted by that poison, Christianity.' Today seven of his nine children are decided Christians; at least one of them is a missionary.
History is strewn with the graves of those who have thought to bury the church. It would seem that the Russian authorities sense this; for they are remarkably unwilling to face the evidence about Christianity. Bibles are strictly forbidden. Debates with believers are frowned on; they could lead to conversions, and frequently do.
Michael Bordeaux draws attention to the fact that 'no atheist ringleader has ever dared allow those under him to study the Bible, even for the purpose of spying out the enemy's territory in order to conquer it'. He records his own distress at the sheer intellectual dishonesty of Alexander Osipov, the Leningrad Professor of Old Testament who apostasized and became the regime's prize exhibit in the campaign against religion. In answer to Bordeaux's question asking how a biblical scholar like himself could completely ignore the historic person of Jesus in his lecture, Osipov replied that Jesus Christ had never lived: this had been virtually proved by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Christian story, he continued, was merely one version of the Near-Eastern myth about a dying and rising god and was invented by the early shurch to compensate for their privations at the hands of the Romans. This cock-and-bull story, as Bordeaux points out, would have been simply laughable if the Russian public had any access to the Scrolls: but, of course; they are not published in Russia.
The whole sad incident underlines the unwillingness of the Communists to examine evidence on this matter They are running away from reality. Recently Moscow Radio had to abandon an advertised broadcast attacking Christianity as a source of immorality (the official party line) because nobody could be found to sustain the argument! The escapist attitude that is disclosed by incidents such as this hardly adds weight to their theory that Christians are the people who are running away. And it distresses some honest atheists, as the following quotation shows: 'What impresses me . . . is that atheism today seems to have given up the search for truth. Facts and arguments which tell against it are dismissed in silence.'
The Marxist attack on religion is itself a form of escapism. The very intensity of their persecution of Christians is some evidence of a bad conscience about this flight from reality into fantasy. Eugene Lyons, once an ardent Communist, has shown in his celebrated Workers' Paradise Lost the many respects in which Communism clings to illusions in the face of unpalatable facts. Once an ardent admirer of Communism, he has left their camp, bitterly disappointed. Many of Douglas Hyde's friends were forced into a similar position by sheer disillusionment. But he himself left Communism for Christianity; and he is in no doubt that he left the world of illusion for the world of reality. For many years News Editor of the Daily Works, he wrote as follows in his book, I Believed: 'Six men who like me were Communists or fellow travellers, and who left the Movement disillusioned, called their story "The God that failed". They lost a faith, though it was a bad one, and in most cases found only a vacuum. I was more fortunate. I lost my Communism because I had been shown something better. I did not find it easy to get to know my new God . . . But one thing is certain. My God has not failed.'
RELIGION: THE FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION ?
The future of an illusion
You do not have to dabble very deep in psychology before coming across Freud's view of religion as an obsessional neurosis. He wrote several books about it, the most trenchant being entitled The Future of an Illusion. He believed that when Christians talk about their heavenly Father, all they are doing is to project into the empty skies their image of their own father. This illusion arises from the subconscious need for protection and comfort once a person out grows the childhood phase in his own home. Freud believed that in psychoanalysis he had found the answer to this universal neurosis.
His position, which is often thoughtlessly adopted by those who know little of psychology and less of the Christian faith, exposes itself to a number of criticisms. For one thing, Freud was as ignorant of genuine Christianity as was Karl Marx. He spent all his time among the abnormal and mentally ill, and this inevitably influenced his judgment.
This occupational hazard had an important consequence. He quite failed to distinguish between religious fantasy as observed in the mentally sick, and religion as an eminently reasonable attitude to life adopted by a very large number of healthy and intelligent people. Once you start accepting an abnormal person's view as the criterion of truth in religion, you might as well accept the reliability of his evaluation of everything else including the usefulness of psychiatry! W. B. Selbie said very truly, if not very kindly, in his Christianity and the New Pyschology, 'Many of the psychologists are living in a fantasy world of their own, and the kind of religion they are dealing with is largely the product of their own not very healthy imaginations.' One might add in passing that this criticism could apply to Jung as well as to Freud. He assumed that Christianity was an amalgam of fantasy and emotionalism, and he was forced to justify this assumption by asserting that we know nothing of the Jesus of history - a brand of escapism which we examined in chapter one.
A further difficulty in the position which Freud maintained, and which has had such wide repercussions, is the boomerang nature of the argument. He writes off Christianity as wish-fulfilment and obsessional neurosis, but is blandly unaware that the same arguments could be applied to his own pan-sexual theory of psychoanalysis. Could it not be that this is an illusion? Did Freud not suffer an obsessional neurosis about sex ? Such a criticism goes near the bone. It has been advanced by many serious psychologists. How about 'the beginnings of art, religion, ethics and society all meet in the Oedipus complex' as a piece of obsessional nonsense? Yet this was Freud's fantastic claim in Totem and Tabu. Those who write off what they do not understand as illusory must not be surprised at the retort of tu quoque.
The illusion of a future
Freud himself suffered from two obsessional illusions. One was the omnicompetence of science; the other the omnicompetence of psychoanalysis. He lived, admittedly, in the early days of scientific optimism, when men had some grounds for believing that it would solve all human problems. In his attack on religion in The Future of an Illusion he wrote, 'Science is no illusion. But it would be an illusion to suppose that we could get anywhere else what it cannot give us.' What a hollow ring there is about those words after the things our generation has lived through. What a naive hope, in view both of the diabolical weapons for destruction which scientific advance has equipped us with, and of the world problems such as race rioting, ever-increasing crime, and the selfish refusal of the 'haves' to deal realistically with the hunger problem of the 'have-nots'. These are not problems to which science holds the key; selfish human nature is to blame for their threatening menace, and selfish human nature is not transformed into love by any scientific process. H. W. Puner in her book Freud made this comment on his scientific optimism: 'Thus one of the world's most determined disillusionists falls into the trap of ruthlessly tearing from life one of man's great illusions (i.e. religion), only to substitute another.' Freud may have suspected as much when, in his later years, jack-booted Nazis, following his own materialistic and determinist principles (though utterly devoid of his personal courtesy and kindness) kicked him out of house and home in Vienna, and sent him packing as a refugee to England. Even if he did not recognize the extent of his miscalculation, some of his most acute admirers did. Theodor Reik, in his book From Thirty Tears with Freud, trenchantly criticized this hope of a religionless scientific Utopia as 'the illusion of a future'.
The limitations of psychoanalysis
If scientific optimism was one of Freud's illusions, the infallibility of analysis was the other. The claims he made for it have been recognized by many psychologists since his day as an unconscious attempt to establish a new and rival religion. Curiously enough, this is precisely what has happened in Soviet Russia, with the cult of Lenin. Not only is his tomb a place of constant pilgrimage, where even tough Communists pause to cross themselves and pray, but there are notices posted up in Russian factories to encourage production, such as 'Lenin sees you', 'Work for Lenin'. Many of the world's iconoclasts are quite unconscious of the new god in whose name they slay the old. Freud certainly was. 'Because his concept of reality was so narrow,' wrote H. L Philp in Freud and Religious Belief, 'he attempted to explain too much in terms of wishful thinking; and his attempt was probably the functioning of his own wishful thinking -his wish to explain everything in terms of his child and idol, psychoanalysis.' Philp's book provides a carefu1 critique of Freud's views on religion, and it is all the more valuable because its author, unlike Freud who knew no theology and little about the Bible, is both a practising psychologist (with a healthy respect for Freud's clinical work) and a Christian theologian. Nor is he an isolated case of a psychologist who is a practising Christian. There are plenty of them. H. C. Rumke, Professor of Psychology at Utrecht, was even more forthright than Philp. In The Psychology of Unbelief he not only convincingly rebutted Freud's claim that religion is an illusion, but also gave good reasons for supposing that unbelief is a symptom of arrested development.
None of these men would want to belittle the value of analysis. But their essential point is this. Granted that psychoanalysis can bring out, under favourable circumstances, the best that is in a patient, nevertheless it cannot supply anything extra to support weak personalities. Hear the distinguished psychiatrist Stafford Clark. 'Thrown back on himself he (the patient) finds no comfort and no solace in this final attempt at self-sufficiency. This is the crisis in analysis, and within its own framework analysis has no answer. The patient, groping beyond himself for the final answer, cannot get it from the analyst; for the transference, even if it were sufficient, cannot be maintained for a lifetime . . . Where, then, can a man turn ? If full self-awareness and self-realization are not by themselves enough, what is? As a psychiatrist I know of no answer to this question: as a man I can only say with all humility that I believe in God.'
What, you may ask, is to be gained by quoting Stafford Clark against Freud? If the one believes God is a reality and the other regards him as an illusion, what does that show ? Merely that when making judgments about God, psychologists are giving their own opinion, not the findings of their science. Psychology can no more be wed either to bolster up or to discredit Christianity than the physical sciences can. Like them, psychology is a descriptive, not a prescriptive discipline. It analyses the nature and origin of people's beliefs, but it cannot dogmatize upon their truth or falsity. This must be established by other means. Now it may be that Freud is right in supposing that the Christian belief in the fatherly love of God is a reversion to our childhood father image which we project into the empty heavens. On the other hand, it may be the case that there is a God, and that he is best described as Father; indeed, as Ephesians 3:15 asserts, all human fatherhood may derive from him. Let us try to discover which of these two answers is the true one by applying certain tests to the Christian claim that God is real, and that relationshup with him is no illusion. There are three which seem appropriate.
Three tests of validity
The first is the test of history. Christianity, as we have repeatedly seen, is a historical religion. To dispose of it, you must first get rid of, or explain away, its Founder. And that is a very difficult thing to do. As we saw in chapter one, various theories have been propounded which attempt to explain Jesus as a myth, and these have very properly been decisively discarded. The demythologizing debate raging on the Continent since Bultmann's famous essay in 1941, The New Testament and Mythology, is too complex a subject to go into here; sufficient to say that it uses the word 'myth' in a highly sophisticated way that certainly does not mean 'untrue' or illusory'. Moreover neither Bultmann nor his followers made the mistake of joining hands with the Christ-myth school; they never denied the historical nature of Jesus of Nazareth. The folly of all attempts to get rid of this historical Jesus was long ago exposed by Sir James Frazer, author of The Golden Bough, though he was no friend to Christianity. 'The doubts which have been cast on the historical reality of Jesus are in my judgment unworthy of serious attention. Quite apart from the positive evidence of history, the origin of a great moral and religious reform is incredible without the personal existence of a great reformer. To dissolve the founder of Christianity into a myth is as absurd as to do the same with Mohammed, Luther or Calvin.'
But granted the historicity of Jesus, what are we to make of him ? His impact on the world was no illusion; why, we even date our era from his birth. His life of love and integrity, of courage and insight, unparalleled in the annals of mankind, is no illusion. There is nothing illusory about his claims to share God's character and attributes in a unique way. These are either true or sheer megalomania. His death was real enough, on the rough gibbet of a Roman cross. You may, of course, say that the idea of his resurrection is illusory, but if you do, you must in all good conscience be able to suggest a credible alternative. This has never been done. But by all means have a shot. You must explain the rise of the Christian movement, with nothing distinctive about it apart from the disciples' conviction that in Jesus crucified and risen they had the key to the meaning of life, to the character of God, to the destiny of believers. You must explain why Jesus's dispirited followers suddenly came to believe in his resurrection so passionately that they were prepared to confront hostile authorities, threatening crowds and death itself in the assurance that he was alive and with them still. There will be other little problems that require looking into: the empty tomb, the change of the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday, the amazing spread of the church, and, of course, the very existence of Christianity at all, not to mention the creation of the New Testament. In short, there is no lack of evidence about Jesus of Nazareth, upon whom the Christian religion is fairly and squarely based. The idea that Christianity is wish-fulfilment or self-delusion is shipwrecked on the solid rock of history.
The second test of the validity of Christian experience is character. Wherever this faith has appeared across the world and down the ages it has had notable effects upon those who practised it. It has made the immoral chaste, the greedy generous, the selfish loving, the cheat honest. It would be remarkable if an illusion produced this effect occasionally; but when you find the same effects constantly produced in prince and peasant, black and white, learned and illiterate, then you have every reason to regard this change as something real. An interesting testimony to this transformation of character brought about by the Christian faith is given by Charles Darwin. Commending the work of one Mr Fegan, preacher in his own village, Darwin said, 'Your services have done more for the village in a few months than all our efforts for many years. We have never been able to reclaim a single drunkard, but through your services I do not know that there is a drunkard left in the villagel' I heard only the other day of a striking example of the changed character the Christian faith creates. An engineer friend of mine told me, 'I have just met a woman of about thirty. A short while previously she had been a main-line heroin addict practising prostitution in one of our big cities. She had four children, all by different men, and suffered from severe psychological problems. One night she was walking the streets. Seeing the bright lights of a new coffee bar she went in. It so happened that this was run by a Christian group,
and soon a clergyman was sitting alongside her listening to her pouring out her story. As a result she was brought to the special house for drug addicts where I met her.
'Looking at her now across the room it was hard to imagine what her past life had consisted of. There was a sparkle in her eyes, a gloss in her hair, a laugh on her lips. Only the thin, drawn look on her features revealed a hint of her past. She was already a new woman. And this came home to me all the more clearly when we started to pray for others in trouble. The simple direct way in which she spoke to God, thanking him, praising him, and asking him to touch the lives of others as he had hers, were all proof positive to me of the wonderful healing and integration of that woman, brought about by the Christian gospel. She was now a living testimony to God's love and power.'
This woman's story leads in naturally to the third test of the validity of religious experience, the test of power. All that we know about delusions suggests that they tend towards disintegration of character, unbalanced behaviour, and either the inability to achieve one's aims, or else the dissipation of energy in some strange byway of living. But Christianity has precisely the opposite effect. It makes men whole. I think of a razor-gang boy, converted suddenly one night when he drifted casually into a mission hall and now a happy and effective clergyman in Liverpool. I think of a lad who left school at 15 having achieved nothing, and shortly afterwards found faith in Christ. His life was revolutionized. He taught himself French, while serving in the Army. He passed successive stages of exams, collected an Honours B.D. while preparing for the ministry, ancl is now training others for ordination while he works for a doctorate in his spare time. He is as balanced and as useful in coffeebar evangelism as he is in academic New Testament teaching, and his home is a joy to behold. His faith has integrated his whole personality. You would find it very difficult to persuade George that his Christianity is an illusion. .
T. R. Glover once wrote, 'The strength of Christian convictions is measured by the forces of disruption and decline they have resisted.' True words as one reflects on the persecutions, the changing ideologies, the cynicism from without and decay from within that have beset Christianity down the course of the last nineteen hundred' years. For an illusion it is remarkably persistent.
Most illusions fade at the approach of death. If Christianity were indeed illusory, one would not expect it to stand up very well to this final test. But it does. History has shown repeatedly that 'our men die well'. Of course they do. They are convinced that death is a defeated enemy. They are confident that because their Master rose, they will share his life. Having lived with him and loved him during their lives, the fear of death does not unduly chill them. Perfect love casts out fear. Take the letter Hermann Lange wrote from his prison cell just before being executed for his faith by the Nazis. It is quoted, along with many others, in Trevor Huddleston's book Dying We Live. Lange tells his parents that two feelings occupied his mind the evening before he was to die. The death he had faced for so many months was now imminent. 'I am, first, in a joyous mood,' he wrote, 'and second, filled with great anticipation.' The joy came from 'faith in Christ who has preceded us in death. In him I have put my faith, and precisely today I have faith in him more finuly than ever.' He advised them to turn to the New Testament for consolation. 'Look where you will, everywhere you will find jubilation over the grace that makes us children of God. What can befall a child of God? Of what should I be afraid? On the contrary, rejoicel'
This victory over fear, especially fear of the ultimate horror, death, is one of the great moral triumphs of Christianity. It is quite inexplicable on the theory of illusion or auto-suggestion. By all pyschological law, wrote Dr Crighton Miller, himself a distinguished psychoanalyst, the auto-suggestion of fear should be the strongest of all .... unless some other factor other than auto-suggestion is at work on the side of fearlessness. Christ, I suggest, is that other factor on the side of fearlessness. He is real. He is alive. He is able to help, control and empower the Christian throughout his life right up to the end.... and beyond it. That has always been the Christian message. It has been tested by the experience of millions. It is no illusion. But you will never experience it for yourself until you come to put your faith in the risen Jesus, whom you cannot see but for whose existence there is such strong evidence. When you take the momentous step of asking him to accept you, to come and take control of your life, then you will begin to find the reality of the claims the Christians make for their Lord. Then you will discover that Christianity is not an illusion, not an obsessional neurosis but the key to life at its best
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