Meet the Atheists Who Are Grateful for Christianity

The Australian journalist Greg Sheridan has quipped that these days, “the academic fashion is to attack Western civilisation, not study it.”

With historic statues being trashed and toppled around the western world, and accusations of systemic racism being levelled against the fairest societies that history has produced, Sheridan couldn’t be more right.

Sadly, those trying to erase our history seem unaware that the ideals they claim to stand for—like equality, human dignity, science and human rights—arose uniquely in the West. Not only that—these values owe much of their existence to Christianity.

Over the last decade, there has been a flood of scholarly publications that highlight the Christian roots of Western Civilisation. Christian academics like Vishal Mangalwadi, Rodney Stark, Larry Siedentop and Nick Spencer have written prolifically on this topic.

But there are also many atheists and skeptics who credit the West’s successes to the Christian faith. The author Tom Holland, with his recent book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (2019), is one of them.

The ancient world is a familiar place to Holland, who has spent the better part of fifteen years studying and writing about it. As an atheist, Holland had assumed that cultures like ancient Rome were the wellspring of his western values. But the more he examined these societies with all their vice and cruelty, the more alien they felt to him.

Take, for example, the emperor Commodus (AD 161-192). For a gladiatorial contest, Commodus once had all those with disabilities rounded up from the streets of Rome and tied together in the shape of a human. Entering the Colosseum, Commodus clubbed them to death before cheering crowds, proudly announcing that he had ‘slain a giant’.

Or consider Rome’s sexual ethics. Men had immense sexual freedom, while a woman who was unfaithful to her husband could be divorced in a heartbeat or killed with impunity. Sexual relationships between adult men and prepubescent boys were acceptable and even idealised. 

According to Holland, “Sex in Rome was above all an exercise of power. As captured cities were to the swords of the legions, so the bodies of those used sexually… were to the Roman man. To be penetrated, male or female, was to be branded as inferior: to be marked as womanish, barbarian, servile.”

Realising that his own values contrasted sharply with those of the classical world, Tom Holland was eager to discover what had shaped him. The result of that fifteen-year search was his aforementioned book, Dominion, which he has summarised like this: 

“I have come to the conclusion that in almost all the essentials, myself, my friends, the society in which I live—the whole of the West—is so saturated in Christian assumptions, it is almost impossible to remove ourselves from them.”

Though he is still an atheist, Holland has written, “In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.”

But Tom Holland is not the only ‘unbeliever’ to make such a claim. In recent years, there has been a growing chorus of non-Christian voices echoing this provocative theme.

British journalist Douglas Murray (1979-) has declared that “you cannot take Christianity out of the West and have anything that’s recognisably the West.” Murray, an atheist—and who happens to be gay—speaks with admiration of Christianity and “the positive role it has played in building Western civilization.” He says that westerners “still dream Christian dreams” and he even goes as far to call himself, rather cheekily, a “Christian atheist.”

Dave Rubin (1976-) is another prominent gay personality who has come to this conclusion. An American talk show host and former comedian, Rubin long considered himself an atheist, but more recently his unbelief has begun to waver.

Of western societies, Rubin has said, “I see no way around it, as much as my enlightenment brain would like to. The eternal truths told for thousands of years through biblical stories are the rudder that keeps us moving forward during the storm.”

Dave Rubin credits his new perspective to Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson (1962-), a highly sought-after speaker who has been labelled ‘the most influential public intellectual in the Western world’. Together, the two recently completed a world tour promoting Peterson’s latest book.

When asked if he believes in God, Peterson said, “I think the proper response to that is no—but I am afraid he might exist.” This uncertainty has not stopped Peterson from giving a series of Bible lectures that has attracted tens of millions of views online. What animates Peterson is his resolute belief that “the Bible is, for better or worse, the foundational document of western civilization.”

Likely you have heard of high-profile celebrities who swim against the tide of Hollywood to maintain their Christian faith. But there are far fewer from the silver screen who dare to defend Christianity from a standpoint of unbelief. The actor John Rhys-Davies (1944-), who starred in the Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings trilogies, is one of this rare breed.

Rhys-Davies describes himself as a rationalist and a skeptic, but he has raised eyebrows by saying, “we seem to forget that Christian civilization has made the world a better place… we owe Christianity the greatest debt of thanks.”

In recent years, skeptical academics have also been weighing in on this question. Australian intellectual Chris Berg, another atheist, has said that “virtually all the secular ideas that non-believers value have Christian origins.”

Secular writer John Steinrucken claims that, “the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

French atheist philosopher Luc Ferry is convinced that our western belief in equality came directly from Christian teachings. Equality was “an unprecedented idea at the time,” he says, “and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.”

Most intriguing, perhaps, are those who grew up in different cultures but who speak with high praise about Christianity and its civilising power. Ayaan Hirsi Ali (1969-) is one such person. Ali was born in Somalia and raised as a Muslim.

She suffered FGM as a child, and in her teen years she was drawn to an increasingly fundamentalist brand of Islam. But Ali was also an avid reader of the Nancy Drew detective series, and she could not shake the independence and courage of the female lead character.

With lingering doubts about Islam and an impending forced marriage, Ali sought asylum in the Netherlands. Soon after, she watched from afar as al-Qaeda terrorists struck a diabolical blow against the civilisation that had offered her freedom.

Ali decided to re-examine Islam, and in 2002 she gave up her faith entirely, turning instead to atheism. She has since served in the Netherlands’ parliament, moved to the United States, and been an outspoken activist for freedom and feminism.

Despite her atheism, Ali regards the Christian church as one of the main institutions that has changed western hearts and minds for the better through the centuries. Controversially, she has even advocated for Christians to proselytise western Muslims in order to safeguard our civilisation from extremist Islam.

When so many people without a vested interest in Christianity speak up in defence of its civilising force on the world, we should pay attention.

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Tell Pornhub and Planned Parenthood that Black Lives Matter

Over the last month, global protests have been drawing attention to the unjust treatment of minority communities. As an organisation and as a slogan, Black Lives Matter has captured the world’s attention.

In America particularly, police departments are facing serious scrutiny in an effort to root out racial bias and corruption. The Minneapolis Police—whose officers were responsible for George Floyd’s unjust death—is even being disbanded.

Many have suggested an unbroken link between systemic injustice today and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade to which most black Americans trace their roots. But for all the talk about a slavery that was outlawed 150 years ago, there’s an eerie silence about the slavery that continues today.

Pornhub is the world’s largest pornographic website, receiving some 42 billion visits every year. Users can upload their own content and view that of others, resulting in a vast video library of rape, revenge porn, abuse and torture—including that of children.

“There’s an eerie silence about the slavery that continues today.”

Several Pornhub-linked kidnapping cases have recently made the news, such as 15-year-old Rose Kalemba. As a result, Pornhub has been forced to remove the offending content. But even after 118 confirmed cases of child abuse, Pornhub itself remains untouched as a sex trafficker’s dream, rewarding the most popular content with monetised ads.

The company recently took to Twitter to polish its halo. It declared, “Pornhub stands in solidarity against racism and social injustice,” and it encouraged followers to donate to anti-racist charities.

But the New York Post has called Pornhub out on its hypocrisy. An article by anti-porn campaigner Laila Mickelwait highlighted recent Pornhub content like a video entitled “I Can’t Breathe” that made use of search tags such as “George Floyd” and “choke-out”.

“Pornhub is a sex trafficker’s dream.”

Mickelwait went on: “Countless other titles on Pornhub feature variations on the N-word and “white master”. Exploited black teens” and “black slave” are suggested search terms deliberately promoted by Pornhub to its users.”

If you would like to tell Pornhub that black lives matter, you can join a million others in signing the Trafficking hub petition. The petition’s goal is to shut down Pornhub and hold its executives accountable for aiding sex trafficking. (Click here to sign the petition).

Planned Parenthood is another corporate giant causing immense harm to minority communities. In fact, if you were on the hunt for a still-thriving organisation to “cancel” for its racist past, you couldn’t find a better candidate.

“Planned Parenthood was founded by the racist eugenicist Margaret Sanger.”

With unblinking irony, Planned Parenthood also tweeted its self-righteous indignation, saying, “We’re devastated, grieving, and outraged by violence against Black lives.” This, despite the fact that Planned Parenthood kills an estimated 250 unborn black Americans every day.

Planned Parenthood was founded by the racist eugenicist Margaret Sanger, who had ties to the Ku Klux Klan. In a 1939 private letter, Sanger wrote, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.” To this day, Planned Parenthood celebrates Sanger as a ‘woman of heroic accomplishments.’

And it continues to carry out her ambitions. The Guttmacher Institute, once Planned Parenthood’s research division, found that African-American women are five times more likely to choose abortion over white women. This data is used by Planned Parenthood with deadly effect.

“Planned Parenthood kills an estimated 250 unborn black Americans every day.”

In 2010, census statistics revealed that almost 80 percent of its surgical abortion clinics were within walking distance of African-American or Hispanic communities. Today, over one-third of Planned Parenthood’s 340,000 abortions are carried out on black babies, even though the black community makes up only 13 percent of America’s population.

As America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood receives over US$500 million in federal tax dollars. If you would like to take a practical stand against systemic racism and tell Planned Parenthood that black lives matter, you can join 700,000 others in signing Live Action’s petition to defund the abortion giant. (Click here to sign the petition).

There really is no point saying that black lives matter if we don’t mean it.

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You Can’t Learn From Deleted History

The “memory hole” is one of the most haunting images in George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Used by government workers at the Ministry of Truth, this chute in the wall enabled Oceania’s one-party government to edit history at will and incinerate all evidence of their propagandistic deeds:

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

In the weeks following the murder of George Floyd, multiethnic mobs who clearly haven’t read Orwell have been busy trying to memory-hole statues, monuments and street names across the Western world.

The first big story to hit the media was when crowds cheered in Bristol, England, as a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down, stomped on, and tipped into the river.

“Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”—George Orwell

In the United States, jeering throngs managed to decapitate a statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston, and pull another one down outside of the Minnesota State Capitol. In Sydney, Australian police were forced to guard a statue of explorer Captain Cook after it was defaced, and when further plans to topple it were made public.

Originally, this seemed to be a campaign against memorials of slavers and early explorers. But it has since morphed into a protest against almost any historical figure whose crimes involve being white, male, and no longer with us.

In central London, a statue of Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister who led the nation in defeat of the Nazis, has been targeted. First vandals defaced it with the word “racist”—and then it was boarded up by authorities to prevent its complete destruction. The irony here is stark: so-called ‘anti-fascists’ are trying to erase literal anti-fascists from memory.

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most loved presidents in American history. But this didn’t stop one protester from spraying graffiti on the iconic Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and many others from trashing the Lincoln statue in London.

A statue of Thomas Jefferson was set alight in Birmingham, Alabama. A product of his time, Jefferson owned slaves—but he also authored America’s Declaration of Independence and was arguably the founding father of the nation.

Even a Matthias Baldwin monument in Philadelphia was tagged with the words “murderer” and “colonizer”. Baldwin stood doggedly against slavery in the early 1800s, long before it was fashionable to do so. Never mind, he too must go down the memory hole.

If this crusade couldn’t grow any more bizarre, we have now seen the “don’t mention the war” episode of Fawlty Towers scrubbed from UKTV. Likewise, HBO Max has pulled Gone With the Wind from its streaming service for its depiction of slavery. This blockbuster, by the way, starred Hattie McDaniel, the first black woman to win an Academy Award. Fortunately, it sounds like both of these decisions will now be reversed.

“Our memorials aren’t all there in praise of our forebears.”

I believe a good case can be made for why statues of certain slave owners or Confederate soldiers should be reinterpreted with new signage, or perhaps even moved to a museum. But cancel culture turned cancerous the second we were no longer allowed to remember our civilisation’s own heritage.

Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it, so the maxim goes. We must remember that our memorials aren’t all there in praise of our forebears. Think Auschwitz, the slave-built Pyramids—or the Colosseum, which Michael Cook has satirically suggested must also be razed to the ground.

Some memorials that do celebrate past heroes were erected by contentious people in contentious times. Mount Rushmore’s four presidents were carved on stolen land by a man with ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Should it be demolished? Do we bulldoze the work of every chauvinist architect since the Renaissance? How far must the purification go?

Far more productive than cancellation is education. A bit of education certainly would have helped those who tried to memory-hole Matthias Baldwin and other historical heroes in the recent puritanical purge.

“So-called ‘anti-fascists’ are trying to erase literal anti-fascists from memory.”

Understanding our history, rather than just raging against it, enables us to debate the good, the bad and the ugly of every era and learn from all of it. We have a lot to learn, not just about those who were memorialised, but also about those who did the memorialising. If we are willing to listen to our ancestors, we can benefit from understanding both their masteries and their many mistakes.

We might even grow some humility.

See, the cancel cult reveal at least as much about themselves as the historical figures they seek to erase. They display a deeply judgmental impulse by enforcing on people of centuries past, a new set of moral standards that we hardly agreed on five minutes ago.

They assume that they alone would have acted differently if they had grown up in the same circumstances. They seem to hope that if a line can be drawn under George Floyd’s murder and all before that be forgotten, the world might be a better, purer place.

“Prejudice is a difficult weed to eradicate from the human heart.”

But in trying to delete the past like they might delete their browser history, they miss what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn saw after staring Soviet totalitarianism in the face:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

We may make all sorts of progress. But prejudice is a difficult weed to eradicate from the human heart—as the cancellers themselves remind us. Because of this, all of us desperately need the past.

We need it, at the very least, to hold ourselves accountable.

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Are America’s Riots Still About George Floyd?

In case you didn’t think 2020 could get any more perplexing, there are now uncontrolled riots taking place in dozens of American cities. From coast to coast, cars and businesses have been set alight, numberless shops have been looted, vehicles have been driven into crowds, and mob violence has broken out on city streets.

In the week since the rioting began, numerous people have lost their lives and thousands have been arrested. Many cities have imposed curfews and the National Guard has been deployed in over 20 states.

The unrest started last week in Minneapolis after a video went viral showing the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer.

“George Floyd’s death was an incident that shocked America.”

The officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes as Floyd struggled for breath, and cried, “Please, I can’t breathe. Don’t kill me.” After becoming unresponsive, Floyd was rushed to hospital and was later pronounced dead.

All four police officers attending Floyd’s arrest were fired, and the one responsible for his death has since been charged with third degree murder and manslaughter. The other officers may also be charged.

George Floyd’s death was an incident that shocked America and has justifiably led to grief and outrage, especially among African-American communities. Racial injustice and tension are issues that have plagued the US since the days of slavery.

America has come a long way towards justice, through a Civil War in the 1860s, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. But over the last decade, racial injustice has returned as a major national conversation, and police brutality has been a focal point of this.

“Radical groups are exploiting the George Floyd protests.”

Peaceful protest is a vital part of democracy. Those protesting nonviolently over the death of George Floyd deserve to have their concerns for justice heard and acted on, all the way to the highest reaches of government.

But the violence and mayhem being unleashed on America’s streets is not the solution. In fact, even as peaceful protests continue, it is clear that radical groups with more sweeping agendas are exploiting the George Floyd protests. And in doing so, they are causing contempt for those protesting lawfully.

US Attorney General William Barr said on the weekend that “voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent radical elements” that are seeking to “pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda.”

And President Trump announced that Antifa—one extremist group believed to be exploiting the protests to cause anarchy—will be designated as a terrorist organisation. He has also threatened to deploy the military if mayors don’t get their cities under control.

George Floyd’s brother has condemned the chaos and thuggery, but his pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears.

Though it isn’t widely reported, there have been scenes of African-American citizens gathering to protect stores from looters and armed black business owners guarding their properties. And for good reason, after a low-income housing estate and black-owned stores were burnt to the ground in Minneapolis.

“We do the black community a disservice to assume that all we are seeing is because of them.”

Consider more evidence that the protests are being exploited. A black protester caught two white women vandalising a shopfront and called them out on it, furious that the black community will be wrongly blamed for their crime.

A lone white rioter had to be restrained by peaceful protesters before he smashed up pavement to create projectiles. Piles of bricks have mysteriously appeared at many rioting hotspots, though no construction work has been taking place nearby.

White vandals have been rebuked by black Americans for defacing monuments, smashing windows and vandalising police cars. Likewise, the Louis Vuitton store in Portland appears to have been looted by as many white offenders as people of any other ethnicity.

Video footage of a Nike store break-in, a bottle shop heist, and an interview with a young man under arrest also suggests that at least some of the looting has been about cheap opportunism, not justice.

“Behind the carnage are other factors that transcend ethnicity.”

Without doubt, some are using criminal activity as a form of protest intended to highlight or ‘equalise’ injustices against African-Americans. But given the evidence, we do the black community a disservice to assume that all we are seeing is by, for, or because of them.

Behind the carnage, there are other factors that transcend ethnicity, which mainstream reporting won’t touch.

One is the epidemic of fatherlessness gripping the USA. Another is a growing entitlement complex among many youth. The mainstreaming of drug use and video game violence in recent decades are other social ills that must be acknowledged as at least part of the problem.

And don’t forget that for many of the young people breaking the law, this is the first fun they have had since their city locked down months ago for COVID-19.

“George Floyd’s brother has condemned the chaos and thuggery.”

What is most concerning, however, is the class of rioters who are expressing an open contemptfor their own nation. A love of violent revolution and anarchy, and a hatred of all that America represents can only take root when people believe that America is racist from top to bottom.

And that is exactly the message being broadcast by cultural leaders, even as the fires burn.

In an expletive-laden Instagram post, pop sensation Billie Eilish let loose at white Americans, declaring, “You are not in need. You are not in danger… Society gives you privilege just for being white… We have to address hundreds of years of oppression of black people.”

Shawn Mendes likewise tweeted, “As a white person, I not only recognise that this is a problem but that I am a part of the problem.”

“Hatred for America can only take root when people believe that America is racist from top to bottom.”

Kylie Jenner told her followers, “We’re currently dealing with two horrific pandemics in our country, and we can’t sit back and ignore the fact that racism is one of them.”

Viola Davis also posted, explaining, “This is what it means to be Black in America. Tried. Convicted. Killed for being Black. We are dictated by hundreds of years of policies that have restricted our very existence and still have to continue to face modern day lynchings.”

This impulse towards justice is good, since justice reflects the heart and character of God. There must be justice for George Floyd and for all black people who have suffered brutality at the hands of police. But has anyone stopped to ask if declarations like these might be causing more harm than harmony?

These sentiments actually mirror the prejudices they seek to replace. They implicate all white people—even the most open-hearted and caring—as part of America’s problem. They convince people of colour that white Americans should be assumed racist and a threat before the facts are in, and unless they virtual-signal otherwise.

They make an unbreakable link between the 1600s and the present day, disregarding the many events of American history that have righted so many wrongs of the past—even if the nation still has injustices to address now. And they resurrect old angers to enrage current ones.

“These sentiments actually mirror the prejudices they seek to replace.”

They also ignore some uncomfortable statistics. Only 4% of all black homicide victims are killed by police officers—93% actually die at the hands of fellow African-Americans. And white people are at least 1.3 times more likely black people to be killed by police.

While police treatment of black people is a serious problem, the national news media mostly draws attention to murders when they are white-on-black. This is an unwarranted slant, and it only serves to stoke racial grievances.

Honest conversations must be had, but they won’t be honest if newsmakers focus on certain tragedies while ignoring others. And they can’t be honest if all of the good in American society is ignored, and generations of progress overlooked.

Even in the midst of the riots, there have been police showing solidarity with the African-American community, like the sheriff in Michigan who laid down his helmet and marched with George Floyd protesters. Or the black protesters who protected a stranded white cop.

“The truth is that most Americans—of every colour—love their country.”

Protesters and police were seen praying together in Kentucky. Black and white believers were also filmed praying for reconciliation over the weekend. A black man was embraced by a police officer in Miami. Another police officer offered a young black man his shoulder to cry on.

As you read news about these riots, beware of false narratives.

Much of the anarchy and destruction isn’t about justice for George Floyd. It is people of any ethnicity exploiting the black community for their own selfish agendas. Ironically, that is exactly what the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement sought to correct.

The truth is that most Americans—of every colour—love their country and believe it is worth preserving and redeeming, not destroying. And most Americans agree with Martin Luther King Jr, who said it best: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

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Lockdown and Liberty: Is Australia Still a Free Country?

This is a free country.

It’s a phrase we’ve all used, even from schoolyard days—often to stand up to a bully trying to exert their control over us. “This is a free country” are words I repeated countless times as a child, long before I understood the concept of liberty.

I guessed it had something to do with the opening line of our national anthem, which I knew by heart: Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.

Whatever we know about liberty, the idea of freedom and a free country has certainly been brought into sharp relief over the last month. Because of the covid19 pandemic, previously unheard-of rules now limit our interactions, trade, worship, travel, and much more besides.

“Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.”

We know that these are temporary measures aimed at addressing a public health emergency—and our government has provided a cohesive rationale as to why they are needed.

You might agree wholeheartedly with the restrictions we currently live under; you might be an outspoken critic, like the recent protesters in many American cities. Either way, there is something we can all surely agree on: freedom is precious.

At least I hope we can all agree on this.

If I’m honest, I have been surprised at how quickly Australians have adapted to these stringent new rules with almost unquestioning obedience. In my heart of hearts, I hope this is because of widespread goodwill—the desire to protect the vulnerable among us from the spread of disease.

“Freedom is precious.”

I can’t help but wonder, though, if we might have grown apathetic about our freedoms. Do we actually know which liberties are protected in Australia? And if so, do we value them?

The most fundamental truth for us to grasp is that freedom is not something provided to us by the government. Liberty-loving nations have always understood that individual freedom is part of the very fabric of the universe. In other words, humans are born free, regardless of what any person or parliament decides.

In the words of the American sage Benjamin Franklin, “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”

“Humans are born free.”

The idea of individual liberty has a long and rich history in the West. Major movements such as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment made important contributions to this. But Christianity—with its insistence that each person has been made in God’s image—has played a leading role in the West’s emphasis on freedom.

The role of our governments, then, is simply to protect the freedoms that are already ours.

The United States has famously enshrined many freedoms in their Bill of Rights. These first ten amendments to its Constitution include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and many others.

In Australia, we have no Bill of Rights. Our Constitution protects a limited number of liberties such as freedom of religion, trial by jury, and the right to vote. As Aussies, many of our freedoms are actually safeguarded by common law—decisions that have been made by the courts in the years since Federation.

“Christianity has played a leading role in the West’s emphasis on freedom.”

Some of our rights are also protected in legal documents, old and new, to which Australia is an heir or signee. The Magna Carta and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are two examples.

So what are the freedoms that have currently been restricted in Australia due to the pandemic?

Freedom of assembly: With ‘non-essential’ gatherings now limited to two people, the freedom for us to meet together in person to share, discuss and debate our common interests has been severely restrained.

Freedom of movement: The right to freely travel from place to place within Australia and to leave our nation has been temporarily revoked. While returning Aussies are welcomed home, most Australians are not allowed to leave the country or even cross state borders.

“The role of our government is to protect the freedoms that are already ours.”

Freedom of religion: There are aspects to this liberty that have not been affected by current rules, such as the right to freely change our beliefs. But our freedom to gather for communal worship, either publicly or privately, does not exist for the time being.

Freedom to peacefully protest: Under normal circumstances, Australians are free to meet for peaceful, public protest. This freedom has also been suspended for now. To peacefully protest would, in many parts of the country, result in severe fines as the law currently stands.

Freedom from arbitrary detention: This liberty, sometimes referred to as security of the person, normally relates to arrest and punishment. It is presently the case, however, that Australians have been told only to leave their homes under very limited circumstances, regardless of whether they are sick or healthy. This, it could well be argued, is a form of arbitrary detention.

There are many other freedoms that could be listed that are impacted by current restrictions, such as the right to trade freely, the right to work, and the right to self-determination.

“We live in an incredible country, even in the midst of a partial lockdown.”

If you have read through this list of liberties, fearing that I am about to call for a riot in the streets, you can breath a sigh of relief. I am not suggesting that.

But if you have read through this list of freedoms and not once thought, “I am grateful to live in a free nation like Australia,” then you may need to check if your heart is still beating.

We live in an incredible country, even in the midst of a partial lockdown. This can be said by the citizens of most Western nations. What so many of us have forgotten is that freedom, as we understand it, is historically peculiar.

“Will the restrictions we now face will reawaken in us a deep gratitude for liberty?”

Step back and survey the great sweep of history, and you will see that the period of time in which our liberties have been so strongly guarded is little more than a blip. We could measure it in just decades and centuries—though empires have been rising and falling for millennia.

Still today, many of the world’s inhabitants don’t know their rights, and don’t enjoy their freedoms.

Most of the world’s nations pay lip service to liberty, on documents both domestic and global. But “the free world” is a concept as relevant as ever, still limited mostly to the nations that make up North America, Western Europe, and East Asia.

“This is a free country.”

Many forces have caused us to grow apathetic about liberty. Surely a recent one is our culture’s increasing obsession with ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ that are unworthy of the name. Biological men competing in women’s sports, and people compelling their peers to address them with new and strange pronouns are several examples that come to mind.

Taking our freedoms for granted, we have become bored with what we had, and enticed by passing fads. The risk is that now, emerging generations can hardly see freedom’s forest for the trees.

The question for all of us then, is this: will the restrictions we now face will reawaken in us a deep gratitude for liberty? Will it wake us up to defend and protect our precious freedoms for future generations?

Pandemic Panic: Where is God in our Current Crisis?

We are living in a different world to the one we were in a week ago.

In December 2019, a pneumonia outbreak was detected in the city of Wuhan, China. It was soon traced to a new strain of coronavirus—but not before infected travellers had crossed international borders in every direction.

A few months on and the virus has spread to over 160 countries and resulted in over 7,000 deaths. While something like 98% of people who contract COVID-19 recover, the elderly and those with chronic health problems are most at risk. Governments the world over are deeply concerned that their national hospital systems will collapse.

“It’s hard to believe this is real life.”

Because of this, and because a vaccine is still a year away, the world is being turned upside down. Borders are closing and streets are emptying as governments shut down schools, restaurants, bars, and countless large gatherings. Everything is cancelled is the new normal.

“Social distancing” is an odd new phrase on our lips as we work out how to do business, trade and relationships in this new, eerie set of circumstances.

“Supermarket shelves are being stripped bare as shoppers panic-buy.”

It’s hard to believe that this is real life—it feels more like the movies. But as you check your phone again or see the blanket news coverage of coronavirus on a TV screen or broadsheet, you realise once more that this is happening in real time.

Fortunately in Australia, we haven’t had the same contagion rates as other parts of the world. God willing, it stays this way. But in terms of social upheaval at least, what’s happening now in Europe and increasingly the USA may be what we can expect here in the days and weeks to come.

So where is God in this midst of it all?

The Bible is More Relevant Than Ever

A few days ago, Eternity published an article called “Should a Christian flee the plague?” Martin Luther was asked. I’ve always loved the Reformers. But a few months back, I couldn’t have imagined that medieval advice on the bubonic plague would become relevant again in 2020.

As new and strange as the coronavirus seems, the only thing genuinely new about this plague is its all-pervasive disruption of our globalised lives. Pestilence itself is as old as the hills, and it’s mentioned countless times in the Bible.

“Jesus said that pestilence would be a sure sign that his return is drawing near.”

Pestilence appears in the story of the Exodus as one of the ten plagues. It was a common threat to ancient Israel, especially during their periods of disobedience.

More curiously, Jesus said that the growing threat of pestilence—among many other events—would be a sure sign that his return is drawing near. 

I am convinced that many Bibles will be dusted off and cracked open again as a result of this year’s events. Maybe even Christians will start reading chapters they may have avoided or neglected in the past (Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 spring to mind).

“Pestilence is mentioned countless times in the Bible.”

But I would also hope that we recapture what it means to “love your neighbour” in a crisis like this. Jesus speaks in sombre tones of Judgment Day, but his heart is always turned towards the vulnerable.

Our elderly neighbours and relatives are going to need our help. And they are going to need it in a very odd way.

We have to slow the spread of this virus down. As strange as it sounds, our personal hygiene and our contact with others is going to have real-world effects on how many of the sick and vulnerable survive the coming months.

“Our elderly neighbours and relatives are going to need our help.”

Those we know in these high-risk categories may also need some of the groceries we have stocked in our pantries, and a phone call every now and then to know they’re not forgotten.

Now that globalism has screeched to a halt, “love your neighbour” has a more local and literal meaning than ever.

The Church is Still the Church

For decades, we Christians have been saying that the church isn’t a building or a program, but a group of people. 

As the new limitations on numbers allowed at gatherings take effect in the western world, we’re about to find out if these were just catchy sermon lines or if we truly believe it.

“This pandemic is a wake-up call.”

Some have speculated that after the coronavirus threat passes, many will have adjusted to staying at home, and they’ll stop attending church altogether.

I’m more hopeful than that. I think this pandemic is a wake-up call. Too many of us have let church become defined by the world of consumerism. This is our opportunity to bring it back to the basics. As we feel our way forward, we have much to learn from the underground church.

Now that sermons can’t be served on a platter once a week, we will need to be proactive in our pursuit of God. It’s time for every heart now to seek him.

“As we feel our way forward, we have much to learn from the underground church.”

Reading Scripture in our homes just became far more necessary—as did praying alone and as a family, if that isn’t our habit. Fellowship and breaking bread will look different, but it’s going to be more important than ever. And if your church can’t live-stream, there are many that can, and billions of hours of sermons online.

When life is so radically reshaped, we soon work out what’s really important, and where we have been placing our faith. We’re living in strange times—but it is an exciting time to be the church.

God is Still on His Throne

God is shaking the nations. There is simply no other way to put it.

With the stock market tumbling, weddings being cancelled everywhere, and businesses shuttering, certainty about the future escapes us all. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the biggest disruption to daily life since World War II.

But God is still on His throne.

When everything else in life is stripped bare, God is the one certainty that we can cling to. Take Psalm 91 to heart, and let God be your everything when nothing else can meet the challenge.

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 This I declare about the Lord:

    He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

    he is my God, and I trust him.

3 For he will rescue you from every trap

    and protect you from deadly disease.

4 He will cover you with his feathers.

    He will shelter you with his wings.

    His faithful promises are your armour and protection.

5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,

    nor the arrow that flies in the day.

6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,

    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.

7 Though a thousand fall at your side,

    though ten thousand are dying around you,

    these evils will not touch you.

8 Just open your eyes,

    and see how the wicked are punished.

9 If you make the Lord your refuge,

    if you make the Most High your shelter,

10 no evil will conquer you;

    no plague will come near your home.

11 For he will order his angels

    to protect you wherever you go.

12 They will hold you up with their hands

    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.

13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;

    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.

    I will protect those who trust in my name.

15 When they call on me, I will answer;

    I will be with them in trouble.

    I will rescue and honour them.

16 I will reward them with a long life

    and give them my salvation.”

The Price We Pay To Follow Jesus

What price do you pay to follow Jesus?

Five hundred years ago, the people of Europe whispered of a mysterious ‘Garden of Eden’ across the seas. It was a distant utopia better known as the Spice Islands, the home of cloves and nutmeg. In London and Paris, these intoxicating spices were worth their weight in gold.

Many risked life and limb to track down this tropical paradise, but to no avail. Finally, an armada led by the explorer Magellan managed the first circumnavigation of the earth, uncovering the secret origin of the spices.

“These intoxicating spices were worth their weight in gold.”

The journey was harrowing. At its launch, 270 crew set out on five ships. On return, they were reduced to 18 haggard sailors on a single vessel. But their payload of cloves and nutmeg funded the entire journey and all of its financial losses many times over.

If spices were worth such a sacrifice, how much more should we willingly pay to follow Jesus? This is the theme of Luke 9:23-25.

Then Jesus said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?’”

Here, Jesus confronts us with some sobering reality checks. Following him will cost us this life. But the alternative, he warns us, is far worse: rejecting him will cost us the next.

It all sounds pretty heavy until we understand Jesus’ underlying logic. It’s a simple lesson that we must learn again and again. It is a lesson I am still trying to learn. The only way we can truly gain life is to give it away.

Let’s consider these transcendent truths one at a time.

Following Jesus Will Cost Us This Life | v23

Then Jesus said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’”

I have visited a mass grave at a village church in South-East Asia. Two hundred identical white headstones stand as a silent reminder of the day this Christian community was forever changed by a terrorist massacre. These saints really did ‘take up their cross’.

I cannot erase the memory of that cookie-cutter cemetery. It asks me what price I am willing to pay to follow Jesus today. In a lucky country like Australia, God forbid that we would ever pay in blood for our profession of faith. But there is a price to be paid all the same.

Following Jesus means forsaking our favourite sins. It means saving instead of spending, so we can be generous to those in need. It means saying sorry even when it hurts. It means stubbornly trusting God in the midst of our struggles, instead of surrendering to self-pity and despair. And it means many things besides.

“Would you be willing to die for Jesus?”

Every true follower of Jesus is characterised by a life of daily self-denial. Surely this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

Would you be willing to die for Jesus? It’s a confronting question to ponder. But maybe the cost is actually far greater to live for him. That decision is not a one-time event, but a constant call to put him first, others next, and yourself last. It’s a lifetime subscription—and that’s what makes it so costly.

Rejecting Jesus Will Cost Us The Next Life | v24-25

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it… And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”

Beginning in the 1960s, we have conducted a massive social experiment in the West. Casting off our Christian conscience, we told ourselves and each other that the highest happiness would be found in living for yourself—so long as no one else gets hurt.

Decades on, we are now experiencing the fallout of it all. Broken families, an epidemic of sexual abuse and domestic violence, addiction on a scale never seen, and a mental health crisis that even our biggest budgets can’t afford.

“We told ourselves that the highest happiness would be found in living for yourself.”

Not all of our social ills can be traced back to selfishness, but far too many can. It is a civilisation-wide illustration of what Jesus said would happen: gain the world and lose your soul.

It’s also a shadow of things eternal. According to Jesus, the decisions we make have consequences in both this life and in eternity. So the question is, are we willing to trade unending joy for a few decades of antics down here? C. S. Lewis puts it this way:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Jesus is absolutely committed to our joy—it’s just that we don’t always see things from his higher vantage point. In truth, the choice before us isn’t, am I willing to forsake pleasure to follow Jesus? But rather, will I forsake fleeting pleasure to enjoy the pleasures of God without end?

Life is Gained By Giving It Away | v24b

“If you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

Don’t miss the incredible promise Jesus gives in the midst of his warnings. There is a way to find true life, he says—but it’s the opposite of what we might assume. The way to experience true, abundant, eternal life is to give our life away to him.

I love surfing, but there were a lot of counterintuitive skills I had to learn before I enjoyed it. One of those was the ‘duck dive’. Paddling out towards the break zone, you will inevitably face a wall of water, sometimes two or three metres high.

In that instant, you have a choice. Either you can back out and let the waves take you tumbling back to shore. Or you can size that wave up, power towards it and thrust yourself through. Nothing compares to the feeling of punching through the lip of a big wave into the sunlight, a second before it crashes behind you.

This is a powerful picture of the choice Jesus gives us. Our instincts tell us that if we want the good life, we should avoid difficulty, protect ourselves, and follow our momentary feelings—in a word, sin.

“Jesus doesn’t just tell us what to do. He shows us.”

But the way of Jesus is counterintuitive. He calls us to do the very thing we fear most. To abandon our instinct of self-preservation. To surrender our lives entirely to him, come what may. To give up our throne and let him be King. Only then do we gain true life and the everlasting peace that comes with it.

And here’s the best part about Jesus: he doesn’t just tell us what to do. He shows us, and at great cost. Jesus gave up his own way. He literally took up his cross. Hanging on that cross, Jesus gave up his life so that we could find ours eternally.

Now he calls us to give up ours.

Why Christians Clash with the Current Culture

It’s becoming more obvious with each passing year, and just about everyone in the West will agree: to be a Christian means to walk out of step with mainstream culture. 

It’s such a fixed feature of modern life that Christians have adapted a variety of solutions to this dilemma. Some believers relish the opportunity to cause unnecessary trouble. Others run scared—and in doing so, they compromise their stand for Jesus. Both extremes do damage to the cause of Christ.

So how can we walk the middle road? The answer to this begins with properly understanding our calling as Christians. Why do we clash with the current culture?

“To be a Christian means to walk out of step with mainstream culture.”

Following in the footsteps of Jesus certainly means acting with kindness, compassion and care. But don’t forget that Jesus was also a magnet for controversy. There is simply no way to avoid this. If we follow him, we will be too.

Acts 17:1-9 paints this picture precisely.

Paul and Silas are visiting the city of Thessalonica. They make a persuasive case for the gospel, and win many hearts and minds to the way of Jesus. And without intending to, they also cause a stir.

The fact is that if we are true to our calling like the early church was, we can expect the same as them. We should aim to be convincing; we can be confident of our message; and like it or not, we will be controversial in the process.

Called to be Convincing | v1-3

“As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, ‘This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.’”

Paul reasoned, explained and proved. These shouldn’t be dirty words for Christians. Following Jesus is a heart journey, to be sure. But it also requires our brains.

Like Paul, we are called to be convincing. Our aim is to help people see that the good news of Jesus makes sense in a world starved of meaning. We don’t need to know all the answers, and we certainly can’t argue anyone into the kingdom.

“Proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.”

But God has entrusted to us the most relevant, reasonable and compelling way of life the world has ever known. Christianity isn’t a ‘leap into the dark’. It’s a very sensible step into the light. So let’s make our best case for that, as the apostles did.

In the process, there’s no need to trust our own prowess or persuasiveness. If there’s anything we learn from the book of Acts, it’s that proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.

Called to be Confident | v4

Consider the extraordinary outcome in Thessalonica:

“Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.”

In the short time that Paul and Silas visited this city, a new church sprang up. The gospel is powerful. It transforms lives and whole communities. This is why Paul calls the gospel, “the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes.” It’s a message we can have confidence in.

“The message of Jesus has a power all of its own.”

My Dad is a very skilled gardener. I am not—but I have tried. One year when I was renting with friends, I decided to plant a vegetable patch. Dad happily shared with me with seeds and compost. I dug up the soil and planted tomatoes, carrots, beans and broccoli.

As time went on and my study commitments took over, I neglected to pull out weeds, and I watered my garden with less and less frequency. Eventually, everything I planted withered and died—if the bugs hadn’t eaten it first.

But then pumpkins started springing up everywhere, even though I had never planted them. Soon there were pumpkin vines crawling all over my garden, and even under the fence and into the carport. I deduced, of course, that there must have been pumpkin seeds in Dad’s compost.

“The gospel doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but God’s.”

Through my little failed project, I learned that even if my gardening abilities are terrible, I can always count on compost from my Dad.

The gospel is quite the same. Like Dad’s compost, the message of Jesus has a power all of its own. Whenever and wherever it is proclaimed, God is at work by his Spirit to bring people to faith. We can have confidence, because the gospel doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but God’s.

Called to be Controversial | v5-9

Look what happens next:

“But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot… ‘Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,’ they shouted, ‘and now they are here disturbing our city, too.'”

More fascinating still is the crime these Christians were accused of: “They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.”

All this talk of caesars and kings can sound worlds apart from our own, but in fact it’s remarkably similar. In the Roman Empire, just like today, people were free to believe in and worship any gods they wanted to. Tolerance and diversity were the catch-cry of the day.

“We are free to follow Jesus, so long as we concede that Jesus is just one way.”

There was only one condition: whichever gods you worshipped, whatever you believed or practiced, you had to acknowledge Caesar as Lord.

It was common for Roman soldiers to march into village centres, carrying an altar with a clear demand: “Pay homage to Caesar!” One by one, under pain of death, citizens would approach the altar to sprinkle incense and solemnly declare, “Caesar is Lord.”

For refusing to make this confession in either word or deed, eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples were killed, and countless more besides. Fortunately, the price most of us pay to follow Jesus is nothing like that. But the Christian’s clash with the current culture is just as real.

“There was only one condition: you had to acknowledge Caesar as Lord.”

As in Rome, we are free to follow Jesus, so long as we concede that Jesus is just one of many ways, and not the way, the truth and the life. In any age, when diversity and tolerance are prized as the highest virtue, it can sound like treason to declare that Jesus alone can save.

When we do—ironically—there is not much tolerance given to Christians.

Let’s be clear though: we shouldn’t go looking for trouble. Scripture says:

  • Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.
  • Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
  • Always try to do good to each other and to all people.

But Scripture also declares that Jesus is Lord. And if that’s true, then the Caesars of our day are not. Regardless of whether they are despots or dogmas.

When we accept this and give ourselves permission to be controversial—come what may—we’re actually set free. We no longer need to struggle for the world’s acceptance where we were never promised it.

“If Jesus is Lord, then the Caesars of our day are not.”

Next time you’re faced with hostility for following Jesus, be encouraged.

Like the early believers, you’re called to be convincing. You can be confident that the message you carry will change lives. And if you are controversial as a result, rest assured that Jesus is big enough to handle it.

He’s king, remember?

Six Reasons Socialism is Sexy Again—But Shouldn’t Be

Wherever you look, socialism is sexy again. In the UK this week, Jeremy Corbyn is seeking election as the nation’s Prime Minister on a proudly socialist platform.

In the USA, socialist Bernie Sanders is making a second run for President, and he has the endorsement of “the Squad”—a group of socialist Congresswomen which includes the famous firebrand freshman AOC.

You may not have noticed yet, but the climate strikes taking place the world over also have strong socialist undercurrents.

If the word socialism is new to you, it’s basically the idea that society’s wealth should be redistributed and shared by everyone. (Be sure to do your own research to fill out this definition).

“Socialism is now wildly popular in the mainstream.”

Socialism arose in the 19th century as a reaction to capitalism—our western economic system that is built on the idea of free trade, private ownership and entrepreneurship.

Both capitalism and socialism have their pros and cons. No system can generate wealth like capitalism can. But unrestrained, capitalism can lead to inequality and injustice.

Socialism, on the other hand, seeks to address these problems of inequality and injustice. But in order to achieve this effectively, socialist states require more and more power.

“Socialism is the idea that society’s wealth should be redistributed and shared by everyone.”

History has shown that socialism always moves towards totalitarianism, corruption, and poverty. The Soviet Union is the most notorious example of this—and Venezuela the most recent.

For all of these reasons, modern western nations have wisely decided to remain capitalist, albeit with a range of moderate socialist tweaks.

My country of Australia, for example, has a capitalist economy. But we have a universal healthcare system called Medicare, for which I’m very grateful. I have also benefitted from an interest-free student loan provided by our government, and a modest student income during the years I was at university.

“Socialism is seductive.”

In simple terms, the last hundred years of western politics has been a game of tug-of-war between those who want less of these “socialist tweaks” (conservatives, on the right) and those who want more (progressives, on the left). This is, and always will be, an important debate to have.

But something has started to shift in the last few years. Until recently, political parties that were openly socialist—and cheering for the overthrow of capitalism—remained on the fringe.

But socialism is now wildly popular in the mainstream. In a recent poll for example, 53% of millennials said they view socialism favourably. Given socialism’s diabolical track record, this should concern all of us.

Socialism is seductive. It has gained in popularity, but for all the wrong reasons. Here are six of them.

1. Socialism strokes our ego

As humans, we’re drawn to ideas that tell us what we want to hear about ourselves. There is a certain compliment that socialism pays us, which helps explain why it is so attractive—especially to young people.

The compliment is this: we humans are inherently good. The idea that we are basically good and ultimately perfectible is a fixed assumption underlying the socialist worldview.

Socialism assumes that the reason people don’t work is because they can’t—because of some impossible setback or systemic injustice.

While these are genuine reasons that some people don’t work, there is also the reality of human laziness and entitlement. Socialism fails to account for these vices. It is blind to the inherent selfishness of humanity. And this is a dangerous mistake to make.

“We’re drawn to ideas that tell us what we want to hear about ourselves.”

The reality is that if our collective wealth is redistributed—if the fruit of my labour is given to people who haven’t worked for it—then a big motivation for me to hold down a job or climb the career ladder is taken away.

Capitalism has worked for hundreds of years precisely because it accounts for this. Under the capitalist system, I am motivated to work because I will receive the reward that I deserve for my labour.

This system isn’t perfect, and as we’ve discovered, it needs checks and balances, like collective bargaining. But the capitalist systems we live under function so well because they are realistic: they account for both human vice and human virtue.

Socialism assumes only that humans are good. This is a nice compliment, and there is an attraction to this optimism. But it’s a deeply unstable belief on which to to build a society.

2. Socialism asks little and promises much

Socialism is often promoted by the well-educated and powerful. But it seeks its broad supporter base among those who feel disenfranchised.

I am a millennial. My generation came of age during the Great Recession, the global financial crisis that made us fear for our futures. We are the generation that, through no real fault of our own, are largely locked out of the real estate market. For better or worse, much later into life than previous generations, we have remained financially dependent on our parents.

Of course these are generalisations, but all of these factors make millennials far more attracted to socialism.

“Socialism is the politics of envy.”

Like our parents’ pocketbook, socialism seems to guarantee us ongoing prosperity while hiding the cost from us. It appeals to our fears and our financial dependence—our sense that we may never make it on our own. Socialism is a system that asks little of us and promises much.

In blunter terms, socialism is the politics of envy. It secretly appeals to our laziness and our sense of entitlement.

But history shows that while socialism is good at redistributing wealth, it has never been good at producing wealth. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

3. Socialism spreads when history is forgotten

Today, we have the world’s knowledge quite literally at our fingertips. Through our smartphones alone, we can access all the breaking news from around the planet, and the wisdom of every civilisation.

We are the most educated people in history. It’s ironic then that we are so ignorant of history.

I went to school for thirteen years, but during all that time I learnt nothing of the 20 million people killed under Russia’s socialist republic. Or the 60 million lives that socialism claimed in China. Or the millions more who fell victim to socialist projects in lands as diverse as Vietnam, Romania, and Cuba.

In fact, estimates of the 20th century’s Socialist/Communist body count range from 100150 million.

“There is a pressing need for us to overcome our historical amnesia.”

It is chilling to consider that socialism thrived in these places precisely because history was erased by their governments, or forgotten by their people.

If we are serious about preserving our liberty for generations to come, we would do well to heed the words of Edmund Burke, who said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

There is a pressing need for us to overcome our historical amnesia. This is a personal responsibility for each of us. But it also highlights the need for reformation in our institutions.

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”—Edmund Burke

Identity politics has overrun too many of our schools, universities and media outlets. It stokes the rage of rival disenfranchised groups, while ignoring the historic dangers in doing so.

Today’s downtrodden need a voice, to be sure. But their voice must be balanced with the cries of those from history who were crushed under the iron first of socialist empires.

Until then, socialism will retain its seductive allure.

4. Socialism appeals to the soft-hearted

Research shows that those who lean right tend to place more value on personal responsibility, while those who lean left are more prone to empathy.

Indeed, because of socialism’s emphasis on justice and practical aid for the poor and marginalised, a growing number of young Christians are drawn to socialism. I have often heard Christians make the case for socialism based on Acts 2:44-45.

“All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.”

“A growing number of young Christians are drawn to socialism.”

I don’t doubt for a second the sincerity of believers who see parallels between socialism and Christian concern for “the least of these”.

But in this parallel is a glaring omission. The early church wasn’t forming a government—at most, they were arranging a “commune”. In other words, it was a contract that the faithful entered into voluntarily.

Socialism, by contrast, is a political system that people are born into and cannot escape unless they emigrate. (And it is noteworthy that while people often try to flee socialist governments, the most desirable destinations for refugees seem to be capitalist countries).

“Socialism is a pale substitute for compassion.”

No matter who you are—giver or recipient, religious or otherwise—compassion and generosity are always good for societies.

But compassion and generosity are, by their very definition, voluntary. The moment that large-scale “kindness” is enforced by government redistribution programs, it is at best high taxes. At worst, it’s extortion.

Socialism seems compassionate, but in truth it is a pale substitute for compassion. Far better is a robust democracy where the typically progressive value of empathy is driven (and balanced) by the typically conservative value of personal responsibility.

5. Socialism is seen as above critique

To summarise so far, socialism tells us what we want to hear about ourselves; it requires little from us while promising the world; and it is uniquely depicted as the politics of compassion.

For all of these reasons, in the popular progressive imagination, there is almost no such thing as too much socialism. The more of it we have, the better.

Obviously, not all progressives believe this. But it’s certainly the dominant narrative in the mainstream media. Whether it’s expanded healthcare programs or open borders or a bigger welfare net or free university education, it’s almost as though the sky’s the limit.

“In the popular progressive imagination, there is almost no such thing as too much socialism.”

Let’s have a conversation about each of these. But let’s balance it with the reality that the money has to come from somewhere. Inevitably, it won’t just be the rich who foot the ever-growing bill, but the middle class too.

Let’s also keep in view the fact that government services can breed generational dependence that ends up hurting the very communities they are seeking to help. Self-reliance—whatever that looks like—is important not just for material needs, but for people’s sense of dignity and purpose.

6. Socialism provides meaning in a post-Christian world

We all need something to live for. Though not all westerners through history were Christians, Christianity provided us with a collective sense of ultimate meaning and purpose.

In the West, as we become increasingly post-Christian, we are experiencing a vacuum of meaning. Many ideologies have rushed into the void, and undoubtedly one of those is socialism: the dogma that the government can solve all of our problems.

In the name of a thousand different causes, people now give their energies to this dogma with religious fanaticism.

“We all need something to live for.”

And as misdirected as this is, it makes sense. In our subconscious, we know that something should rule over us. The closest substitute that we humans have so far found for God is the state.

It is no coincidence that socialism and atheism have historically had a strong connection. The bigger a government gets, the more it tends to act like God.

Socialist states end up replacing God by seeking to provide everything, protect us from everything, and police everything. But as Thomas Jefferson warned, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.”

“The closest substitute that we humans have so far found for God is the state.”

The founding fathers of western nations like America understood this in ways we have forgotten. Jefferson also warned that, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”

Today, people are quick to put Christians in their place and tell them to keep their religion out of politics. But this would have been news to our forebears. Religion is what helped them keep a healthy perspective on politics.

William Penn wrote that, “Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.” Patrick Henry’s warning was even more chilling: “It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”

“Religion is what helped our forebears keep a healthy perspective on politics.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take God over totalitarianism any day of the week.

Let’s keep talking about the role government should play in our lives; about the tweaks needed under capitalism to root out injustice. But please, can we steer clear of socialism?

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Religion Causes all the Violence—Just Look at the Crusades

Religion causes all the violence—just look at the Crusades. Have you heard this before? It’s a claim that many critics of Christianity make. In summary, it goes something like this:

For hundreds of years, Popes declared ‘holy war’ and sent religious fanatics marching to the Middle East. They went there to colonise, and they slaughtered anyone who wouldn’t convert to Christianity along the way.

 

So many Muslims and Jews were killed in the streets of Jerusalem that blood flowed up to the crusaders’ knees. All of this violence was condoned by the church so that Christians could expand their empire and line their pockets with wealth.

Maybe you’re so appalled reading this that you’re ready to hit the back button. Who would bother trying to defend this kind of violent hypocrisy?

Without doubt, the Crusades were a bleak period of church history. Those who fought and led had clearly ignored the words of Jesus, who said:

“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also.”—Luke 6:27-29

But it’s also true that the Crusades are victim to a lot of Fake News. If we’re going to talk about the Crusades, we need to rescue the facts from the fiction.

What Were the Crusades?

The Crusades were a series of campaigns fought by European Christians to recapture the ‘Holy Lands’—those places where all the Bible’s major events took place. Think modern-day Israel, Turkey and Egypt.

The First Crusade (1096-1099) was probably the most infamous. It was a successful but bloody recapture of Jerusalem. It also led to the founding of several ‘Crusader states’ in the Middle East.

The Second Crusade (1147-1149) was a failed attempt to retake a defeated Crusader state.

The Third Crusade (1189-1192) was launched to recapture Jerusalem after it had been overtaken once more by Muslim armies. The Crusaders failed again.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) began like the others, but along the way, the Crusaders got mixed up in the local politics of Constantinople. After a dispute, they sacked the city, plundering it and killing fellow Christians. The whole episode was an embarrassment and a great injustice.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) was another failed attempt to recapture Jerusalem, this time via Egypt.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) involved almost no fighting. Through diplomacy, the Crusaders secured Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) was by far the best equipped, but it ended in almost total annihilation for the Crusaders.

Other minor Crusades can be added to this list, but it’s these seven that have captured the popular imagination. With the exception of the first and the sixth, the Crusades were an anticlimax. The last Crusader stronghold fell in 1291, bringing the era of crusading to an end.

The Context of the Crusades

We’re rightly outraged by the Crusades. But there is context to these events that many people have never heard but that change the way we view them.

First, what made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence: almost every medieval culture was extremely violent. By our standards, the Crusades were shocking, but by the standards of the time, they were unremarkable.

What made them unique was that the command to wage war was given by a Christian leader, the Pope. Not only is there no grounds for this in the teachings of Jesus: there’s also no precedent for it in Christian history—and fortunately, no repeat of it either.

“What made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence.”

Second, not all of the violence that took place was condoned by church leaders. Popes condemned the sack of Constantinople, along with much of the violence and pillaging that took place en route to the Middle East.

Third, it turns out to be a myth that Crusaders went for fame and fortune. Most who went bankrupted themselves for armour and travel costs, and they didn’t count on coming back alive. They went because—misguided as they were—they believed it was a noble venture.

“Popes condemned much of the violence.”

Fourth, it’s a myth is that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity. The purpose of the Crusades was to secure passage for pilgrims to the Holy Lands.

Fifth, the story about blood running up to the Crusaders’ knees was a myth. The siege of Jerusalem was ruthless, but it was exaggerated beyond possibility in the retelling.

“It’s a myth that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity.”

All of these corrections might seem minor. But there’s one more fact many omit that fundamentally alters our perspective on the Crusades, and it’s this: the Crusades were defensive wars.

In the 6th century, most of Europe and the Holy Lands were Christian. Pilgrims were free to traverse the empire and visit Jerusalem as they wished.

But the birth of Islam changed this. While Christianity had spread peacefully, Islam spread rapidly, and mostly through warfare. Within a few centuries, Islam conquered over two thirds of what were previously Christian lands.

The First Crusade was proclaimed by the Pope, not as an act of aggression, but in response to an existential threat. The Crusades slowed the advance of Muslim armies into Europe, and probably helped spare western civilisation.

Funny how this fact barely rates a mention in the popular retelling of the Crusades.

“The Crusades were defensive wars.”

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t condone the Crusades. Violence is not the way of Jesus. But if we view them not merely as religious conflicts and instead see them as the defence of a civilisation, they make a whole lot more sense. Context is everything.

Here’s a little more context for the claim that ‘religion causes all the violence’. The Crusades were bloody, resulting in the tragic death of around a million people. But communism—which sought to bury religion forever—was far more savage. It took the lives of over one hundred million.

Even if we correct for population growth, communism was still twenty times more ruinous for humanity than the Crusades—and in just a quarter of the time.

This isn’t a cheap-shot. My point isn’t that Christians are better because they’ve killed less people. I’m simply countering the claim that religion causes all the wars, or that more Christianity equals more violence.

“Violence is not the way of Jesus.”

On the whole, Christianity has been a powerfully civilising force through history.

Its leader, Jesus of Nazareth, didn’t merely say, “Love your enemies.” He practiced what he preached—all the way to the cross. He chose to endure violence rather than commit it.

Jesus has shaped us more than we know. He’s a big reason whyeven with all their contextChristians and critics alike still can’t stand the violence of the Crusades.

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