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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A Christian’s Guide to Cultural Marxism

If you Google the term “Cultural Marxism,” you will likely be told that it is a right-wing conspiracy theory. But pick a different search engine, or scroll for long enough, and you will find a more robust definition.

Cultural Marxism—for those new to the concept—is a worldview gaining immense popularity throughout the West. It refers to a collection of ideas rather than a collection of people. Cultural Marxism is a secular philosophy that views all of life as a power struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor.

The oppressor is usually an aspect of traditional western society such as the family, capitalism, democracy, or Christianity. The oppressed is anyone who is or who feels marginalised by these institutions, depending on the cultural and political debates of the moment.

“Cultural Marxism is a secular philosophy that views all of life as a power struggle.”

Several years ago, the oppressed group in focus was the members of the homosexual community who wanted to marry. Last year, it was schoolchildren who felt threatened by climate change, and biological men seeking to identify as women and compete in women’s sport. This year, it is ethnic minorities protesting police treatment.

What needs to be acknowledged up front is that this power dynamic in our culture is real, since even the most well-intentioned societies produce inequality that must be addressed.

And as followers of Jesus, we are called to care for all people, and to be particularly sensitive to those who are sidelined by society. Love for ‘the least of these’ is, after all, the example Jesus set for us.

“Even the most well-intentioned societies produce inequality.”

But if we are not discerning, our impulse for compassion will be recruited and used for harm. Jesus stood for the downtrodden—but he also stood for marriage, gender norms, private property, a God-given moral code, good pay for hard work, a faith lived out in public, and civil law and order.

Cultural Marxism, on the other hand, sees all of these divine norms as the problem. And Christians who uncritically accept the oppressed-oppressor narrative end up fighting against the very institutions that God has ordained for human safety and flourishing.

To better understand Cultural Marxism, we do well to trace its origins. To read about it in depth, see the Gospel Coalition’s brilliant exposé on the subject. For a potted version, read on.

Karl Marx (1818–1883) was a German political theorist who believed that workers were oppressed by capitalism and should rise up to overthrow it. He dreamed of a socialist or communist utopia—a classless society where all resources were shared.

“Cultural Marxism sees divine norms as the problem.”

Marx’s philosophy was trialled in Russia, China, and many other nations in the 20th century. Tragically, 100 million people lost their lives in the communist bloodbath that followed. What became clear through this experiment is that when a stable government is overthrown, bad actors will always rush in to take power—because power corrupts, and the human heart is evil.

In other words, Marxism is good in theory but terrible in practice because it fails to account for the moral complexity of humans. We are at times victims of the sin and oppression of others, as Marx saw. But we are also guilty of sin ourselves and prone to abuse power when given the opportunity.

Despite Marxism’s obvious failings, many of Marx’s followers continued to subscribe to his ideals. One of these was Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937). He believed that Marxism failed because capitalist values were still too deeply embedded in every aspect of Western society.

A culture-wide revolution was needed, Gramsci argued, if Marxism were to succeed. This would involve a reshaping of sexual ethics, organised religion, mass media, academia, the legal system, and more.

“Marxism fails to account for the moral complexity of humans.”

According to Gramsci, “In the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.” This dream came to be known as the “long march through the institutions.”

The doctrines of Cultural Marxism were further developed by a group of intellectuals in Germany known as The Frankfurt School—most prominent among them, Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979). Fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s, this group ended up scattered in universities across the Western world, most notably in New York and California.

Many of the seismic cultural shifts we have been experiencing over the last decade were being promoted by Frankfurt School academics as early as the 1960s. The sexual revolution, the redefinition of tolerance, radical sex education in schools, belief in gender as a social construct, the virtue of censorship, and Critical Theory can all be traced back to this group.

And as many have observed, however deliberate the campaign has been, this “long march through the institutions” is near complete.

“Cultural Marxism is a mood that defines our generation.”

Cultural Marxism today is not an organised group or a hidden society. It has its zealous prophets, to be sure. And ironically, they tend to be white, middle class, well educated, and able to cushion themselves from any chaos they might inspire—just like the Frankfurt School and Marx before them.

But more commonly, Cultural Marxism is a zeitgeist; a mood that defines our generation. Political correctness and our tendency to self-censor are some of the more obvious signs that Cultural Marxism has now gone thoroughly mainstream.

These new values are being enforced in more active ways, too. If your opinion fails to align with a narrow set of new ‘orthodox’ ideas, you will pay the price in some way or another—whether that’s your reputation, your relationships, or increasingly even your livelihood.

It is necessary to point out that people don’t need to understand the history of Cultural Marxism or own the label to openly promote its doctrines. But nor is it a conspiracy theory to describe these ideas as Cultural Marxism, since the label is proudly owned by many of its proponents, and its teachings have been in the public domain since their inception.

“If your opinion fails to align with a narrow set of new ‘orthodox’ ideas, you will pay the price.”

Today, the unmistakable cry of Cultural Marxism is that of victimhood. Put simply, the more oppressed groups you can claim membership to, the more your opinion counts and the more your demands must be met.

While seeming to promote equality, what Cultural Marxism actually inspires is a never-ending grievance between sexes, races, and other fixed descriptors that divide us. And this is a necessary component of the Cultural Marxist philosophy, since the West’s institutions will only be supplanted if enough anger can be rallied to the cause.

To this end, minority groups often find themselves being used for political advantage by those who claim to care about them the most. Radical groups hijacking the George Floyd protests is only the latest, ugly example of this.

“The unmistakable cry of Cultural Marxism is that of victimhood.”

Always, Cultural Marxist solutions are political ones. And it can only be this way, since Marxism is an atheistic worldview that only deals with a materialistic universe. To Marxists, the state is God.

This is why Christians must tread with caution. Jesus has sent us as salt and light into our culture. Most of the culture-shaping actions he calls us to actually don’t involve government at all—like intercession, care, financial generosity, friendship, community service, and civil debate, to name just a few.

Yes, Christians are called to be politically engaged as well. But according to Jeremiah 29:7, we are to “work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile, praying to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Our voice should be for reform and renewal, not merely joining the chorus for radical overthrow.

“To Marxists, the state is God.”

But the greatest tool we have been given is the gospel. The truth is that intolerance and oppression and bigotry aren’t some great evil ‘out there’—rather, they are sins found in each of us. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn noted, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

God’s ultimate and eternal solution to these evils is for every individual to be set free from their sin and reconciled to the One in whose image we have all been made. Only on this foundation can we build a truly just society where competing tribes no longer struggle for power—but instead, where each person puts the needs of others before their own.

This side of eternity we won’t achieve utopia. But the closer our culture aligns to the ways of God, the more we will see the vision of Amos 5:24 fulfilled: “Let justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

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The Race Rhetoric That Causes More Harm Than Harmony

George Floyd’s cruel murder is sparking much-needed conversations about justice and racial harmony in America and beyond. The ripple effect has already reached us Down Under, with protests taking place in Australian capital cities this past weekend.

Last week I spoke with a friend who has ministered among Indigenous Australians for decades. He told me that in some regional jails he has visited, Aboriginal men made up over 70% of the prison population. Whatever landed them there, this is a deeply troubling picture.

In a recent survey, 10% of Australians said they would tell jokes about Indigenous Aussies. 10% said they wouldn’t employ an Aboriginal person. 20% said they would move away if a First Nations person sat next to them.

“Racism does still exist here in Australia.”

Pre-judging someone—making negative judgments about them based on the shade of their skin—is textbook racism. Racism does still exist here in Australia, and it is a problem we need to address.

But there is an emerging rhetoric around racism that is causing more harm than harmony. It is most easily identified by its blanket claims about white people and Western nations. Countless American celebrities have brandished this rhetoric in recent weeks.

In an expletive-laden Instagram post, pop singer 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.”

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.”

“Countless celebrities have brandished this rhetoric in recent weeks.”

On Instagram, Mandy Moore wrote, “White friends… we have the burden of dismantling white supremacy.”

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.”

All of us should yearn for justice, for George Floyd and for anyone wrongly treated—especially at the hands of those paid to protect us. Voices are always needed to ‘speak truth to power,’ since even the best societies produce inequality.

But so much of what we are seeing from our culture creators, the news media, and on social channels is actually stoking racial grievances rather than healing them.

“Even the best societies produce inequality.”

This rhetoric claims that countries like America and Australia are racist from root to branch. It demands that we hate our own nations as a kind of ideological purity test.

It implicates all white people — even the most open-hearted and caring — as the problem. It convinces people of colour that the white majority should be assumed racist and a threat before the facts are in. It is a brand-new worldview that actually mirrors the prejudices it seeks to replace.

By claiming that minorities today are still affected by centuries-old oppressive policies is to overlook great nation-shaping events of which we should all be proud. Slavery and Jim Crow are no more in the U.S. because of civil war and the civil rights movement a century later. Indigenous Australians are equal citizens because of reforms in 1948 and 1967, and let’s not forget the apology of 2008.

“There are many statistics that challenge claims of systemic racism.”

Our nations still have problems to address. But resurrecting pain from centuries past does dishonour to the progress we have all made, and it reopens wounds that had already begun to heal.

There are many statistics that challenge claims of systemic racism. In America, for example, only 4% of all black homicide victims are killed by police officers—93% actually die at the hands of fellow African-Americans. Adjusting for crime rates, white people are at least 1.3 times more likely black people to be killed by police.

And while police treatment of black people is a serious problem in the US, the national news there mostly draws attention to murders when they are white-on-black. Regardless of intent, the media’s unwarranted slant on this issue only stokes racial grievances.

Here in Australia, Aboriginal deaths in custody are a terrible reality, and First Nations people are tragically over-represented in our justice system.

“The media’s unwarranted slant on this issue stokes racial grievances.”

But we are not allowed to point out that Indigenous Aussies are actually less likely to die in custody than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Or that the majority of such deaths are due to health issues and self-harm — not police brutality.

Honest conversations must be had, but they won’t be honest if we close one eye to the facts, or fail to acknowledge how far we’ve already come towards justice.

Racism still exists in the West. And some of our saddest injustices are complex and difficult to resolve. But what’s remarkable about nations like America and Australia isn’t that we’re racist. Racism is still found in every country. Rather, we are remarkable because we have relented from—and survived—former cruelties like massacre, segregation, and slavery.

As a result, we now live together in stable multi-ethnic societies that provide hope, opportunity, and even a leg up for those who seek it. Our laws protect human rights and dignity for all people—even compensating for disadvantage—unlike so many places still today, and from time immemorial.

“Racism is still found in every country.”

Let’s be straight: if the West really is so evil, why would we advocate for asylum seekers to find refuge and a better life here? And if America is so racist, how did a country with a 13% black population elect a black president—twice?

You used to be called a racist if you treated people from another race unfairly. Now, it seems, you’re a racist if you don’t see white supremacy and systemic racism everywhere, and think the West can only be redeemed by violent revolution.

So if I am labelled a racist, let it be because I want the best for people of every colour, and for the nations that have walked the longest road towards equality.

Let it be because I believe the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who with faith declared to all Americans, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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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?

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.

Miracle Stories From The Australian Bushfires

The fires that have torn through the Australian landscape in recent weeks are without doubt the most widespread natural disaster in our nation’s living memory. Fellow Australians are hurting as they grieve the loss of properties, livelihoods and loved ones.

Yet in the flames and through the smoke, there is hope, and evidence of God at work. The generosity of friends and strangers, the Australian spirit of mateship, and the reminder of what’s truly precious in life all speak to the presence of God in the midst of tragedy.

Most profound of all, perhaps, are the mysterious stories that are coming in from all across the country. The Mallacoota miracle, for example, went viral when the BBC broadcast a local’s riveting account of it around the globe.

“There has been an unusual outbreak of supernatural activity right here in Australia.”

You can read about this miracle below, along with other stories of supernatural survival that have taken place across Australia since the fires began. As Aussies, we can be reluctant to talk about faith. But when miracles happen—especially in the midst of tragedy—we can’t help but sit up and pay attention.

One disclaimer before you read on: there is no hidden message of either judgment or favouritism in these stories. The Good Book tells us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We may never know why some people lost it all and others were protected. But we know that those who have suffered need our care and support.

With that being said, at the dawn of this new decade, there has been an unusual outbreak of supernatural activity right here in Australia. We are a nation in need of good news. So be encouraged by these great news stories.


A stranger saves a family from a firestorm

Andrew, Lake Conjola NSW

Not all angels have wings. This first story was shared on Hope 103.2, a radio station based out of Western Sydney. Andrew, a father of four, explains that he and his sister’s families—eleven people in all—were rescued by boat at the last minute by a complete stranger.

Camping on the banks of Lake Conjola on New Year’s Eve, they had been told of approaching fires up to 100 kilometres away. They had reassured themselves that the winds would change long before the fires were anywhere near them.

“The timing for this rescue couldn’t have been better orchestrated.”

At 11.59am, they were shocked to see the glow of flames on the hilltops nearby. In less than ten minutes, the group was surrounded by fire on all sides.

At that moment, Andrew explains that “a boat pulled up in front of us… [a man] was just yelling to us, ‘run to the jetty, run to the jetty’, and so we ran to the jetty and jumped in his boat and he took off.”

Escaping across the lake with just the clothes on their backs, they turned around at 12.09pm to see their cars and caravan burst into flames. Brett, the man who rescued them, had fled by boat with his dad, having just watched his own house burn down minutes earlier.

The timing for this rescue couldn’t have been better orchestrated. Read more about Andrew’s story here.


Half-finished house spared in “unexplained protected zone”

Hazel, Kangaroo Valley NSW

I just got off the phone to Hazel. Hazel’s daughter owns property on a knoll amongst the scrub, near Kangaroo Valley in NSW’s Shoalhaven region. Her daughter had been building a new home, but the project had stalled earlier in the summer due to the threat of fires.

When that threat turned to red-hot reality on January 4, Hazel’s daughter along with her young family fled to save their lives, leaving everything to the mercy of the flames. Unable to set even a sprinkler going for protection, they expected to return to an ash heap.

“The RFS were unable to defend the property.”

At the same time as this, Hazel explains, a local church had gathered to pray for everyone in the region. A friend of Hazel’s daughter received a vision of angels dressed as fire-fighters, spraying water in the shape of a large dome to protect her half-finished house.

Because of its remote location, the RFS were unable to defend the property from the ground or the air.

Days later, when firefighters were able to access the house in the wake of the blaze, it took them ten hours to hack through fallen trees. What they discovered was ash-covered soil still too hot to stand on, “like being on the rim of a volcano”, and burnt-out trees all around—some still glowing white.

But the house with its timber-framed roof was not even singed, and the plastic tank was still fully intact. A local who helped the fireys at the property described an “unexplained protected zone” all around the house.

There doesn’t seem to be a natural explanation for these events, but Hazel and her daughter don’t hesitate in giving God the credit.


Prayer shifts the winds in Mallacoota

David, Mallacoota VIC

David became the face of Australia for a few hours when the BBC, ABC and SkyNews shared his self-filmed account of a miracle all around the world.

The events took place on New Year’s Eve, in the small coastal hamlet of Mallacoota in Victoria’s East Gippsland. As the firewall drew close, four thousand holiday makers, along with many locals, were forced to flee to the town’s wharf near the beach.

“It went black as black.”

David describes the moment when they all found themselves trapped on the shore: “We could hear the roar. It was like a monster bearing down on us… It went black as black. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe.” Some were even getting ready to jump in the water to escape the flames.

Knowing that the only hope of survival would be a strong east wind to push back against the approaching fire, David gathered with two other “prayer warriors” to ask God for a miracle.

As soon as they began praying, he says, the wind “started blowing from the east a little bit… I felt it change. I noticed that the bolder I got, the stronger [the wind got]. I was yelling, ‘In Jesus’ name, thank you Lord for rescuing these souls. Push it back Lord, rescue us!’”

For five minutes the easterly blew, breaking the fire-front enough to stop it from reaching the throngs of people at the foreshore. “God saved us” is how David’s neighbours—who are not Christians—described the event.

“As soon as they began praying, the wind started blowing from the east.”

Despite hot embers flying into dry grass in his neighbourhood, the entire street that David lives on was spared. “There were no burn marks. There is honestly not a blade of grass singed,” he says.

David Jeffery reflects on the event now in the hope that it will help people “realise that there is a God and he does love them,” and that “it’s time for people to rise up and pray… [and] get serious about God and get back into reading his word.”

Read more of David’s account here.


The fire stopped at the foot of a large cross

Lorelle, Cobargo NSW

Soon after fires ripped through Cobargo on the NSW South Coast, Vision Radio received a call from Lorelle. She gave an eye-opening description of what happened to a couple—good friends of hers—who survived the inferno in this small rural village.

Like many brave Aussies, the couple decided to stay and defend their home. But then in the middle of the night, the noise of the approaching fires grew so terrifying that they were forced to flee.

Two days later, they returned home in grief, expecting to find everything gone. To their surprise, the fire had stopped at the foot of a wooden cross, leaning up against the shed. It’s a cross that they carry down the main street of Cobargo on Good Friday to commemorate the death of Jesus.

On reaching the cross, the fire had evidently burnt around the shed and right up to the edge of the house, singing only a bit of grass and garden. When they fled, the couple had left the sprinklers going on the house but provided no protection for the shed.

They can’t explain why the fires didn’t consume the timber shed, or indeed everything on their property. Listen to Lorelle’s call here.


It was like he had a dome over his house

Michael, Wingello NSW

Michael is a volunteer firefighter from the little town of Wingello, located at the halfway point between Sydney and Canberra in the NSW Southern Highlands.

Coincidentally, the name Wingello comes from a local Indigenous word which means ‘to burn’. Wingello is no stranger to fire, having survived an inferno in the 60s that claimed three lives and dozens of homes.

“An enormous pyrocumulus cloud began raining fire on nearby scrub.”

Michael explains that a fire had been burning for weeks in adjacent national parks. “It was like a sleeping giant,” he says. But the giant awoke on January 4 when an enormous pyrocumulus cloud, caused by the park blazes, began raining fire on nearby scrub.

Michael was posted with a crew protecting the local fire station, while his wife Helen and other family fled their property. After a long and anxious wait, fellow firefighters who had been out protecting properties returned to the station at 1am with harrowing news for Michael. “We’re so sorry. We tried to save your house but it’s gone.”

The next morning another patrol passed Michael’s property and were “gobsmacked” to find his house in fact still standing. As Michael and Helen arrived back at their home, a battle-hardened firey remarked, “You guys must have some Jesus juice. I need some of that.” 

“We are people of faith,” Michael explained to me over the phone. “We’ve had our house blessed, and we’ve always tried to live a good prayer life. We really believe we’ve been spared. We credit our Lord for this miracle.”

“I pulled my blokes out, it was an overrun, but it was like he had a dome over his house.”

Michael’s front garden and workshop were burnt to a crisp. But he is relieved to describe his house in different terms. “The fire raced towards the front of our house but miraculously burnt around it… there are burn lines right up to the front door and even to the back door.”

The Sydney Morning Herald recorded the words of the local RFS captain who said of Michael and Helen’s home, “There’s a miracle one… I pulled my blokes out, it was an overrun, but it was like he had a dome over his house.”

Check out Wingello Village Store’s account of the miracle here.


My neighbour arrived just in time to save my house

Ainsley, Cudlee Creek SA

Cudlee Creek is ten minutes from where I grew up, in a steep and gully-carved nook of the Adelaide Hills. I heard of Ainsley’s story through her fiancé, who I personally know.

Ainsley explains that her next door neighbour Eric was in Melbourne for short-term work. He finished his last job and, exhausted, couldn’t bring himself to drive the eight hours back home as he’d originally planned.

“His mode of transport happened to be a water truck.”

But for some unexplained reason, Eric felt he should set his alarm for 4am the next morning to drive home. So there he was, in the dead of night, embarking on the long journey back, not quite knowing why.

He arrived home in Cudlee Creek just after the fires had broken out on the afternoon of December 20. His mode of transport happened to be a water truck with a full 6000 litre tank and a power hose!

He arrived at Ainsley’s property the moment it had caught on fire. He fought the blaze and managed to save Ainsley’s house along with another neighbour’s property, all the while protecting his own home, wife and four kids.

Eric is unquestionably one of Australia’s many great heroes of these last months. But he’ll be the first to admit he had divine help.


Fires burnt right up to our fence lines

Donna, Mount Torrens SA

Just down the road from Cudlee Creek, good friends of mine own a small hobby farm at Mount Torrens, also in the Adelaide Hills. I arrived home from the USA just days after the Cudlee Creek fire tore through, and Donna’s was the first miracle story I heard—the first of many that motivated me to reach out around Australia for more.

Donna and her husband and daughter fled their property soon after seeing smoke billowing on the horizon. They were forced to leave behind pets and livestock. Donna recounts, “As we drove out of our driveway on the day of the fire we prayed for angels to protect the borders.”

“Donna’s was the first miracle story I heard.”

She continues. “We stayed away in the city til the next day and as I woke the next morning, the very first thought I had in that sleepy place of not quite even knowing where you are, was this: ‘The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and He delivers them’.” Donna knew this was a verse from the Bible but had to look it up to discover where it was from—Psalm 34:7.

When they returned early the next afternoon, they were surprised to find that fires had burnt right up to their fence lines on multiple sides of the property. There were small exceptions to this, such as a charred watering trough, a burnt top paddock, and some melted plastic roof sheeting. But all of the animals survived. And the neatness of the burn lines is what make’s Donna’s story so impressive.

In an effort to track down similar stories, I posted Donna’s photo to my timeline. It was met with many incredulous comments from strangers, such as this one: “A fire doesn’t advance perfectly straight like that, the pine posts normally go up like roman-candles. The fence wires are still new and spotless with no smoke damage. Something has intervened…”

The paddocks in question are very hard to access, Donna explains. They would be a highly unusual and near-impossible site for a CFS back-burn operation, especially in a fire driven by such high winds. Something—or someone—clearly did intervene.


Afterword

As I compiled these stories, so many more miracles were told to me that space won’t permit. Even online you can find out about the miraculous wind change at Taree; the Moruya man who found his house still standing; and even an apparent devil face that appeared in a wall of flames.

I heard from strangers of fire stopping at a gate that had a Scripture written on it; of dozens of houses surviving amidst a sea of ash; and even of an elderly woman who lost everything, whose grandson was walking down the main street of that fire-scorched town when the wind blew a sheet of paper into his leg. It was a charred page from a Bible—Isaiah 64:11-12—and it read:

“Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you, has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins. After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?”

I don’t dare make judgments on behalf of God in the midst of such tragedy. There is so much still unexplained, when some lost everything, and others were miraculously spared.

But through the smoke, God is trying to get our attention. “For God so loved the world.” It’s a verse we all know. God loves Australia, this “Great Southland of the Holy Spirit”. And he is calling our nation back to himself, waiting for us to respond.

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20 Reasons Trump Will Win Again In 2020

From the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, I was sceptical. He was a mogul from liberal New York, unfaithful in marriage, divorced twice, and verbally ruthless towards his opponents.

None of that has changed. And while there is still lots to dislike about Trump’s persona, his performance has surprised me.

“I’m now convinced that President Trump will win a second term.”

I’ve lived in America for the last six months. I’ve heard lots of perspectives on Trump, and I’ve kept a close eye on the media. I’ve explored Washington DC, visited the Capitol Building, and I even got to see Trump speak at a live event.

For a whole range of reasons, I’m now convinced that President Trump will win a second term. Impeachment or not, here are 20 reasons I’m almost certain he’ll be re-elected in 2020.

1. It’s The Economy, Stupid

It’s hard to deny that the American economy is humming. Under Trump, household income is higher than it’s been in 50 years, and unemployment the lowest it’s been in 50 years.

Jobs growth is outpacing expectations. Poverty is down—especially for minority communities; and optimism is up. On top of all of this, the stock market continues to break records.

Debate surrounds the exact figures, but all agree that the Trump economy is impressive.

2. The Black Vote

Black voters traditionally vote Democrat. 2016 was no exception, with only 8% backing Trump. Recent figures, however, place his approval among the African-American community at a jaw-dropping 34%.

Several factors seem to be driving this turnaround. Trump’s economy has been especially good for black communities, with huge increases in black employment and median household incomes.

“Trump’s approval among the African-American community is now at a jaw-dropping 34%.”

Trump has also won favour among African-Americans by prioritising prison reform, designating as “national monuments” many historic sites important to the black community, and giving big-name supporters like Kanye West unprecedented access to the Oval Office.

If anywhere near 34% of the black vote goes to Trump, he’ll probably be re-elected in a landslide.

3. The Hispanic Vote

The pundits expected Hispanics to overwhelmingly vote against Trump in 2016 because of his strong stance on immigration. But in the end, he won 28% of their vote. This was at least ten points higher than pre-polling suggested.

Die-hard Republicans suspect that Democrats want open borders in order to secure more Hispanic votes. Whether or not this is true, it is simply not a given that Latinos vote Democrat.

“Almost 60% of Hispanics support Trump’s strong border policies.”

Many Hispanics are Catholic or have a Catholic background, which means they are more conservative on issues like abortion.

And it turns out that they too want their jobs protected from illegal immigrants: almost 60% of Hispanics support Trump’s strong border policies.

4. Incumbency

The modern trend in American politics is that sitting presidents are re-elected. Obama stayed in office for two terms, as did Bush before him, and Clinton before him.

In fact, since the Second World War, only three out of thirteen presidents have been unable to secure a second term.

Incumbency isn’t everything, but the odds are in Trump’s favour.

5. Promises Kept to Evangelicals

Christians like me still have to squint to see the Christianity in Trump. Either way, he has largely kept his word to people of faith, fulfilling some 90% of the requests they put to him.

Trump has made religious freedom a signature issue of his presidency. In terms of policy, he is one of the most pro-life presidents in history. “Every child, born and unborn, is a sacred gift from God,” is a phrase now regularly heard from his lips.

“Christians like me still have to squint to see the Christianity in Trump.”

In his three years so far, Trump has made 173 judicial appointments, at a pace doubling that of Obama’s. These mostly-conservative judges will shape America for decades to come, and may end up being Trump’s most significant legacy.

The evangelical vote has long been seen as crucial to election victories in the USA. And like it or not, Trump has worked hard on policy to secure it for a second term.

6. Fake News

Donald Trump is well-known for his complaints about the “Fake News Media”, and for calling the modern press “the enemy of the people”. Fans of Trump have taken to mocking media bias with trending phrases like Trump Derangement Syndrome and Orange Man Bad.

Their opposition to mainstream news isn’t unwarranted: a recent study found that, out of 700 evaluative comments made about Trump on major news networks, 96% were negative. During the same period of six weeks, only four minutes were given to discussing Trump’s economy.

“Pundits on the left and right point out that this overt bias is playing into Trump’s hand.”

Earlier this year, CNN’s president and other staff were secretly recorded exposing an extreme anti-Trump bias that drives their network’s coverage of him.

A month later, an ABC reporter was caught on hot mic revealing that back in 2016, her network quashed a story on billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein at the same time that Hillary Clinton—with ties to Epstein—was running for president.

The intent of these outlets appears to be Trump’s defeat in 2020. But pundits on the left and right point out that this overt bias is playing into Trump’s hand by confirming his claims, and firing up his supporter base.

7. The Media Echo Chamber

There is an additional danger for the mainstream media. The risk for journalists who lurch leftward faster than America is that even as they congratulate each other and believe their own news, they neglect that everyday people aren’t joining them for the ride.

If it’s true that “the ratings don’t lie”, then the meteoric rise of Fox News and the ratings freefall for CNN and MSNBC seem to confirm this reality.

“American newsrooms are now crowded with liberal coastal elites.”

Groupthink, echo chamber, confirmation bias, the media bubble. It goes by different names, but it is a real phenomenon. It was the reason whole nations were taken by surprise when ScoMo won Australia, when Brexit and Boris swept the UK—and most of all, when Trump took America the first time around.

The shock of Trump’s victory helped even left-leaning outlets diagnose the problem: that American newsrooms are now crowded with liberal coastal elites who live in a different world from most of their readers.

“Mainstream news outlets will need to make their case with more nuance if they hope to avoid a repeat of 2016.”

Not so long ago, journalists saw their role as informing public opinion instead of forming it. It might be asking too much to turn back the clock on this.

But if mainstream news outlets want to keep acting as a de facto propaganda arm for progressive parties, they will at least need to make their case with more nuance if they hope to avoid a repeat of 2016.

8. Impeachment

Plans to impeach Donald Trump began before he even took office. Democrats finally felt they had enough evidence to launch a formal impeachment inquiry late this year.

This week, they were successful in impeaching the President. But to remove Trump from office, a two-thirds majority in the Senate would have to agree to it. This is very unlikely given that the Senate is currently controlled by a Republican majority.

“Plans to impeach Donald Trump began before he even took office.”

Worse still, Americans are souring on everything impeachment. Since proceedings began, support for impeachment flipped among voters. While it was 48% for and 44% against beforehand, the most recent Emerson poll shows has this reversed at 45% opposed, and only 43% in favour.

In fact, in a dramatic move, congressman Jeff Van Drew has grown so sick of the drama that he will reportedly defect from the Democratic party this week and become a Republican.

Impeaching Trump may be the Democrats’ biggest gift to him yet.

9. The Polls

The polls more generally are picking up for Trump. Overall, his approval rating has been poor—on average hovering in the low 40s. That recently rose to 43%, which according to Gallup makes Trump as popular as Obama was at the same point in his first term.

Now that the Democrats seem to be overplaying their hand on impeachment, Emerson has seen Trump’s approval rating spike to 48%, which puts him well within striking range of re-election.

“Trump is as popular as Obama was at the same point in his first term.”

There is also the phenomenon, confirmed by research, that in polls people suppress their voting intentions if their views are publicly demonised.

In other words, since it’s now seen as social suicide to vote for Trump, some of his supporters won’t reveal their voting intention in a poll, and will instead take their opinion straight to the ballot box. So on the quiet, Trump’s approval could be well above 48%.

10. Betting Odds

It’s worth taking a look at betting odds for presidential elections, too. Polls measure people’s emotions and shifting opinions—whereas betting agencies deal in cold, hard cash.

Even now that the impeachment process is underway, Trump is far-and-away the favourite on betting markets. He is around even odds on all legal online betting sites: they’re offering next to no payout on Trump, so great is their fear of his reelection.

11. Trump’s Tweeting

A consistent complaint of Trump’s presidency is his tweeting. The president’s constant trolling, his unfiltered opinions, incomplete sentences and SHOUTING IN CAPS LOCK annoy even his allies.

But Trump’s tendency to tweet is tactical. More than any president before, it allows him to circumvent the media and address everyday people directly. And in the process, it reinforces his image as a freedom fighter standing against corrupt institutions.

Even the way Trump uses language works in his favour. Many mock his awkward grammar and sparse vocabulary as unintelligent. In fact, researchers have found that his linguistic style helps voters see him as more relatable and authentic than regular politicians.

12. America First

Trump has surprised many—and somewhat stolen the thunder of Democrats—with his anti-war stance.

It’s part of a broader “America First” push of the Trump administration. Trump is playing hardball on trade. He is infamously strong on borders. He has persuaded America’s allies to contribute more of a fair share to the NATO budget.

“Trump has stolen the thunder of Democrats with his anti-war stance.”

You only have to read the news to see that Trump isn’t presenting the best of America to the rest of the world. But he is presenting a proud America to the rest of the world, instead of apologising, or talking America down.

And like it or not, this resonates with voters—especially in America’s heartland.

13. Pro-Israel Policies

America has a long history of support for Israel. Like much of what he does, Trump has supercharged this stance—to the praise of many, and the fury of others.

Earlier this year, Trump invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House. Just after Israel’s leader told Trump, “Israel has never had a better friend than you,” Trump announced that the USA will now recognise the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli soil. This is a move that decades of presidents have feared to make.

“America has a long history of support for Israel.”

While Clinton, Bush and Obama all tried to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Trump actually did it. The President has also made strong policy moves to help protect Israel from its neighbouring enemies.

Just this month, in response to rising anti-Semitism back home in the States, Trump signed an executive order protecting Jews from discrimination on college campuses.

All of this will likely bode well with Jewish, Christian and even mainstream American voters.

14. The Rust Belt

The Rust Belt describes the inland “fly over” regions of America that experienced industrial decline beginning in the 1980s—in particular the Great Lakes region and the Midwest.

Donald Trump promised this region a resurgence in manufacturing, and on this promise he was able to swing key Rust Belt states to help him secure the presidency.

“Recent polls show Trump performing better than expected in key Rust Belt states.”

During his first two years, Trump somewhat delivered on those promises. Jobs growth in manufacturing was solid and benefitted industrial regions.

This growth slowed over the past year, and it seemed as though Trump was losing his shine in Rust Belt territory. But recent polls show him performing better than expected against all of his Democratic contenders in the key battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

15. Draining the Swamp

On the campaign trail, “Drain the Swamp” was a favourite phrase of Donald Trump. It was his pledge to trim administrative costs in Washington, and unseat corrupt career politicians.

His early attempts at this were quite rightly seen as a “revolving door” at the White House. For a while, the news cycle struggled to keep up with all of the dismissals and resignations.

“On the campaign trail, ‘Drain the Swamp’ was a favourite phrase of Donald Trump.”

Regardless of how successful Trump’s swamp-draining efforts have been, the perception of Trump as a fearless outsider in D.C. has stuck. His refusal to pander to politicians, his unpolished speeches, and his tendency to shoot from the hip ensure that Washington elites despise him.

That’s just what Trump wants. And his fans with their MAGA hats and “deplorables” t-shirts love him all the more for it.

16. Building the Wall

Arguably Trump’s most controversial policy from the beginning has been his promise to build a wall along the US-Mexican border, to prevent the flow of illegal immigration.

Media has criticised both Trump’s border wall policy, and the slow speed with which he is executing it.

“Trump has deported less than half the illegal immigrants that Obama did.”

Even so, Pew Research has found that 68% of Americans want increased security along America’s southern border, and 54% believe more should be done to deport illegal immigrants.

It also turns out that Trump isn’t quite the xenophobe that his critics make him out to be: despite his tough talk, he has deported less than half the illegal immigrants that Obama did.

17. Democratic Candidates

Perhaps the biggest boost for Trump’s re-election prospects are the Democratic candidates on offer for 2020.

Since the primaries began, over two dozen contenders entered the race. Now that the field has thinned out, the most popular are former Vice President Joe Biden on 26%, and both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren tied at 16% apiece.

“The biggest boost for Trump’s re-election prospects are the Democratic candidates on offer.”

But with Biden’s gaffes, Bernie’s socialism, and Warren’s lack of likeability, the Democrats fear that none of these candidates will be able to defeat Donald Trump. The New York Times recently reported that Democrat doors are in a scramble, asking, Is There Anybody Else?

Eager to avoid a repeat of 2016, Hillary Clinton has resisted running for nomination. But in a recent poll, Democrats still favoured her over the current frontrunners—though she’s not even in the race.

18. Democratic Policies

One thing that Americans seem united on in this moment is that America is a divided nation.

From sporting heroes to movies to corporations, everything has been politicised. Both parties have vacated the centre, and hold increasingly polarised political views.

“America is a divided nation.”

Pew Research recently found that most of this shift has taken place on the progressive side of politics. The data confirms that while Republicans have inched increasingly to the right, Democrats have swung hard to the left.

Last month, even Barack Obama sent a warning to his own Democratic party. He said that average Americans aren’t interested in “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds or the activist wing of our party.”

“The data confirms that Democrats have swung hard to the left.”

He went on. “Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision we also have to be rooted in reality,” Obama said. “The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”

It’s not entirely clear that the current crop of candidates are listening to their former President. In terms of policy, precious little separates them. Among other hot-button issues, they all back big government, tax hikes, open borders and taxpayer-funded abortion.

19. Trump’s Indestructibility

Satire site Babylon Bee recently ran a parody article entitled Trump: ‘If You Impeach Me Now, I Shall Become More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine’.

In humorous and hyperbolic terms, it captured something of the impressive indestructibility that Trump has developed through his three years in office.

“Where other politicians would apologise in the face of criticism, Trump doubles down.”

The President has a snarky and egotistical persona that provides limitless fodder to his critics. And yet that same characteristic is indispensable to his success.

Where other politicians would backtrack and apologise in the face of criticism, Trump doubles down. In an era of ubiquitous thin skin, Trump’s adaptation to hostility provokes amusement—and even admiration—in more people than might be willing to admit it.

And in a culture like America’s, that’s a quality that goes a long way.

20. It’s the Economy, Stupid

The average American isn’t on Twitter, has tuned out of the impeachment coverage, and is more interested in sports than the latest news panel complaining about the President.

But the average American feels they are better off under a Trump economy, and that matters. 69% of Americans are optimistic about their personal finances—a 16-year high. 71% say the economy is either “somewhat good” or “very good”—the highest since 2001.

“Everywhere you look, the writing is on the wall.”

Trump’s tax cuts and aggressive deregulation aren’t just a boon for big business: it has translated into pay rises and better employment prospects for people with low-paying jobs, disabilities, criminal records, and those from racial minorities, too.

In a recent CNBC survey, over two-thirds of chief financial officers believe Trump will be re-elected. Moody’s Analytics has predicted a 332-206 Trump victory at the electoral college. Two economic modellers who went against popular wisdom to predict Trump’s win in 2016 are making the same forecast for next year.

“The average American feels they are better off under a Trump economy.”

Everywhere you look, the writing is on the wall. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, Americans can look forward to five more years of Trump’s America.

Donald Trump’s surprising performance is undoubtedly behind this. But in a strange twist of irony, those who deserve the greatest thanks for Trump’s victory will be his haters.

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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Greta Thunberg, Climate Strikes, and the End of the World

If you own a screen, chances are you’ve heard about this week’s climate strikes in a city near you. Chances are you were also recently introduced to a 16 year old called Greta Thunberg.

So what’s all the hype about?

The protests have been organised by Extinction Rebellion (XR), whose website states:

“We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on Earth is in crisis: scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown, and we are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.”

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish school student, spoke at the group’s ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ held in London last year. But it was her more recent speech at the UN that really got the world’s attention:

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words… Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

As a Christian, I’m convinced that God commands good stewardship of this planet. He has charged us with its sustainable management, for the benefit of present and future generations.

And as a millennial, I’ve been taught many practical ways to do this. I actively try to reduce my footprint by living simply, shopping locally, minimising waste, and eating a plant-heavy diet. I’m a big fan of entrepreneurial efforts to heal the environment, as well as policies that promote this and prevent more harm to our planet.

But there’s something ugly about the rising tide of climate alarmism—and I don’t just mean the traffic jams and adolescent outbursts. It’s a movement with a credibility crisis, for at least three reasons.

1. The Misinformation Behind the Movement

I’m no scientist, and I don’t have particularly strong views on the science of climate change. What’s clear to me is that many scientists are concerned for our planet’s future, and that a smaller consensus of scientists are unconvinced that there’s a climate emergency.

What’s also clear is that the leaders of XR exaggerate the claims of the scientists they rely on. Gail Bradbrook is a co-founder of XR, and she has said, “It’s quite possible that all life on Earth—97 percent of it—is going to go, and possibly in my children’s lifetime.”

“There’s something ugly about the rising tide of climate alarmism.”

The other co-founder, Roger Hallam claimed, “Our children are going to die in the next ten to twenty years.” On a seperate occasion he warned, “I am talking about the slaughter, death, and starvation of 6 billion people this century—that’s what the science predicts.”

That’s definitely not what the science predicts.

Like fundamentalists who cherry-pick Bible verses to fit their narrative, the leaders of XR routinely spin the most extreme (and least likely) predictions from the UN literature to shock their audiences.

“The misinformation behind this movement isn’t helping anyone.”

Greta Thunberg, who leads the youth strike for climate and regularly warns of impending disaster, tells her followers, “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

It makes sense to me that humans have contributed to climate change and that we have a responsibility to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels.

But the misinformation behind this movement isn’t helping anyone. It’s undermining the credibility of science, and it’s alienating a voter bloc that might otherwise take environmental concerns seriously.

2. The Mania Behind the Movement

The mania isn’t helping either. In this way too, the movement resembles a religious cult. Its leaders leave little room for nuance or debate.

XR demands that governments reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. If this were taken seriously, it would basically mean reversing the Industrial Revolution.

This would hurt western nations of course. But more importantly, it would utterly devastate the world’s poor and marginalised.

“The movement resembles a religious cult.”

When this kind of unbending apocalyptic fervour is seen in religious groups, people shun it. Yet somehow a girl in pigtails has displayed the same trait and won universal praisefrom the mainstream media and unquestioning observers alike.

No wonder critics decry it all as a Children’s Crusade.

‘Religious cult’ is an accurate description for other reasons too. XR co-founder Gail Bradbrook openly acknowledges that “codes for social change” were given to her during a prayer ceremony and psychedelic drug trip at a retreat in Costa Rica.

Wait. Wasn’t this just about the science?

3. The Movement Behind the Movement

There are movements to be wary of on both extremes of the political landscapefrom fascists on the right to Marxists on the left.

XR doesn’t openly advocate Marxism, but it bears a troubling resemblance to the political ideology that wrought untold destruction last century. Their Declaration of Rebellion states:

“We, in alignment with our consciences and our reasoning, declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future… The wilful complicity displayed by our Government has shattered meaningful democracy.”

Co-founder Gail Bradbrook has said, “Conventional politics is f*cked, it’s finished.” On another occasion, she clarified her mission: “I’m not organising protests, I’m organising a rebellion against my government.”

A now-deleted tweet on XR’s Twitter feed stated, “This movement is the best chance we have of bringing down capitalism.”

Roger Hallam, the group’s other founder, has made his political views quite clear. “I’ve been on the left all my life and I think it’s fantastic. You know the whole socialist project; amazing.” He too has made his aims clear:

“We are not just sending out e-mails and asking for donations. We are going to force the governments to act. And if they don’t, we will bring them down and create a democracy fit for purpose… and yes, some may die in the process.”

To be clear, XR is explicitly non-violent, so Hallam is referring to martyrdom, not terrorism. But his colleague Bradbrook has echoed the same radical sentiment, saying, “I am willing to be arrested. I am willing to be jailed. And I can tell you something else; I am willing to die for this movement.”

Many are drawn to movements like Extinction Rebellion for their green credentials. But beware of the watermelon phenomenon: many groups that are green on the outside are actually red on the inside.

With XR, it’s clear that there’s a movement behind the movement, and it needs to be called out.

Environmentalism and the Gospel

I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced that the best way to care for the environment is to topple capitalism, surrender our precious freedoms and set up an eco-socialist utopia.

I don’t envy the governments around the world who are tasked with balancing stable economic growth and environmental responsibility. A great challenge lies ahead of them.

But let’s remember that government isn’t always the solution to the world’s problems.

Entrepreneurial genius—yes, capitalism—is coming up with brilliant solutions. Consider the Canadian company capturing CO2 to make fuel, or these companies reusing landfill to make their products.

“Don’t buy the lie that our only options are apathy and fanaticism.”

Or what about Boyan Slat? He has far less Google searches to his name than Greta Thunberg, and he hyperventilates less. But at age 16, he designed the world’s first ocean plastic cleanup system and now runs his own company.

Addressing the problems our planet faces won’t be simple. But don’t buy the lie that our only options are apathy and fanaticism.

“I’m not convinced that the best way to care for the environment is to topple capitalism.”

See there’s a bigger picture here.

As Christianity has retreated from the West, it’s left behind a yawning spiritual void. People once knew of a greater purpose for their lives and a hope that stretched beyond the present and into eternity. In the absence of this, we’re scrambling to replace it with something meaningful.

Climate alarmism is just one of many alternatives that has rushed into the vacuum. What began as care for the environment is now morphing into a cult with its own end times scenario. Why? Because people are asking it to provide them with that sense of greater purpose, and answers for their existential questions.

“As Christianity has retreated from the West, it has left behind a yawning spiritual void.”

This is why the gospel is still so relevant. It reminds us that we’ve been made in God’s image as valued and unique creatures. And that because of this, we have the duty to steward his creation well, and clean up the messes we’ve made.

But it reminds us of something far greater: our meaning and life purpose is in God. It’s only in him that we can make sense of our place in the cosmos, have a healthy responsibility for the world we live in, and a bright hope for the future.

Without the need for panic, or the overthrow of civilisation.

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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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