In his book, ‘Mere Christianity’, Clive Staples Lewis examined his life in relation to the claims which might be laid on him, if he were to admit, with an adult mind, the possibility of a ‘resurrected’ spiritual leader.
He starts off with the basic observation that ‘Everyone has heard people arguing’ – they might be saying things like, “Come on, give us a piece of that orange, I gave you a bit of mine!”, and he goes on to say that very often, the person accused of unfair behaviour will attempt to show that, on that previous occasion, there were special circumstances to justify the action taken.
Lewis finally got to the point in life where he knew that ‘Christians are wrong, but all the rest are bores’. There were, as he described elsewhere, times in his life when he felt exhilaration which he could not account for – a ‘joie de vivre’, which he likened to ‘Seconds of gold dust, scattered in months of dross’.
I wonder what Lewis would have made of the social disfunction in our land today? We are hooked on material possessions to the point where many of us see little value in bothering about issues like ‘Faith’, ‘Respect’ or consideration for the other person. It is refreshing, though, when, like a second of gold, we do witness unselfishness in action..
I want to talk to you here about the ultimate in unselfish action.
To do this properly, we must go back to the beginning, because if we are going to build something of lasting value, it is essential to have a solid foundation.
In the same way that you might hear someone arguing for a piece of their schoolmate’s orange (nowadays probably ‘chocolate’), we have inside all of us a basic sense of what is right or ‘wrong’ behaviour. I make no apology here for referring back to the starting point of our national ‘faith’; there are accounts of similar arguments going back to the beginning of time.
The earliest writings on the subject tell us (anecdotally?) how two brothers became separated by jealousy, one killing the other, because he felt he had lost ‘respect’. Over subsequent generations came the understanding that, if you do me a wrong, then I am entitled to take redress.
When such social practices became widespread, these points were summarised, and were written down as ‘rules of conduct’.
In November 1992, on a voluntary working project in Israel, I was posted to a Neurology Ward in the Tel Hashomer hospital, near Tel Aviv. Taking a patient down to the x-ray department, the lady told me that she was being met there by her son, to see a specialist.
Her son turned out to be a ‘hassidic’ student, who, learning that I was ‘goya’ (non-Jewish) informed me that, whereas he kept every day 623 points of law – to keep himself ‘perfect’ before his g-ds, for me, it is easier – there are just seven such points. He later brought me a copy of the points which had been held sacrosanct for Ham and Japheth, in the same way that his 623 points had become Shem’s burden. This was the foundation of the ‘Old’ Covenant – which contains what we today probably know as the ‘Ten Commandments’. Contained in these commandments, as in the earlier versions, is the sentiment that, if you spill my blood, expect your own to be spilled too.
This grim state of affairs continued over generations, until new revelation began to dawn, through the prophets, that there could be a change of events, when the g-ds would appear and show the nation a better way to carry on.
The arrival of a different class of prophet, who went about doing positive things, like making lameness and blindness go away, soon clashed with the ‘negative’ attitude of the religious leaders of the day. Over the course of three years, this ‘uneducated’ Galilean carpenter attracted a very strong following because of his constant ‘fault-finding’ with those who thought they had the people tied down. Things got so bad, that, an extraordinary general meeting had to be called, where it was decided that this troublemaker should be made to disappear.
Over a particular public holiday, the Temple version of the ‘Waffen-SS’ had him lifted, dragged before a kangaroo court, and summarily sent for execution, conveniently taking advantage of the legislation of the ‘uninvited’ bullies from Rome. (Ringing any bells yet?)
That hapless soul was executed, and his body placed in a secure place, before the supporting peasantry knew what was happening. However, this is where the ‘covenant’ change occurred, because, three days after disposing of the evidence, a nasty rumour began to circulate that the troublemaker was, in fact, alive and well. Oh, weih! The responsible players in the execution were suitably bribed and told to not say much.
Oddly, this account of the miraculous brought with it a concept that his ideas, his teachings, were so fundamentally different, so brilliant, that they ought to be followed by adherents worldwide.
Thus began the ‘New Covenant’, and the remarkable thing is, that, his teachings, being based on Love conquering Hate, have now been taken up and marketed worldwide from the very city out of which had come those who had been complicit in his murder –
Now, when there is a 10-tonne Truth to be conveyed, it is essential to build a 20-tonne bridge to carry it. A new movement (Covenant) burns like a forest fire, consuming all before it, but, all too often the man with the message is lost, all too soon we are left with a monument. The Truth becomes a habit, the lead characters get into the dressing-up habit, the Truth gets diluted, and, before you know where you are, the buildings are empty, and uninvited adversaries, in Trojan-horse fashion, are buying up the buildings, filling them with their version of a foreign and very unsavoury ideology, a twisted concept of how society is meant to be run, and, suddenly, the common man/woman realises that they have been eating the forbidden fruit.
Where once we had kings and knights, ready to die for the Truth, we now are left with dullards, in fancy dress, claiming to care, but with their consciences seared until they are either without feeling for their fellowman/woman, or worse…
It has been said before, that this is a ‘christian’ country, and there is prevalent today a mistaken belief that, to be a follower, one has to ‘keep turning the other cheek’. This is a nonsense.
I want to take you back to the troublesome carpenter, sitting on a sunlit hillside above the Lake Teveriya [Galilee], trying to convey his 10-tonne Truth to the simple peasantry.
The subject of self-aggrandisement came up among his nearest followers, and to their burning question of “who is the best?”, the carpenter took a little child from the crowd, put him in the circle and said, emphasizing the virtue of humility – “If you want to be great, first be humble”. So important is this principle that the carpenter went on to recommend that anyone who violated a child was fit for a ‘granite necklace’ and a dip in the nearby lake. Nothing there about turning the other cheek, then?
Many years later, one of the carpenter’s main men reminded us that, whilst we are to be subject to the elected government, we are not to presume that the ‘old’ covenant rules have been mislaid.
A free translation of this letter to ‘Rome’ (again), runs like this “ If, having been afforded every possible advantage and benefit which the state can offer, you or I then decide to ignore the ‘New Covenant’ rule, and insist on destroying the hand which has so freely fed us, then we may expect to be punished under the ‘Old Covenant’ rule.
When I was a lad, the ‘church’ where my parents attended was given a new ‘pastor’. This man was one of the fittest, strongest specimens of manhood that it has ever been my privilege to meet.
A man who had served in the Royal Marines, had swum across Morecambe Bay fully clothed, had been brought up in Perry Barr, Birmingham, where Saturday evening entertainment for the local youth was throwing potatoes at the opposition – with razor blades affixed, FJ was not a man to be messed with.
At a young people’s group one evening, the subject of ‘self-defence’ came up for discussion. Someone mentioned this notion of turning the other cheek. FJ’s response was. “I always say to that type of character, sure, hit me, I’ll give you two free shots and then I’ll take you to pieces!”
I shall leave it to the imagination of the reader as to where and when this punishment could possibly become appropriate. ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’