Listening or seeing – which is more important?
Now back to the Deists. These folk, who had relegated God to the role as the one who got the Universe started, were still around in the 19th Century. It was a popular position for some in the upper-classes who were - let us say - somewhat brain-challenged. God is an Englishman they would cry, while turning a blind eye at the crippling poverty, child exploitation and other evils afflicting the not-so-well-off in Victorian England. Authentic Christianity for the chattering classes was fighting on all fronts - science, philosophy, history - and generally losing. Science, fuelled by Greek rationalism, was opening folk's minds to new possibilities and, as these minds were tuning away from the supernatural and towards the rational, it only needed one small nudge ... which came courtesy of Charles Darwin, who was the one who made the necessary discoveries.
The concept of evolution was around long before Darwin, he was just the one who went looking for the evidence to support it. The first to propose the idea of common ancestors was yet another Ancient Greek, Anaximander, in the 6th Century BC. In Darwin's day, his own grandfather, Erasmus, had spoken much about evolution, had even written a poem about it. The atheists and rationalists just needed someone to furnish the facts that would dress the theory of evolution and allow her to parade herself in public in all her finery. Because, if one didn't even need a God to get Life, the Universe and everything started, there was no need even to be a Deist, let alone a proper Christian! Mankind could be free at last from "divine tyranny"! In other words, evolution was an idea waiting for a methodology long before Charles Darwin appeared. A thoroughly Greek worldview required a saviour and Darwin duly obliged.
But the really bad stuff in the 19th Century was happening in Germany and I'm not even going to cover the anti-Semitic and racial theories developed there, that were eventually going to lead to the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust. I'm not even going to mention the dark, soulless deliberations of Karl Marx and Frederick Nietzsche. Instead we focus on a direct attack on the Word of God, the Bible, itself ... by Christians!
One attack was on the Old Testament, led by Julius Wellhausen, a German professor of the ... Old Testament! He took the five books of the Torah and using the full tools of Greek logic and understanding, completing the job first started by Philo nearly 2000 years earlier. He analysed the Holy Scripture from all angles - historical, social, literary - bar one - the evidence of a supernatural authorship - and sucked away all evidence of the Holy Spirit's work. He produced something called the documentary hypothesis, an attack on Moses as the author of the Torah, still with us today, courtesy of liberal Christians of all persuasions.
Another attack was on the New Testament. Another German, Hermann Reimarus, a Deist, was one of many who entered a quest for the historical Jesus, a Jesus with all "mythology" swept away, an anaemic Jesus who travelled around the Holy Land doing nice things and saying nice things. A Jesus of revisionist history, but not the Jesus of the Bible, the miracle-working prophet who died for our sins and who was miraculously resurrected.
There we leave the broad sweep of the 19th Century, a time of great change, of many new beginnings, and of ideas and movements that form the tapestry of life today in the 21st Century.
December 2013(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)