|"Great and good are seldom the same man" -|
Sir Winston Churchill.
Photo taken on 2 August 1944, in the public domain.
(source: Wikimedia Commons)
Whilst being an admirer of Winston Churchill the man, the historian and the politician, the rather mythological way he is regarded by some in England does not sit well with me. In fact, I share Peter Hitchens' conviction that the "Cult of Churchill" borders on being a secular quasi-religion (cf The Rage Against God, Continuum, 2010; pp 45 - 57). The way in which some regard Churchill as the "Great Leader" or "the Saviour of our Country", as the historian A J P Taylor once referred to him, reflects the radical desacralisation of post-war Britain.
Whenever God is pushed out of the picture, men or material things usually fill the void. This false or disordered attitude towards life is known as idolatry. It is a tragic flaw in humans - when we place men on pedestals and hide God from view.
The fact that Sir Winston is often viewed as a man who was infallible, incapable of sin, or who single-handedly saved the world from Nazism, shows how powerful the Churchillian myth has become. Hitchens even argues that the Churchill cult served an extremely useful purpose in the 1950s and 60s, as Britain ditched Christianity and embraced secularism. As he himself says about his childhood, during which both he and his now deceased brother, Christopher, were unintentionally formed as atheists: "I knew more about [Churchill's] life than I did about the life of Christ. He was our saviour." As G K Chesterton famously declared: "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything." Secular nations often need to replace the Divine with human idols - be they political, intellectual or the very shallow celebrity ones that seem to inhabit today's world.
Having said all that, I do actually admire Churchill. Even if I feel repelled by his semi-deification, I gladly consent to the fact that he was one of Britain's most inspirational leaders. He definitely deserves his place amongst the pantheon of great prime ministers, men such as Gladstone, Disraeli, and Lloyd George. It's also important to note that Winston Churchill had a great mind, which he sometimes even deployed in defence of Christianity. Although it would be wrong to speak of him as a devout church-goer, he did recognise that the world needs to believe in its Creator. Had no time, though, for the "fanatical frenzy" often exhibited in the Muslim faith, which he once claimed was "as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog." For a man who was well aware of the dangers of totalitarianism, Islam was probably viewed by Churchill as a potent and perilous form of it.
Another thing that I admire about Winston Churchill is that he was a great defender of biblical history, especially in relation to Moses and the Exodus of Israel. He strongly countered the modern claim that the great Hebrew leader was somehow based on pure myth. In 1932, Churchill published an essay entitled "Moses", in which he argued that those who proclaim that the Jewish Lawgiver did not exist would eventually be proved wrong. He claimed that the Bible itself is a viable and important historical document - one inspired by God.
Here is part of what the future war-leader wrote about Moses and the historical veracity of Scripture: -
"Books are written in many languages upon the question of how much of [the Ten Commandments and the Exodus] was due to Moses. Devastating, inexorable modern study and criticism have proved that the Pentateuch constitutes a body of narrative and doctrine which came into being over at least the compass of several centuries. We reject, however, with scorn all those learned and laboured myths that Moses was but a legendary figure upon whom the priesthood and the people hung their essential social, moral, and religious ordinances. We believe that the most scientific view, the most up-to-date and rationalistic conception, will find its fullest satisfaction in taking the Bible story literally, and in identifying one of the greatest of human beings with the most decisive leap forward ever discernible in the human story. We remain unmoved by the tomes of Professor Gradgrind and Dr Dryasdust. We may be sure that all these things happened just as they are set out according to Holy Writ. We may believe that they happened to people not so very different from ourselves, and that the impressions those people received were faithfully recorded and have been transmitted across the centuries with far more accuracy than many of the telegraphed accounts we read of the goings-on of today. In the words of a forgotten work of Mr Gladstone, we rest with assurance upon 'The impregnable rock of Holy Scripture.'"
"Let the men of science and of learning expand their knowledge and probe with their researches every detail of the records which have been preserved to us from these dim ages. All they will do is to fortify the grand simplicity and essential accuracy of the recorded truths which have lighted so far the pilgrimage of man." ("Moses", from the collection of essays Thoughts and Adventures, Odhams, 1947 edition; pp 224-5).Churchill's views reflect those held by the great biblical scholar, John Bright, who argued that: "Though we know nothing about [Moses's] career, save what the Bible tells us, the details of which we have no means of testing, there can be no doubt that he was, as the Bible portrays him, the great founder of Israel's faith. The attempts to reduce him are extremely unconvincing ... A faith as unique as Israel's demands a founder as surely as does Christianity - or Islam, for that matter. To deny that role to Moses would force us to posit another person of the same name." (History of Israel, John Knox Press, 2000, 4th edition; pp 126-7).
I'll be sure to remember Churchill in my prayers today, though will be praying for him, not to him. He was no saint. Neither was he semi-divine or super-human. Having said that, he was a great man. Churchill also recognised greatness in others. He was humble enough to accept the great vale of Sacred Scripture, too - both as historical evidence and as a Word given to inspire man. As a leader of men, he intuitively knew that people are not led by ghosts and that even myths are ultimately based on real characters. If Israel was led from Egypt, then someone would have had to have acted as leader. As both Churchill and Bright argued, if it wasn't Moses who led the Hebrews from Egypt, then who else could it have been?