Belmont Club

The Undiscovered Country

The Daily Telegraph reports this Easter week that China is on course to become the country with the largest number of Christians in the world. “The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that it by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America.”

The new spread of Christianity has the Communist Party scratching its head. …

Yet others within China’s leadership worry about how the religious landscape might shape its political future, and its possible impact on the Communist Party’s grip on power, despite the clause in the country’s 1982 constitution that guarantees citizens the right to engage in “normal religious activities”.

As a result, a close watch is still kept on churchgoers, and preachers are routinely monitored to ensure their sermons do not diverge from what the Party considers acceptable.

The standard secular Western narrative was that Christianity would fade away as people became more hip and cool. But hip and cool don’t always add up to smart. Recently a woman made news in Britain by announcing her intention to have a government-funded abortion so she could appear in the Big Brother show.

She told the Sunday Mirror: ‘An abortion will further my career. This time next year I won’t have a baby.

‘Instead I’ll be famous, driving a bright pink Range Rover and buying a big house. Nothing will get in my way.’

She added: ‘I want to be famous for being me – Josie Cunningham, a glamour model in my own right.

‘If I want to do that I need to put my career first.’

Ms Cunningham has now posed in a series of photographs showing off her growing baby bump.

Incidents like this raise the issue of whether it’s really true that hip people are the smartest kids on the block. Perhaps the future doesn’t belong to the secular left which likes to depict itself as the inheritor of all intellectual endeavor. To help them in this assertion they push the belief that Easter is about superstitions, chocolate eggs and talking bunnies.

But Christians, presumably including those in China, know that Easter is really about the fate of the universe. It’s an oddly philosophical problem, but one which if you think of it, may have bugged each of us at one time or other. One of the biggest questions humans through the ages grappled with is the question of whether the universe was malignant or benign.

Modern culture evades the issue by wishing the problem away. They do this by essentially assuming there are no global variables in the universe. There are only local variables. Death solves all problems by allowing everything to go out of scope. Hence Hitler had an infallible out from the problems he created in the form of his Walther PPK automatic, whose ammunition costs 40 cents a round, even today.  He shot himself and the chain of causality was ended. Forty cents, a blank screen and gone.

It was Shakespeare who most famously raised the  objection: suppose there are global variables? Suppose the chain of causality can’t be interrupted by a forty cent bullet or a bare bodkin? What then? He raises this issue very effectively in Hamlet.

To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought

Shakespeare understood the true nature of the problem. Why should we assume there are no global variables?  Even supposing God existed, why would he necessarily be good? The purpose of the whole application might be evil.

If the universe were evil we might be created to suffer eternally and that would be a bummer.

Eternity creates problems for human-scale calculations because the stakes are so outrageously high. Herman Melville, for one,  declared eternity too rich for us — and too fraught with danger. His preacher said in Moby Dick, “I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?” In many ways atheism is more comforting than religion. It’s got a built in stop-loss and profit ceiling.

But in Christianity the problem of scope is faced squarely. The Easter event is not primarily interested with answering the problem of the Dry Bones. “Can these bones live?” — of resurrecting human beings once they die. Rather the main focus of Easter is ‘who wins’, who rules the undiscovered country?

Easter is about answering “who wins?”  Returning to life is interesting, but Jesus is not even the first person in the New Testment to make it back. That distinction belong to Lazarus, and it’s almost treated as an uninteresting warm-up. The more important thing to answer is what is the character of the universe we are resurrected to. And so the main event in Easter is Christ descending into hell and overcoming it, an event which used to be called the Harrowing of Hell.

What this means exactly we don’t know.  It’s almost as if it involved events we have no vocabulary for. Religions give only approximate answers. Suffice it to say that Easter Sunday in Christianity is regarded as a global victory over Death, not simply as an instance of high quality resuscitation.

Easter is a statement about the transformation of the entire universe. Acts says, “He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”  The living and the dead.

Easter makes a claim about the very nature of the Cosmos. It answers Shakespeare’s question about the Undiscovered Country with the assertion that this unknown realm is not ruled an omnipotent tormentor but on the contrary by someone who says “I have loved you with an everlasting love”.

No one needs to believe this; and indeed many people don’t or won’t. For many it will seem hokey. But the point of examining Easter on its own terms is to inquire into whether the great religions are what the PC media assert they are:  the province of simpletons or confectioners. Like them or or hate them the great religions deal with the Eternal Questions, about things that are — to some at least — more interesting than abortions to get on Big Brother.

For that reason the great religions are evergreen. Therefore it is no mystery why there are hundreds of millions of Christians in China.  Humanity has always longed for more than government can give it. “My heart shall never rest, until it rests in Thee.”

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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