Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011
Melvyn Bragg wrote a powerful apologetic for the positive influence of Christian belief on society, in his 11 June 2011 article in The Telegraph. Researching his book on the impact of the King James Bible for the 400th anniversary of its publication, clearly had a profound effect on Bragg. Having lost his faith at university, he acknowledges that “I experienced the common delusion that only reason mattered, and so where did that leave miracles, and especially the Resurrection?” Not that his faith has been re-kindled, but “I find that I have come to respect again the best of that faith. I am still unable to cross the River of Jordan which would lead me to the crucial belief in a godly eternity.”
I experienced the common delusion that only reason mattered
Bragg is appalled at the modern tendency to belittle the positive effects of Christianity on society and so he seeks to redress some of that imbalance, citing examples of the abolition of the slave trade, the rise of modern democracy, philanthropy, social justice and “much else”. What is strange is to see the reverence with which he holds to the King James Bible, seeing its abandonment as a key factor in the decline of the Anglican Church. To me, this seems overstated – it is surely the Christian beliefs that arose out of the access to the Bible that led to the impact on society and multiple other factors that led to a decline in those same Christian beliefs. To impose the King James Bible on each successive generation is to fail to recognise that the language of that time is as much in need of translation into modern English as, for most of us, are the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. To compare this with modern updates of Shakespeare is a false analogy – the beauty of language of the King James Bible is undisputed. But the Bible was never written solely for its aesthetic effects – it was intended to convey a message and it would be a failure of duty to the original writers, as well as negating the original intentions of the translators of the King James Bible, if that message were never again to be conveyed in contemporary language.
the current notion that atheistic reason marks the apotheosis of human intelligence, strikes me as being very doubtful
Bragg describes himself, using Einstein’s words, as a “believing unbeliever”. He cannot bring himself to acknowledge the truth of Christianity, but recognises that there is far more to life than science on its own can reveal. “Stephen Hawking speaks of worlds of thought which we shall never know – there is the inexplicable. I think most of us sense that now and then we have pulses from it – in passion, in daydreams, ‘surprised by joy’. I respect those who have no faith or little faith or are indifferent to it, but the current notion that atheistic reason marks the apotheosis of human intelligence, strikes me as being very doubtful. I’m as certain as I can be that there’s more to come.”
Like many today, Bragg rejects the extreme rationalism of those who believe that science can supply answers to every important question that human beings can ask. Bragg concludes: “If people want to turn their back on their faith, that’s one thing. To turn our backs on our history is to embalm ourselves in the superficialities of the present.” A recognition that there must be more to life than “the superficialities of the present” is a start. To recognise, as Bragg does, that there is some form of an answer to that superficiality in the Bible (at least for him in the King James Version) is a good continuation. The challenge for Christians is to be able to go on from there to show people that in Jesus Christ there is an offer of new life that releases from the past into the fullness of life in the present (John 10:10) and on to what Bragg rightly recognises as that “crucial belief in a godly eternity”.
‘Melvyn Bragg: My first steps back on the road to faith’ Telegraph 11 June 2011.
‘The Book of Books: Melvyn Bragg interview’ Telegraph 03 April 2011.
Melvyn Bragg The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011: A History of the King James Bible was published by Hodder & Stoughton in April 2011. The paperback version is released in October.
You may also be interested in: Nick Spencer Freedom and Order: History, Politics and the English Bible Hodder & Stoughton, May 2011.
© 2011 Chris Knight