A History of Christianity (2009–…): Season 1, Episode 6 - God in the Dock - full transcript

MacCULLOCH: I come from
three generations of Anglican clergy.

Half a century ago, my father
was parish priest here in Suffolk.

He was a good and faithful priest,
much loved by his congregation.

My family lived in a huge
Georgian rectory

just up the hill from here.

When my father retired
the Church sold the house.

And now the parson lives
in another village

and there's been
a woman priest in charge.

Now that would have surprised my father
50 years ago.

His was still the Church of Christendom,

which had endured since the time
of the emperor Constantine the Great

But even as a boy,

I could see that the sort of Church
and society he served was dying.

Now I'd describe myself
not so much as a Christian,

but as a candid friend of Christianity.

My own life story makes me
a symbol of something

distinctive about Western Christianity,
a scepticism,

a tendency to doubt
which has transformed Western culture

and transformed Christianity.

Where did that change come from?

In our final programme,
we try to understand

recent Christian history
and where it goes next.


For 2,000 years, the Christian answer
to the big questions of existence

was faith in God
as revealed in Jesus Christ.

That made sense of life and death.

It taught right from wrong.

But the recent history of Christianity
has been described

as a sea of faith ebbing away

before the relentless advance
of science, reason and progress.

It's actually
a much more surprising story.

The tide of faith, perversely,
flowsback in.

For Christianity has
a remarkable resilience.

In crisis, it's rediscovered deep
and enduring truths about itself.

And that may even be
a clue to its future.

Ripped By mstoll

I've lived in Oxford since 1995,

Fellow of St Cross College
and professor in the Theology Faculty.

Our local pub is the Eagle and Child,

which can actually claim
a bit-part in Christian history.

And not just because I drink here.


Around the time
I was growing up in Suffolk

this was the regular haunt of writers
C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien

and their friends.

Devout Christians though they were,

these writers were asking questions
about their faith.

Thank you very much.

When C.S. Lewis published a collection
of essays on Christian themes,

he gave it the title, God in the Dock.

That's a good description of the way
in which Western culture

has increasingly put
the Christian God on trial

Of course, doubt is a fundamental part
of religion, the Bible's full of it.

The Old Testament is shot through
with doubt,

though in its stories
doubters tend to feel God's wrath,

like Adam and Eve when they doubted
that it was a really bad idea

to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge
of Good and Evil.

But something odd happened
in Western Europe.

Doubt has chipped away at
the very fabric of Christianity,

Catholic and Protestant

At times threatening to dynamite
its foundations.

We can trace this scepticism back to
the period known as the Enlightenment.

When Western Europeans began posing
questions about the power of monarchs,

the power of clergy,

above all, the power of God.

Conventional wisdom has us believe
that the Enlightenment began

with the French philosophes in the
elegant salons of 18th-century Paris.

But I'll show you that
it was in Amsterdam 100 years earlier

that God was first put in the dock.

In the 17th century,
Amsterdam boasted an economic

and social tolerance
unequaled in Europe.

This was a proud and cosmopolitan

A paradise for traders,
but also a marketplace for ideas.

A place where people sought refuge

from religious
and political persecution.

A brilliant young philosopher
who lived in the city

was to change the rules
of Western religion.

Baruch Spinoza belonged to a
well-established refugee community here.

They were Sephardic Jews who'd been
expelled from Spain and Portugal

after the fall of Muslim Grahada
in 1492.

This was their synagogue,
once at the heart of a thriving,

tolerated Jewish Quarter.

You get a sense of the excitement
that these people must have felt,

that suddenly they could build,
just like a mainstream community.

Here they are, free at last.

Coming from England,
this building is pleasingly familiar.

It's just like
one of the parish churches

which Sir Christopher Wren was building
in London at the same time in the 1670s.

You've got all the elements.
You've got the galleries,

the dark woodwork, the whitewash,
those great clear windows

with the light streaming in
and yet, of course, it's also Dutch.

A lovely touch, I think,
is on the floor.

Sand, to deaden the sound
as people shuffle in.

So for many Jews
coming to Amsterdam meant

rediscovering the riches
of their tradition,

building a beautiful synagogue
like this.

But other refugees
remembered their sufferings.

They remembered the Spanish Inquisition.

For them all religion became tainted
by the same crazy dogmatism

which had fueled the Inquisition.

Baruch Spinoza felt like that.

And he went so far
as to question faith itself.

He did not believe in God
as a supernatural, divine being.

Nor did he believe in
the immortality of the soul

or the existence of miracles.

Yet Spinoza's God hadn't disappeared
from the world entirely.

For Spinoza, God and nature were one.

The philosopher was a
gentle, courteous, austere figure

who made his living
grinding lenses for spectacles.

But to his enemies,
he was an evil monster.

In 1656, his relations
with the Amsterdam Jewish Community

reached breaking point

He refused an offer of
1,000 florins to keep quiet.

At the age of 24, he was expelled
from the Amsterdam synagogue

without possibility of return.

This is actually the order
for his expulsion,

"Contra Baruch Espinoza."
Against Baruch Spinoza.

At the time, Jews and Christians alike

thought his views blasphemous
and heretical.

But that didn't stop him writing
even though his chances

of getting published were slim.

In fact his most startling work
only appeared after his death in 1677.

This book is the first edition in Dutch
of the writings of Spinoza.

Very brave Dutch publisher
to publish this as early as 1677.

But still not brave enough to put
Spinoza's full name on the title page.

It's too controversial,
so just BDS, Baruch de Spinoza.

I see Baruch Spinoza as
the original doubter,

the man who first dared
to break with the past

and question whether God was the answer.

This was the beginning of that
special phenomenon

of the Western Enlightenment,

an open scepticism as to whether
there can be definitive truths

in sacred books.

In his lifetime, Spinoza was treated
as a dangerous eccentric.

A contemporary of his in England
also raised fundamental doubts

about the nature of God.

But he's celebrated as a national hero!

His inquiries were in a field
which they called natural philosophy.

It's what we call science.

Up until the 17th century,
if you were really clever,

you'd studied theology.

Now, natural philosophers looked at
Heaven and Earth and explained them

not through the Bible,
but through observation.

They set up their own
college of research in London,

which became The Royal Society.

And its most illustrious president
was Sir Isaac Newton.

There's a famous tale about
Newton's breakthrough in physics.

He's said to have been
hit on the head by an apple.

And the apple led him to question
the common understanding

of God and the Universe.

Now here is the first
real biography of Newton

written by William Stukeley
and there is that splendid story

- about the apple and gravity.
- That's right.

There are actually various versions
of this story,

one of which involves
a leaf falling from a tree,

but I think an apple
because of its biblical associations

might well have appealed
to Newton more as a good story.

I see, so he's moulding
a scientific discovery

in the pattern of a biblical story?

That's right and, of course,
he's also moulding a Newton mythology.

MacCULLOCH: Newton is celebrated
as a hero of science,

but in no way was he
an enemy of religion.

Like Spinoza, he radically rethought it

He took the Bible very seriously,
but on his own terms.

He spent as much energy
brooding on the prophecies

of the Last Days
in the Book of Revelation

as he did on the nature of gravity.

And he insisted that the universe
was run by laws

laid down by the Creator God

who had then made the decision to leave
the world to its own devices.

Newton's God was becoming different
from the God of the Bible.

For one thing, his God was rational
like a natural philosopher.

And perhaps for the time being,
just as shut away

in his study or laboratory,
whatever he might do at the end of time.


There were plenty of people
including churchmen

in rational, practical
Protestant England

who thought that
what Isaac Newton said made sense.

Perhaps that's because, unlike Spinoza,

he kept some of his wilder ideas
to himself.

But in Catholic France,

the same thoughts
had a very different impact.

Here it wasn't just God
who was put in the dock.

It was also the Catholic Church.


In the coffee houses
of 18th-century Paris,

you could meet
a new kind of philosopher.

These were men of the world,
journalists, playwrights and critics.

And they were united in their hatred
of the prejudice and fanaticism

which they saw all around them
in the sacred monarchy of France.

Their king was an absolute monarch

who insisted that his power
came from God

and expected the Church to agree.

Since the reign of Louis XIV,
a particularly intolerant version

of Roman Catholicism had triumphed.

With that background,
the philosophes emphasised

ever more fiercely the need
for religious toleration,

freedom of thought and equality.

Take the best-known name
of them all, Voltaire,

the pen-name of Francois Marie Arouet,

a French notary's son
who just couldn't stop writing.

I'm told that he came here
to Le Procope every day

and drank 40 cups of a coffee
and chocolate mixture.

Amazing he lived to a ripe old age.

When he did die in 1778, aged 84,
he was denied a Christian burial

Today Voltaire's remains are laid
to rest here in this mausoleum.

The Pantheon.

No better symbol of what
the Enlightenment might mean

because this started life
as a very expensive church,

built by a French King, Louis XV.

Now God has been banished
and the place is a huge holding pen

for the most illustrious corpses
of the French Republic.

Voltaire is one of the most famous
of the dead in the Pantheon crypt.

Revered as one of the leading prophets
of doubt,

he'd waged war against
the Catholic Church

with brilliant wit and savage irony.

He hated what he saw
as its authoritarianism,

superstition and dogmatic rigidity.

But beyond that he also attacked
the idea of a just God.

At first Voltaire subscribed
to the idea of a benevolent creator God,

a referee who makes decisions
about human morality and justice.

And even in his '70s, he said,

"If God did not exist
it would be necessary to invent him."

That does suggest that we need God,
but it's still pretty cynical.

However, in his own mind,
Voltaire had already condemned God,

his sentence provoked
by a horrifying natural disaster

which chose the most
incongruous moment to strike.

It happened in Lisbon in 1755.

A massive earthquake
caught the whole city in church

on a high festival,
candles blazing in every corner.

The churches and people
were crushed or burned

and soon the whole city
was in ruins and on fire.


When the survivors struggled to safety
on the broad waterfront,

they saw a massive tsunami
rushing towards them.

Thousands were drowned.


Where was a loving God
in this monstrous accident?

Voltaire was appalled by those
who believed the earthquake

to be part of God's divine plan
in a perfect world.

His response was a scathing
satirical novel, Candide.

Candide is an innocent fool,
that's what his name means.

His tutor is the pointlessly optimistic
Dr Pangloss, whose catchphrase is,

"All is for the best
in the best of all possible worlds".

The story ends with Candide
realising just how wrong Pangloss is.

Voltaire is the extreme example
of a mood which seems to me

to represent the most special,
unusual thing

about Enlightenment culture.

It constantly stands back from itself,

scrutinising, comparing,
examining objectively from every angle.

No belief is exempt

Every assumption
carries a health warning.

There are many good things about this.

It can produce a sanity,
a healthy scepticism.

And it produces a self-confidence
which has made Western civilisation

one of the most dynamic in history.


But as Voltaire himself
forcefully suggested,

it's never a good idea to be
too optimistic about human beings.

His scepticism, in the wrong hands,
was twisted and used

to annihilate God
and the whole of Catholic Christianity.

France celebrates the most
iconic moment in its history

on the 14th July.

On that day, in 1789,
the storming of the Bastille

heralded the beginning
of the French Revolution.

All over Europe, there was enthusiasm

at the news of Revolution.

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive"

was how William Wordsworth
remembered it,

looking back on his youth.

You could be forgiven, in 1789,
for thinking that

the ideals of the Enlightenment
had been realised.


Liberty, equality and brotherhood
were within reach.

But standing in the way
were deeply entrenched

social and political privileges
embodied in the French monarchy

and those that had supported it
for the past 1,500 years,

the aristocracy of course,
but also the Catholic Church.


While the Church had been only an
object of ridicule for the philosophes,

revolutionaries now had the power
actually to strip the Church hierarchy

of its land and wealth.


At first, many lower clergy,
who'd been excluded

from such wealth and privilege,
enthusiastically backed the Revolution

in reforming a system
with obvious faults.

But relations soon soured
when the revolutionaries

began confiscating centuries-worth
of church properties

and interfering in Church government
far more

than the Bourbon monarchy had ever done.

What began as an end to privilege
quickly degenerated.

The Revolution began to show
its dark side.

The snickering scepticism
of the French/i> philosophes

was seized upon by the revolutionaries

and radicalised against the Church
with a scale and speed

which was horrifying.

These are the remains of more than
100 priests murdered

on 2nd September, 1792.

They were hacked down or shot

in the grounds of
this Carmelite convent in Paris.

The September massacres spread.

And over the next few years,
thousands of Catholics were killed

resisting the Revolution
in the name of their faith.

The Revolution
tried to destroy Christianity.

Before 1789 there were no fewer than
40,000 French parishes

celebrating the Mass.

By 1794, only 150 were left.

The French army seized Rome
and imprisoned the pope, Pius VI.

The revolutionaries even came up
with a substitute ideal

One they hoped would inspire
people to die

for the Revolution in the way
that those priests had died for Christ.

This new cause was liberty,
equality and fraternity

and it made up its own new religion.

A pick and mix
from ancient Greece and Rome.

On a stage in Notre Dame, an actress
posed as the Goddess of Reason.

She didn't last long.
So much for the victory of rationality.

The French Revolution just could not
wipe out the hold

which Christianity had over people.

In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte took
over the French Republic

in a coup d'?tat

And at the centre of his blueprint
for the future

was a fresh deal with Catholicism.

Napoleon had grasped
a truth about the Church

which had escaped the revolutionaries.

It was not just a plaything
for cynical kings and noblemen.

It gave meaning to the lives
of the poor and helpless.

For the Catholic Church,
the 19th century became a great age

of devotional intensity, even expansion.

This cathedral in Boulogne was
totally destroyed in the Revolution.

Now they slowly rebuilt it
in the baroque style

and they intended its dome
to be the tallest

in the world after St Peter's in Rome.

And while Church domes got higher,
so did the claims of the Papacy.

In 1814, the Pope had been
swept back in triumph to Rome.

The great powers of Europe
had seen that Catholicism

revealed a power greater than theirs.

In spite of the Enlightenment
and Revolution,

the Catholic Church
had re-emerged stronger than ever.

These are the Benedictine monks
of St Wandrille in Normandy.

Late in the 19th century,
they came back home to their monastery

desecrated during the Revolution,
the Church destroyed.

But here they are, living the same life
as medieval monks before them.

Except now they worship
in a converted barn.

Do you feel this is a victory
over the French Revolution?

I don't know whether
we should be talking about victories

over the French Revolution,
but I think it's that

we've sort of managed to get over

a trauma

that affected the Church
as much as the State.

And modern France is internally divided

and I think every Frenchman
in a way is internally divided,

even though they don't all realise it.

And what we've managed to get
is a way of living with our past.

MacCULLOCH: So a happy ending?

- Almost.
- Almost.

Because of course there's never a really
definitive happy ending in this life.



MacCULLOCH: That surprising revival
of monastic life

showed that Catholicism
wasn't just about power and wealth.

It was also about spiritual growth
through humility and prayer.

Perhaps easy for monks and nuns
in their stillness to see this.

But there was still a danger
that the Christian Church

might accept its new triumph too easily.

Because the questions which Spinoza,
Newton and Voltaire had raised

had not gone away.

Catholics and Protestants alike
could not avoid hearing

the insistent voices of puzzlement
and conscientious doubt.

And these now focused more and more

on the very basis of Christian faith r
The Bible.

This is the little medieval town
of Tubingen in Germany.

Theologians at the famous
Protestant seminary here

set out to show the Enlightened world
that Christianity was true.

They were analytical
They were sceptical

And in 1835, the work of one young man
in particular, David Friedrich Strauss,

turned the eyes of all Europe
to Tubingen.

Here, in what was once
the University Library,

Strauss wrote an audacious book.

A biography entitled
The Life of Jesus Critically Examined.

What he wanted to do was to prove

that Jesus really had lived
and preached,

but his Jesus was not the only-begotten
son of God,

was not more than a man.

And the Bible became a human creation
like the plays of Shakespeare.

Its truths were the truths
of Hamlet or King Lear.

Now that is truth,
but it is not historical truth.

Strauss robbed Jesus of his divinity

and denied the Bible its authority.

It was a book, among many books.

And the New Testament narratives
were essentially works

of theological symbolism.


Without intending to, Strauss had
struck at the heart of Christianity.

Strauss' ideas wrecked his career.

He was sacked from his lectureship
here in Tubingen

just a few weeks
after his book was published.

And when he was proposed
as Professor of Theology

at the University of Z?rich,
there were riots in the streets

and they couldn't appoint him.

We shouldn't feel too sorry for him

because he did get his
professorial salary for life.

But by the end, he'd lost any sense
of the truth of Christianity

and he found the idea of
an afterlife meaningless.


I find Strauss one o f
the most compelling voices

among those who question
traditional Christianity.

Because I, too, am a professor

and I deal with hundreds
of books every year.

If the truth of God is based on a book,

and you start viewing
that book like any other,

then truth is in trouble.

I, too, need to be persuaded
that the Bible is different

And that's the main reason

why I can only be
a candid friend of Christianity.

In less than two centuries,

the truths of the Western
Christian Church had been put on trial.

Newton challenged the idea of
a God who intervenes in the world.

Voltaire, the idea of a just God.

Revolutionaries questioned
the authority of the Catholic Church.

Strauss, that of the Bible.

Later, Charles Darwin found evidence
in the fossil record

to confirm those doubts.

And yet Christianity didn't crumple.

The ideals of the Enlightenment
had gradually become the creed

of respectable top-hatted historians,

scientists and politicians,
even bishops.

Part of a cheerful Victorian belief
in the steady march of progress.

And the Church still seemed
to occupy the moral high ground.

It could still lay claim to one truth.

Knowing right from wrong.


Mind you, in one half
of the Western Church,

there was a last ditch effort to resist
the questions of the Enlightenment.

The Catholic Church felt threatened
by academic challenges

to the authority of the Bible.

And its reaction was just to say "no".

In 1907, Pope Pius X denounced
what he saw as a conspiracy

to overthrow Church teaching

and he branded it, "Modernism".

Catholics unfortunate enough
to be seen as a Modernist

found themselves treated
as enemies of the faith.

The viciousness of the official
campaign against Modernism

cast a long shadow across much

Catholic assessment
of new directions in doctrine.

The Catholic Church felt embattled,

and the 20th century gave it
plenty more reasons for that.

For Pius X had missed the real,
far more terrifying modernism,

the modernism of war.


The events of the 20th century
upstaged the French Revolution.

And unforeseen horrors unfolded
which would transform society,

politics and Christianity itself.

The murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
on a Sarajevo street in June 1914

dragged the empires of Europe
into the first true world war.

The visceral experience of the Great War

began to undercut the one remaining
unquestioned truth of Christianity,

its claim to moral integrity.

Men who'd been here had seen horrors

that their families back home
simply couldn't imagine.


It's green and quiet now.
There's so much that's missing.

There's mud, rats,
the noise, the booming.

Above all, the human fear
and the sense of futility

of going again and again
over this ground.

That's all gone.

This little book is called

Going to the Front,
a Soldier's Daily Remembrancer.

And it was issued by the Open Air
Mission of London to all soldiers.

And what it does is
to try and associate Christianity,

Jesus, with the English cause.

For instance,
what about this for a hymn?

"Yield not to temptation
For yielding is sin

"Each victory will help you
Some other to win.

"Fight manfully onward
Dark passion subdue

"Look ever to Jesus.
He'll carry you through."

It makes for chilling reading

particularly here in a place
where Christians were urged on

to kill other Christians equally
reassured that God was on their side.


It was hardly the first time

that God had been used as
a divine recruiting officer,

but it was the first
global slaughter in His name.

Ten million dead in five years.

We've come here to ?taples

because this is the biggest
British Empire war cemetery in France.

You've got people from India,
Australia, Canada, Africa here.

There are also some Germans

and I notice that they're relegated
to the edge of the cemetery

along with the native troops
of the British Empire.

This is a world war
and its death on an industrial scale,

and not just death in the trenches,

because most people buried here
actually died in hospital,

slowly, from their wounds.

This is a wayside crucifix
very near the front line.

All crucifixes show the wounds
of Christ on the cross,

but this has extra wounds, bullet holes,
great gashes in Christ's body.

World War I damaged Christ's body
in a wider sense.

Colonial troops were brought
into a European bloodbath

which had no concern for them.

And for many, the moral credibility of
Western Christianity was gone forever.

And in Europe, a generation
lost its ideals, lost its optimism.

But Christianity was now confronted
by a terrible challenge

which, like the French Revolution,
threatened to destroy it entirely.

It also blinded many Christians

to even worse moral temptation.

The threat came from
another child of the Enlightenment,

Scientific Socialism.

In their Communist Manifesto,
Karl Marx and Friederich Engels

wrote that freedom was only possible
if religion was abolished.

It was in 1917 that Scientific
Socialism was put into action.

When the Bolsheviks seized control
of the Russian Revolution

and bent it to their will,

they came to see
the Church as the enemy,

just as the French Revolutionaries
had once done.

And Russian Communism had far more time
to behave bestially to Christians

than the brief decade
of the 1790s in France.

And so, in those years between the wars,

many Christians who feared
the spread of Communism

were inclined to look sympathetically
on any anti-Communist group.

European Christianity was drawn into
a fatal alignment with forces

which had little time for
the God of Love.

First came the Papacy's deal
with Benito Mussolini,

finding a place for the Church
in his Fascist Italy.

Then, with Spain's brutal
Nationalist leader, General Franco,

who could present himself as
the champion of the Catholic Church

as his Republican enemies burned
churches and murdered priests.


But neither of these links
with right wing power

was as damaging as
Christianity's entanglement

with Adolf Hitler's gospel of hatred.

His project for an Aryan future,
National Socialism.

It became the defining evil
of the 20th century.


The Martin Luther Memorial Church
in a quiet Berlin suburb

has an uncomfortable history.

It was planned in the 1920s by
Conservative German nationalists

to celebrate the German identity,
the legacy of Luther.

But by the time it was
actually built in the 1930s,

it had been hijacked by the Nazis
for their own propaganda purposes.

So the organ was first played
at a Nuremberg Rally.

To begin with, Hitler wanted to bring
together the Protestant State churches,

nearly all Lutheran,

into a single national church
based on Nazi principles.

To get his way, he appointed
Ludwig M?ller as the Reich's bishop.

M?ller was the leader of a small group

who called themselves
the German Christians.

They purged Christianity of
its Jewish roots more radically

than any other Christian group
in history.

They said that Jesus Christ
could not have been a Jew.

Few versions of Christianity have
openly scorned virtues like compassion

or humility, but they did.

They actually called themselves
the Storm Troopers of Jesus Christ.

All the swastikas which decorated
the Church are gone,

chiselled out of the stone carving
and whitewashed off the ceiling.

Yet there's enough left

to act as a reproach to
Christian collaboration with Nazism.

But we should never forget
that there was Christian resistance.

And for one fleeting, heartening
moment it came from the Papacy itself.

A pastoral letter by Pope Pius XI

read from thousands of pulpits
on Palm Sunday, 1937.

It denounced Hitler for betraying
his assurances to the Church

and condemned the idea of a Christianity
that tore up its Jewish roots.

But there was little else.

And it was largely left
to individual Christians in Germany

to stand up against the Nazi Regime.

I went to meet a Pastor
who joined the new Confessing Church

set up to oppose the Nazis.

He reminded me how difficult
it was to stand up to the Regime.


Conscientious objection
was not possible.

We had one man refuse military service

and got executed.

So I tried to preserve
a pastoral existence

as a soldier.

So what made you able
to see through this nonsense

when so many others could
not see through it?

Hitler was betraying people in

speaking in a pious way.

He said, "The providence has

"given me the task to liberate you,"

and many who

called themselves Christians were also,

politically at least, Nazis.

They were just drunk by their idolatry

and by the personality of Hitler.
It was a secular worship.

And this was really,

uh, difficult

to, uh,


But it must have been obvious
how dangerous it was

right from the start to be
a member of the Confessing Church.

(LAUGHING) No, you mustn't read
the history from the end.

We did not imagine

what would be in store.





MacCULLOCH: While the world
ripped itself apart,

one of the greatest crimes against
humanity was being carried out

with ruthless efficiency across Europe.

It would leave the moral authority
of the Christian Church

yet further compromised
and expose a deep flaw

in Christianity's historic relationship
with the Jews.

This is Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland,

the largest of Hitler's
extermination camps.

It's a cemetery of one and a half
million people without graves.

Poles, Romanies, homosexuals, disabled,

but overwhelmingly Jews.

Seven out of every ten Jews in Europe

perished in camps like this.

It was a crime the Christian Churches
failed to resist.

SMOLEN: Average life expectancy
in the camp

for the men was about five, six months,

for women about three, four months.

MacCULLOCH: Well, it's a grim place.

Tell me how many people
would be in here.

Well, the SS planned that
about 700 prisoners

- will stay in one barrack like this.
- Oh.

SMOLEN: If there were
too many for the bunks,

the prisoners simply stayed
on the floor.



This place is an offence
against the Christian gospel.

I mean, it's an offence
at an obvious level,

it offends against mercy,
pity, truth, love.

But on a more profound Christian level,

it offends against the fact that
Christianity is a story about a person,

a person who is both human and divine.

This place was designed to rob
human beings of their personality,

to make them less than human.

It will not do to say that
the Nazis were anti-Christian.

It won't even do to say that
Jews died for racial reasons,

not because of their religion.

The Nazis were able to do
their evil destructive work

because they were so good
at playing on myths,

the myths which lurk in people's minds.

And this myth was that the Jews
were the killers of Christ,

the enemies of Christian civilisation.

In that sense,
Christianity is implicated,

fatally, in the murder of the Jews.

It's hard for me as heir
to a thoughtful,

tolerant Christianity in England
to face up to this.

I know that many Christians
will disagree with me

and find this conclusion offensive.

But here I stand, I can do no other.

In the years after the war,

I was a little boy
growing up in Suffolk.

I knew little of the challenges
facing Christianity.

In the 1950s, Church attendance
actually increased in a chastened,

frightened Europe.

But that mood passed.


The horrors of the first half
of the 20th century

had raised the old question
Voltaire had posed

in response to the Lisbon earthquake.

In Auschwitz, where was a loving God?

Europe was sickened by any system
which made absolute claims to truth,

Communism, Fascism, Christianity.

So it was hardly surprising
that in the second half of the century,

an unprecedented, almost frivolous mood
confronted European Christianity.

Religious indifference. Apathy.

Social changes brought about

a more relaxed attitude
to sex and marriage.

Movement between social classes
and more individual choice.

In the face of that,

fewer people chose to spend
Sunday in church.

So what sort of Christianity
could survive

such an ebbing-away of Christendom?


On the edge of Trafalgar Square
stands an Anglican parish church.

It tells me a lot about
what's happened to Christianity

in the last few decades.

On the face of it,
St Martin-in-the-Fields

is a church of the establishment

The parish church for the Royal Family,
the Admiralty and 10 Downing Street.

But that's not why
it's internationally renowned.

St Martin's has broken new ground

in exploring what it might mean to be
a church in a secular, sceptical age.

Historically, it's never shied away
from controversy.

So, between the two World Wars,
it was pacifism.

Amnesty International was thought up
in one of these pews.

Since the war, St Martin's has run its
own social care unit for the homeless,

and Shelter,
the charity for the homeless,

was founded from its basement.

It is in fact a church
which has taken its own lead

on the moral questions
which shaped the last half century.

There's no question we're part
of the British establishment,

and actually we're quite good at being
subversive and undermining it, too.

We're next door to South Africa House,

and from the late 1950's onwards,

the anti-apartheid vigil
outside South Africa House

was supported from here
and it's difficult to remember

how controversial that used to be.

But if we think back to Mrs Thatcher

talking of Nelson Mandela
as a terrorist,

even in the 1980's,
we begin to get the feel for that.

Um, what we hope is that we have
the courage to break new ground

and that what mistakes we make
are made in the right direction.

MacCULLOCH: I think the biggest
test facing the Church

in the last half century
has been the revolution

in understanding gender,
sex and sexuality.

It's the issue which
really has crystallised

the three centuries of debate
since Spinoza.

How do we humans make moral decisions?

Where do we find
the authority to make them?

It's something which
I've thought about a good deal,

being a gay man in the middle of
the Church's struggles about sex.

What is it about gender and sexuality?

What is it about this issue which has
created so much anger and conflict?

I think you'd have to say that
this is something being worked out

not just in the Church,
it's an issue for the world, isn't it?

And the length of debate

that that's taken from the
decriminalising of homosexuality,

the equalising of the age of consent,

I mean there's been a process which,

actually the Church has
not been comfortable with,

and the difficulty for us is,

I think, the scriptures
don't say anything

about faithful, same sex relationships,

and therefore,
what's condemned in scripture

isn't what we're dealing with now.

(STUTTERING) Well, you're actually
saying something quite shocking,

the Bible doesn't have an answer
to a major question.

Oh, I think the Bible
does have an answer.

That's not the same thing at all.

- Oh.
- I think the Bible's answer

is that what matters between
human beings is loving,

faithful, honest relationships.

MacCULLOCH: St Martin-in-the Fields
is just one example

of how Protestant Christians in the West

have tried to rebuild Christian morality
with realism and humility.

Of course, theirs is not
the only answer.

Other churches in Central London
are packed out

because they proclaim an evangelical
version of Protestant faith,

affirming old truths.

And then there is the other half
of the Western Church,

the Church of the Pope in Rome.

The big Catholic event of
the 20th century

was the Second Vatican Council,
which Pope John XXIII

summoned to Rome
quite unexpectedly in 1962.

Vatican II turned worship from Latin
into the languages of the people.

It reached out to Protestants
and Orthodox fellow Christians,

but it also apologised to Jews

for nearly two millennia
of Christian anti-Semitism.


And in a break from the past,

Vatican II suggested that the Church

might not have
all the answers after all

30 years ago, it seemed to set
the future for Roman Catholicism.

A spiral of change,
an experiment in faith.


But in 1978, a Polish bishop
became Pope John Paul II

At Vatican II,

he had consistently voted against
all the major decisions.

Ever since, there's been
a struggle going on

for the soul of the Catholic Church.

The instinct of the Papacy has been
to issue commands from the top,

to reaffirm old certainties
in a changing world.

Catholics as much as Protestants
are divided about the questions

which Spinoza first asked
three centuries ago.

In this series,
I've chronicled the history of a faith

which began with
a little known Jewish sect

and exploded into
the biggest religion in the world.

The history of Christianity has
been the never-ending rebirth

of a meeting with Jesus Christ,
the resurrected Son of God.

For some, like the Oriental
and Orthodox Churches,

the meeting's been through
ritual, tradition,

or the inner life of the mystic.

For Western Catholics,
through obedience to the Church.

For the Protestant Churches,
through the Bible.

And it's the variety which is so
remarkable in Christianity's journey.

It's reached into every continent
and adapted to new cultures.

That's the hallmark of a world religion.

So where is Christianity
going in the 21 st century?

What's its future?
Well, it depends where you look.


In my journeys around Asia,
Africa and Latin America,

I've been struck by
the sheer exuberance of Christian life.


The Pentecostals, in particular,
I think may surprise us.

And in fact,
they may surprise themselves

by what they find in
their own Christian adventure.


Outside Europe, numbers of Christians
are rising at a phenomenal pace.

But in the West, they are falling.


So what of the church here,
in the Christian continent

which first discovered doubt?

Has the Church served its purpose
here on the River Thames?

Well, when I was young,
the Thames in London was a dead river,

no fish, the docks
closed and mouldering.

No life. And look at it now.

If the history of the Church
teaches us anything,

it's that it has an exceptional khack
for re-inventing itself

in the face of fresh dangers.

The modern world has plenty
to throw at the Church,

scepticism, freedom, choice.

But modernity can't escape
the oldest questions

at the heart of the messy
business of being human.

Questions of right and wrong,

purpose and meaning.

A wise old Dominican friar
once reminded me

of the words of St. Thomas Aquinas,

"God is not the answer,
he is the question."

And as long as the Church
goes on trying to ask the question,

it will never die.

Remember that Christianity
is a very young religion.

It spans a mere 2,000 years

out of 150,000 years of human history.

It would be very surprising if it had
already revealed all its secrets.

We'll wait and see.

And that's just what
Christians have been doing

ever since they gathered
as the sky turned black in Jerusalem,

at the foot of the cross on Golgotha.

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