I have read and enjoyed and profited from a number of Iain Murray’s other books, and in the realm of enjoyment and edification, this book was no different. But it was very different from his other books in several other respects.
The book-of-the-month this time around is The Undercover Revolution, and it is about how infidel novelists wrecked Great Britain. He gives a detailed treatment of two writers, Robert Louis Stevenson and Thomas Hardy, then moves on to show how a swarm of writers transformed British culture, and concludes with a fine statement of the basic Christian gospel.
Murray usually writes what might be called “in-house” biographies or histories, and this book details a much broader intersection of faith and infidelity. Also Murray usually writes expansively, and this book is very short — less than a hundred pages. At the same time, he fits an awful lot into it. This is a good book for jump-starting your brain. Here are a few thoughts that came out of my reading of it.
First, it reinforced the point that has been made multiple times by other capable writers. Consider Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals, E. Michael Jones’ Degenerate Moderns, xxxx’s Architects of the Culture of Death, and Kevin Swanson’s Apostate. A basic review of the lives of those who led the exodus out of the “hypocrisy” of Christian faith shows that they were themselves fourteen carat hypocrites. What they said and what they did were entirely different things. And the fact that they were challenging the Christian establishment on the basis of hypocrisy makes us want to present them with the Hypocrisy Chutzpah Award.
Second, this book reinforced the power of story. In this instance, fiction was used to tell lies instead of what good and godly fiction will always do, which is to tell the truth. In the early stages of this revolt against Christ (for that is what it was), the infidelity was located more in the life of the writer than in the pages of the story (e.g. Stevenson). But as time progressed, the unbelief began showing itself more and more in the course of the stories told (e.g. Hardy, Wells, Shaw). Orthodox faith took far too much for granted, and failed to prepare herself against the onslaught of an unbelieving imagination. Believers were caught flat footed. Murray shows that while this falling away was done in the name of science, actual science had virtually nothing to do with it. This was a narratival conquest.
This leads to the third point. At the time, infidelity was fresh and new and exciting, as the initial moments of an apostasy always are. I am prepared to bet that the very best parties that the prodigal son ever threw were in the first three weeks away from home. But it gets old after a bit, the hypocrisy of the authenticity posers becomes evident, and the unbelievers just run out of stories. In terms of their unpreparedness for an imaginative challenge, the infidels are just past the crest of their high Victorian period.
As Murray wrote about how infidel authors undid British culture, another book could be written about how American movie makers undid ours. English novelists established the novel as a new and exciting (and freshly respectable) form of telling a story. Americans did the same with the movie, and the arc of corruption for both forms of story telling has been generally the same. Currently, they are also both in a teetery state, and the time really is ripe for some subversive story telling.
There is another point that Murray doesn’t make here, but which I cannot imagine him differing with. While these authors made a cultural mess by weaving their lies, it has to be said that the reading public at this time was in a mood to be lied to.
As Murray shows in the last chapter, there is no hope apart from Christ. But Christ — He who is raised to life and seated at the right hand of the Father — must be manifested as alive in the worship, preaching, lives, and stories of genuine believers. Murray tells the story of an actor who was once asked why people would rather go a theater than to a church. He replied that it was because actors portrayed fiction as though it were a fact, while in church they portray fact as though it were fiction.