An earlier post here on Churchill and Religion has been picked up (in context albeit somewhat abbreviated) by Wallace Henley in “The Global Tsunami on ‘Good'” in CP News. “I am not arguing for a Christian theocracy,” Mr. Henley writes,
but for adherence to the basic doctrines of life, love and care described in Scripture. Winston Churchill argued that the great goal of the Second World War was the survival of what he called repeatedly “Christian civilization.” Richard Langworth, a Churchill scholar, says that by “Christian civilization” Churchill thought that Christianity’s “principles applied broadly to all of mankind regardless of religion.” Just as, to Churchill, the word “man” meant humankind, his allusions to Christianity embodied principles he considered “universal” and that “applied broadly to all mankind regardless of religion.”
This is all right as far as it goes, but it leaves out some of the essence. Churchill was, I wrote, an “optimistic agnostic.” Without being on conversational terms with the Almighty, he was quite willing to invoke the Deity when appropriate. As he wrote in his autobiography My Early Life, “I did not hesitate to ask for special protection.” The historian Andrew Roberts puts this very neatly:
One of the primary duties of the Providential Being in whom Churchill did believe, but to whom he paid little overt obeisance, seems to have been to watch over the physical safety of Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. Few people in history could have brushed against the cloak of the Angel of Death as often as Churchill, yet he survived until his 91st year.
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Churchill wasn’t sure about what existed after death. He once referred to it as “endless sleep…black velvet.” Yet at another time he predicted that he would spend at least his first million years in heaven painting. Thus, he explained, he would “get to the bottom of the subject.”
He often quoted the King James Bible (more than any other work). He was impressed both by its beautiful words and its ethics—which he applied universally. But Churchill did not take the Bible literally, seeing no need. But if its message “cheers your heart and fortifies your soul,” he wrote, “what need is there to ask whether the imagery of the ancients is exactly, scientifically feasible?”
It would be well to reprint here exactly that I wrote in that earlier post:
When Churchill in speeches referred to “Christian civilisation” (a phrase I have actually seen edited out of certain modern renditions) he did not mean to exclude Jews or Buddhists or Muslims. He meant those words in a much broader sense. Just as, to Churchill, the word “man” meant humanity, his allusions to Christianity embodied principles he considered universal: the Ten Commandments (a “judgmental” set of moral imperatives now expunged from certain public places); the Sermon on the Mount; the Golden Rule; charity; forgiveness; courage.
It is important to understand this. Churchill’s can be interpreted to mean he was a Christian evangelist. Not so. Nor did he mean to exclude non-Christians from the Commonwealth of Man. Quite the contrary. Churchill’s quarrel was with tyranny.