Question: Your writings imply that democracy is the outgrowth of the Christian principles of society. Are you committed to democracy as the ideal form of government, or are you just as comfortable in some cultures with very different forms of government?

Answer: When you talk about democracy you have to define it. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a king. It doesn’t have to take the form it takes in the United States. In Switzerland they don’t have a strong president: they have a council of seven which rotates, and even most Swiss people don’t know who’s the current president. So I’m not talking about a specific form of democracy. If you’re talking about just the concept of democracy—responsibility being invested in the people, or checks and balances, or lex rex rather than rex lex—then yes, I think this is an outgrowth of Christianity.

Q: Some Christians believe there are models of communism, though not classic Marxism, which could be acceptable to Christians and could be adaptable forms of government for other cultures. Do you agree with that?

A: If by communism you mean somewhat more economic control by the state, then, sure, that would be acceptable in certain circumstances. But the word communism has a very strict definition today. The philosophy developed by Marx, Engels, and Lenin brings forth oppression as naturally as the Reformation of Christianity brought forth “law is king.” The word communism means that specific materialistic philosophy.

If on the other hand you ask, “Is it necessary to equate democracy with the exact economic situation we have?”—absolutely not. A perfect example is Switzerland. When Switzerland socialized the railroads, did this mean it became a non-capitalistic country? Not at all. It’s more capitalistic than we are in the United States. When we socialized the postal system in the United States did this mean that we gave up capitalism or democracy? Absolutely not.

At the moment we are a very different kind of democracy than was visualized by Jefferson. Back then they visualized an elitist group, and our electoral college, for example, is still a hangover from their ideas. But I believe Christianity leads increasingly away from that to the kind of thing we have now.

Q: Are you a pacifist?

A: No, very strenuously no. I hate war with all my heart. But we live in a fallen world, and I think you have to take this into account.

Q: Would you support any revolutionary movements, such as in Africa or in Indochina?

A: Oh, sure, I would, in certain circumstances. To me, the right of revolution is a part of the democratic process. You must remember I am a radical in this sense. Most people don’t realize that.

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Q: Would you support armed intervention in a place like Cambodia, or Albania, for the purpose of bringing liberty?

A: We live in a very complex world. I’m not hedging. I’m really not. But I discuss this with congressmen and senators, and all kinds of people. And none of this is theoretical. In the world I live in, these things have practical repercussions for the people I’m working with and talking to.

In this complicated world you have to be a realist and realize that you can’t do everything. But on the other hand, I do believe that at certain points of history it is an exhibition of non-Christian lack of love not to use what is at one’s disposal to help other people in their extremities. The monstrous situation in Germany in World War II is an example of a need for outside force.

Q: Are any such monstrous situations facing us now?

A: Yes, and I’m worried, because I think the world is going to face the biggest monstrous situation ever in the role of modern Russian power. It’s larger than Hitler in Germany.

I hate all forms of totalitarianism. The political liberals always look at the left with rose-colored glasses in contrast to the right. The biggest example of this is the one that everybody ought to have known before Solzhenitsyn came on the scene. The liberals saw the monstrousness of what Hitler was doing almost immediately, but most of these people did not acknowledge what Stalin was doing until thirty years later. It’s the same way with China and Mao. People who are totally neutral have estimated that Mao probably killed more people in taking over power in China than Stalin and Hitler put together.

Now I would just say that in our present circumstances we’re facing an obvious confrontation of power. And fortunately, some people are beginning to speak up.

Q: In the film series you draw parallels between our current crisis and the decline of previous civilizations, and you give us a lot of warnings about trends in our own civilization. Doesn’t the nuclear moat around the United States introduce a brand new element in this decline of civilization? Because regardless of internal forces, we have the capacity to destroy the rest of the world.

A: Yes, we are now living on the possibility of blowing up the whole planet, which makes the whole situation more overwhelming.

Before I continue I must emphasize again that I could never be construed as right wing, so what I’m going to say mustn’t be put in that context. I hate the loss of freedom whether it comes from the right or the left.

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How Should We Then Live? built up to a climax against authoritarian government itself as such. (Curiously enough, some of the reviewers never seemed to have gotten to the main point of the book. They never mentioned what I stressed about authoritarian government or the Christian responsibility for the compassionate use of accumulated wealth and the racial situation.) But I hate authoritarian structure in any form—in church, in the state, and I haven’t practiced it in my own family with my kids. I believe we are facing a perilous situation today. Churchill was right when he said, after the war, that the only reason the Russian armies were no longer advancing was because America had supremacy with the atom bomb.

Up through the Cuban crisis, the U.S. had the preponderance of power, so, therefore, the nuclear situation was a plus for us. At the present time it’s a toss-up who has nuclear supremacy. If Russia ever had the nuclear supremacy, whether America will be blasted off the face of earth, I don’t know, but certainly in this present alignment China will be. I could be entirely wrong, but my own conclusion after talking to people in centers of power is that nuclear power now is overestimated. We’ve reached a stalemate, and I think what will come next will be determined not so much by the existence of nuclear power as by more conventional methods. I don’t think it’s an outgrowth of communism as such; it’s a blend of Lenin’s concept of power and, behind that, “Mother Russia.”

Q: It’s interesting to see how Russia capitalizes on that by using Cuba. They could not get away with intervention by their own soldiers. So they’re hiring mercenaries, like their own French Foreign Legion.

A: Exactly right. I don’t think they hope to invade Europe. I think they intend to use their military might as a political weapon to achieve their purpose without the necessity of armed intervention.

Q: You mean western European countries will become communist through political means?

A: No, we’ll come to a showdown and it will be the reverse of the Cuban missile situation. The enormity of what would be involved for poor Europe will cause them to take a lesser stand politically. Then will come another political stand.…

Q: In the same way the Arabs changed Europe’s foreign policy toward Israel with the threat of an oil embargo?

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A: Yes! Overnight. To pursue this, I think Russia has a several-pronged program which shows great brilliance and is consistent with Lenin. The first prong is their armies; they’ve stalemated us with nuclear power. Then they have the hard-core of the political parties in western Europe. And then they have the extension of military power with the Cuban and Vietnamese forces. And also, I personally am convinced that they support the terrorists in the West, even though the terrorists may be against the communistic parties. I think Russia supports anything that causes upheaval and chaos and breakdown in the West. So they have a many-pronged, yet united, program.

So now let’s go back to talking about pacifism. You asked if I saw any such monstrous thing in the world today. Boy, oh, boy, do I. My brothers in Christ whom I love very much who are pacifists … I just think they’re mistaken.

Q: Have you worked out pet theories in your own mind about how the trends of civilization which you trace in your books and your own views of prophecy come together?

A: No. I take eschatology seriously, of course. But I think the Bible warns us that we can’t be absolutely sure by any means that we live in any specific portion of that eschatological program. Let me state it another way. I believe I should live every day of my life as though maybe Christ will come back before I die. But on the other hand, I don’t believe I can ever say I know that I am watching the fulfillment of the eschatological situation. I’m curious, and holding the very strong views I do on eschatology, naturally I’m intrigued. But I don’t allow it to shape my practical and political feelings.

Q: I get the idea from a lot of Christians that they would vote for the Antichrist if they knew who he was, just to hasten the return of Christ. For instance, in the Arab situation, the fact that Israel may in fact be God’s chosen people and may eventually fit into some of their theories of eschatology really has no bearing on the morality of how you treat the Arabs or Palestinians.

A: I quite agree. If I were President of the United States, I must say, I wouldn’t make my decisions here in a certain historical situation on the basis that scriptural prophecy would make certain decisions mandatory.

Q: One of your more recent emphases is the disparity of wealth and a Christian’s responsibility in an affluent society. The theory and scriptural basis are fairly common in the Christian world today. But the practicality—how this affects me in my decision on what car to buy, what house to buy, how many pairs of pants to own, whether to have investments—is very complex. Do you have any practical advice?

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A: When I was a pastor in western Pennsylvania one of the big discussions was whether you could be spiritual and have life insurance. My emphasis then was that the church cannot legislate you. The Bible doesn’t and we therefore cannot give absolutes. All we can do is produce principles, and then the individual has to decide under the leadership of the Holy Spirit for himself how to apply those principles to the situation. Conceivably the Holy Spirit could lead one person to apply them one way, and another person to apply them slightly differently and they would be equally right.

What I’ve stood for is a compassionate use of accumulated wealth. I’m shot at by both sides. The people who want to have all the affluence and never think of compassion don’t like my emphasis. But I also get shot at for using the term accumulated wealth, because radical Christians are drifting toward the concept that any accumulation of wealth is wrong.

I believe the Bible teaches a right of private property. There are cautions: first, how we get it; second, how we use it. In the New Testament, it is quite clear that they had personal property, or they wouldn’t have had something to give when Paul appealed for gifts.

L’Abri was the icebreaker among evangelicals in many senses, including a whole new emphasis on community. I’ve stressed repeatedly that the church should have two orthodoxies—the orthodoxy of doctrine and the orthodoxy of community. But as time has gone on, we have made a very strenuous distinction between a commune and community. The commune has more or less taken on the connotation of sharing all goods. L’Abri is not a commune, but a community of families living together in their own homes with their own personalities, their own property, their own direction of their children.

I cannot remember anybody preaching anything about community when I was younger. And I can’t remember anything that would have approximated what I would emphasize and what L’Abri would emphasize on the compassionate use of accumulated wealth.

Q: Do you give away a lot of your income?

A: Well, first of all, understand that Edith and I have turned all our earnings over to L’Abri. They control our royalties.

Q: Do they contribute heavily to underdeveloped countries?

A: Individuals do. But L’Abri is a very costly program because we take people in and charge them very little.

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Q: Your book, The New Super-Spirituality, referred to Christian competitiveness. Isn’t there a new danger among certain groups to build competitive pride about how poorly they live and how much they give away? That’s exactly what caused the downfall of Ananias and Sapphira: they were trying to be super-spiritual.

A: I think we have to consciously live within two Christian realities: the fallen world and our finiteness. Nobody can give away everything. It’s always proportionate. Now I would say the proportion must be left up to the Holy Spirit to lead.

We have no right to set absolutes unless they can be shown directly from Scripture. Nobody has a right to tell me that spirituality means that I should get four thousand dollars a year instead of five, or whether I should buy my children a bicycle. That’s my business before the Lord.

Q: Looking back over the things that you have done, which do you feel best about?

A: The first would be speaking historic Christianity in a way that can be understood by contemporary people and can be shown to be relevant to them, so that many of them become Christians.

The other thing would be the emphasis that being a Christian is not some obscure thing in the upper levels of spirituality, but encompasses the whole spectrum of life. Christians have begun to realize that Christianity meant something in the arts and culture and law in a way that a lot of them had never thought of before.

I stand theologically in the stream of historic Christianity—the early church and the Reformation—so I haven’t said anything new. But I seem, by the grace of God, to have been able to say these things to contemporary people in a way they have comprehended.

Q: Some Christians have come away from you confused about how they should relate to the arts. You refer to a “line of despair” which implies that the forms used by modern artists and musicians and writers are somehow tainted or immoral. The only way I can function as a Christian artist, people have said to me, is to leapfrog back a century and pick up old forms.

A: Oh, no. Maybe I didn’t protect myself sufficiently. The people who have been with me in L’Abri don’t think this way—but I can see how the people who just come in contact with the books could think that.

Technique is neutral, and you can’t say that a certain technique is godly or ungodly. But there is a form of the world’s spirit for every generation, and this infiltrates all kinds of things, including Christian thinking, unless we consciously reject it.

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In art, techniques have been born of the really brilliant people in those fields trying to find a vehicle to express their world view. I don’t believe that these people necessarily cognitively sit down and a group of them meet in the Cafe Voltaire in Zurich, where Dada was born, for example, and construct these things. I would just say that a person’s world view, consciously or unconsciously, naturally shows itself with some consistency in the totality of life. Be careful here, because they’re still made in the image of God, whether they know it or not, so there are breaks. But in general what I’ve said is true.

Because modern forms of art were brought forth in order to express a certain world view, it therefore becomes very tricky for the young Christian artist or writer. The techniques are neutral, they’re not to be said to be godly or ungodly. But it’s easier to produce a world view through the vehicle conceived to express it than it is to convey another world view. Therefore I am not opposed to modern forms of art, but I think you do have to keep in mind why the form was produced.

T. S. Eliot is a perfect example. He didn’t write old fashioned poetry after he became a Christian, but his poetry was different. The form of The Wasteland wouldn’t fit his later poems, though it fitted his world view when he wrote The Wasteland magnificently.

Q: Can you think of any examples like that in music?

A: Music is the hardest of all to discuss, and it’s the one which I always approach with the greatest hesitancy. You can’t visualize music or examine it in the same way in which you can examine something on the printed page, or on a canvas. Yet nevertheless we see the same general things in music that are more easily pointed out in writing or poetry or painting.

Q: Of the various disciplines, I think the popular culture has been most resistant to new classical forms of music. When the Chicago Symphony plays John Cage the people boo … I don’t know if they can ever get over that.

A: I don’t think they should get over it. By the time you get to John Cage in contrast to somebody like Stravinsky, John Cage consciously is writing a philosophic statement. One of my quarrels with modern art is that it’s too philosophical. I have the same quarrel with it that I have with much evangelical art. It isn’t art, it’s a tract. Propaganda. That’s not the way to produce Christian art, but I have the same quarrel against much modern art. People like Marcel du Champs and John Cage didn’t set out to make works of art, they set out to make a philosophic statement. John Cage’s music is specifically that philosophic statement.

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Q: You make specific interpretations of artists. For instance, when you criticized the Salvador Dali Crucifixion painting as implying a lack of reality, had you researched that? Have you found a statement by Salvador Dali that says his technique was intended to imply historical questions about Jesus or are you just inferring that?

A: Curiously enough, in a Playboy interview, Salvador Dali said that he now was reading the modern scientists and coming to realize that the earth was made up not basically of mass, but of energy. Then he leaped into the fact that we should have a spiritual representation in our art. So Playboy of all things, has been very helpful, with Salvador Dali.

Q: That introduces an interesting subject: the philosophic movement within science for a view of the universe at its core being irrational rather than rational. You don’t seem comfortable with these new findings.

A: The older, simplistic Newtonian concepts—certainly I realize they have to be modified. But even when we’re dealing with the very small, say in a cyclotron, we are still dealing on the basis of cause and effect in the larger area, regardless of what’s happening in the smaller area. If we didn’t deal on the basis of cause and effect, nobody could build the cyclotron.

There is a difference between not accepting the Cartesian concept that in our human finiteness we are going to be able to plot every graph mathematically, and jumping into the area of irrationality. The building of the cyclotron is an absolute proof that the very men who are producing it are denying irrationality by their own actions.

Q: What do they say to that when you confront them?

A: Nobody’s ever answered me. There’s sudden silence.

Q: You mean you have sat, one to one like this, with physicists and asked this question?

A: Yes, sure. Amazingly, a great number of them have never thought it through, perhaps because people are playing many, many games instead of thinking the big questions. Their game can be knocking one tenth of one second off a downhill run on the Swiss Alps. It also can show up in a highly disciplined science where one focuses on a very small area of reality and then never thinks of the big question.

Q: I assume you’re familiar with Niebuhr’s principles of Christ and culture. How good is it for us to redeem culture? In some ways is it not better for Christians to be a minority, a counterculture?

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A: The ideal would be if I could have a wand and have a Christian consensus where you wouldn’t have a confusion of church and state. I believe that’s what the founders of America meant. You wouldn’t have a state church but you would have a Christian consensus. Therefore you really would be influencing the culture overwhelmingly.

Q: When in history has that occurred?

A: Never. There’s no golden age. I’m tired of people who would try to make me say the Reformation was a golden age. It was anything but a golden age.

But the United States when I was young through the twenties and thirties showed basically a Christian consensus. It was, of course, poorly applied in certain areas, such as race or compassionate use of accumulted wealth.

Q: What has happened since that time? Has the Christian consensus shrunk in percentage? Has it grown less vocal? Or would you say the worldly philosophies have taken sway and leveled its impact?

A: All of those factors. Humanism has come to its natural conclusion and we now live in a secularized society. You can teach atheism in our schools, but you can’t sing Christmas carols. And secular presuppositions now control law, education, all these things.

The church follows the same curve slightly later. Most of our large denominations and large seminaries allowed liberal theology to dominate the seminaries and the bureaucracies. They took on exactly the same thought forms as the secular world, because to my mind liberal theology is only humanism in Christian terminology.

So you had those two trends come together: secularism and a church which became dominated by the same basic philosophy.

Q: Nowadays you’re introduced on stage as an intellectual muscle man and you’ve got people who come knowing that, ready to attack you. Then you’ve got book jacket blurbs about “the missionary to the intellectual” and labels which probably embarrass you. How do these things affect your self-concept? Do you get nostalgic for those old, first days in Europe, thirty years ago?

A: It all seems very unreal to me. I think it’s a protection that the Lord has given.

Q. I’ve heard people snipe at you by saying you feed this image of the wise man on the mountain—for example, by wearing knickers to go along with the role.

A: The reason I wear knickers is just because I have found them comfortable. I use them for climbing and cross-country skiing and so I gradually got into the habit of wearing them.

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Q: But when you go to a U.S. minister’s conference—it’s a symbol of something. Why are you standing apart from the norm? (I face this same question with the way I wear my hair.)

A: I suppose I found it helpful in the first times I came over in the sixties. When I went to a place like Wheaton, it gave me an edge in setting me off from the stereotype. I’ve never thought of it before until you just asked me, but I think I did. So in a way I wasn’t what they were used to, and of course in my thinking I wasn’t.

Q: If I had asked you twelve years ago, “Are you ever going to write a book?” what would you have said?

A: No. I’m interested in talking to people. But after lecturing, for example, at Harvard, here were these Harvard students, almost none of whom were Christians, giving me a standing ovation. One of the professor’s wives turned to Edith and said, “I’ve been at Harvard for thirty years and have never seen a standing ovation.” It was true at M.I.T., and other places. But I still wouldn’t have ever thought of going beyond the individual conversation, the lectures with give and take afterwards. In those days I had more energy, so I’d stay up till 2–3 o’clock in the morning.

Q: Do you have any projects cooking in the back of your mind?

A: No. But I didn’t the last time either. When I made How Should We Then Live? I said it was the last thing I was going to do like this. Now, of course, I am in the middle of the film and book Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

Q: Have you seen Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man and Kenneth Clark’s Civilization? How do you compare the results with your film series?

A: I was vacationing in Carmel, California, one night, and I saw Kenneth Clark’s Civilization on TV. I just snapped it on and saw the episode on the Reformation. Its bias made me so mad that I said if I ever could do anything to give this a hit I’m going to. This was one of the factors that made me feel it was a moral responsibility to say yes to the film series.

Q: Seeing the two together, are you satisfied?

A: Yes. Franky’s a marvel; he really is. Working with him on the other side of the camera as director—I’m amazed.

Considering the difficulties under which we made How Should We Then Live?, we’ve got something that is useful, obviously. I think it answers both Clark and Bronowski. Technically, I think Civilization is poorer than ours, but Bronowski’s was good, though I hated the message.

Q: One critic who observed you in Los Angeles said that probably most of the people in the auditorium did not understand what you were saying in the films or in person. The audience applauded your seeming expertise, but he really doubts that they went out with changed perceptions.

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A: I would just say that he ought to read the letters that have come. If you preach a straight gospel sermon, part of the people aren’t going to understand that. It’s been proven, I think, that a remarkable number of people have understood a remarkable much, to such an extent that it has changed their lives. I think he’s mistaken.

Q: In the film series, at what point were you trying to do a scholastically respectable analysis of history and culture, couched in terms of objectivity, and at what point did you have the motivation of evangelism? Aren’t those two motives dichotomous?

A: I believe that Christianity is true. And it’s true in the totality of truth. Now it doesn’t give you the answer to quantum physics. But I believe that the closer you can come to truth, objective truth, the more Christianity will be substantiated. I don’t see any dichotomy.

In the beginning of the book I say very carefully this is not an exhaustive study of Western history and culture. Nobody could write a book like that. It is selective, but every history book is selective. I am so convinced of the truth of Christianity that I see no inherent tension between objectivity and what I think is the purpose of apologetics (that is, getting people to become Christians and Christians to become more deeply endowed with the concept of the Lordship of Christ in our culture and in the whole spectrum of life.)

Q: Why do you downplay many of the gross Christian errors throughout history? You do mention some of them, of course, but it surely seems the Thirty Years’ War, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the squelching of science, and events like these had a comparatively lesser part in your film series than they had in history. Did you do that purposely?

A: Yes. In the first place there is the space limitation. Second, there are some things to which you must devote a huge number of pages or frames of a film, or you’d better not touch it. It won’t come out right unless you really develop it considerably. The Crusades would be a perfect example. I think they were part economic, and so on. I think they were destructive. I don’t think they had any place in a real Christian framework. But what are you going to do with them in a book like this or a film like this? If you ask me to discuss them, I’ll spend a half hour talking to you about the Crusades.

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But of course if you’re going to talk about Bronowski and Clark, and compare their objectivity to my objectivity, there’s just no comparison. I think they loaded everything for their thesis.

Q: Your methodology, not in person, but in writing, can appear to be rationalistic. And yet, your concept of the Fall must include the fact that human reason also is fallen. How can you build on such a rationalistic base?

A: I’m convinced that the Bible teaches something between a natural theologian such as Aquinas, and a materialist who cannot count on human reason. We are fallen, and there’s no way to start from a finite and move to the infinite—we’ll draw the wrong conclusions. But human reason still functions and, as Paul argues in Romans 1, the evidence is adequate. So adequate that we can be called disobedient if we don’t bow to it.

G. Douglas Young is founder and president of the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. He has lived there since 1963.

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