The life of Muggeridge is well worth being aware of:
In the English-speaking world at least, this British journalist, author and commentator was one of the more well-known personalities of the previous century – certainly a household name in the UK, if a bit less so in America. His newspaper career, along with that of radio and television, made him one of the more well-known intellects of that period.
He was famous as a journalist, satirist, newspaper man and author, but his very public discussions of his faith in the risen Christ made him especially notable – if not disliked in various quarters. One can here only highlight a few areas of his rather amazing life. Let me begin with a very simple timeline:
1903, March 24 Born in Surrey
1920-1924 Student at Cambridge
1924-1927 Taught English literature in India
1927, Married Katherine “Kitty” Dobbs
1932-1933 Served as a correspondent in Moscow for the Manchester Guardian
1934-1936 Again in India as a newspaper editor
1936-1939 Sporadic writing for the Daily Telegraph
1939-1945 Involved in the war effort with the Ministry of Information
1945-1953 Worked for the Daily Telegraph
1953-1957 Editor of Punch magazine
1960s Public profession of Christianity
1969 Jesus Rediscovered published
1982, November Received into the Roman Catholic Church
1990, November 14 Dies at the age of 87
Muggeridge was raised in a secular and socialist household – his dad was a founding member of the Fabian Society. Much of his early years was spent imbibing of leftist intellectualism, reading and even mingling with leftists like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, H. G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw.
While at Cambridge he first seems to have made a solid move to Christianity, but his faith waxed and waned over the years, and it was not until the 60s that he became very vocal about the Christian religion and its importance to him and the world.
A major turning point in his life was the seven months he and Kitty spent in the Soviet Union. They, like so many other deluded Western intellectuals at the time, thought that this would be the new promised land – utopia on earth. But reality rained on their parade. He had gone on an unallowed fact-finding mission, and he learned first-hand about what was actually going on.
While other Western journalists and leftists were still singing the praises of Soviet Communism, Muggeridge was quickly learning the horrible truth of Stalin’s forced collectivisation and his deliberate destruction of the Ukraine and the kulaks. Seeing Ukrainian peasants with hands tied behind their backs being herded into cattle trucks at gunpoint forever crushed his illusions about Communism.
The terror-famine (the Holodomor) of 1932-1933 resulted in the starvation and death of some 10 million people. Says one biographer, Gregory Wolfe: “What made this famine practically unique in history was that it was not the result of drought or any other natural cause, but was brought about deliberately by the systematic efforts of the Soviet regime. Grain harvests were taken from the famine area and anyone caught hoarding even the smallest amounts of grain was shot. The countryside was covered by the rotting corpses of animals and people.”
One thing that had a huge impact on him during this time was when he managed to attend a church service in Kiev. There, despite all the horror, suffering and death, the humble people were fully and passionately devoted to worshipping God.
His 1934 novel, Winter in Moscow, told the story of his time in the USSR for wider audiences. But by daring to report the truth about all this – be it in fiction or non-fiction – the Western intelligentsia furiously turned on him, denouncing him for his ‘treasonous’ and reactionary views. Muggeridge came to despise both Soviet Communism and the gullibility and credulity of Western intellectuals.
As mentioned, he early on had been involved in Christianity in various ways, but by the late 60s he was a vocal proponent of Christ and Christianity. But his was no road to Damascus experience. Like C. S. Lewis in many ways, it was a bit of a long journey. As Muggeridge put it: “In my own case, conversion has been more a series of happenings than one single dramatic one.”
He knew that this world did not provide the answer. Something – or someone – from outside this world was needed. And that was Jesus, whose incarnation, life, death and resurrection made all the difference. It was Jesus who he was eager to testify to in his later years.
I recall sometime in late 70s hearing him being interviewed on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line – a TV talk show he appeared on many times. He was very open about his Christianity, talking about how he happily shared his faith at formal dinner parties and the like. This quite intrigued Buckley – a Catholic – who said he found it quite difficult to be so open and frank about his faith in such settings.
With a bit of sniffing around I managed to find that old interview. If you go to the 39-minute mark of this video you will find that exchange (running through to the 48-minute mark). It is well worth having a listen to: www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6gB4GXP4kA
His many Christian books make it clear how happy Muggeridge was to publicly share his faith. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate his zeal in proclaiming Christ is to finish with some quotes from his more recent books. Many could be presented here, but the following are representative:
“So I come back to where I began, to that other king, one Jesus; to the Christian notion that man’s efforts to make himself personally and collectively happy in earthly terms are doomed to failure. He must indeed, as Christ said, be born again, be a new man or he’s nothing. So at least I have concluded, having failed to find in past experience, present dilemmas, and future expectations any alternate proposition. As far as I am concerned, it is Christ or nothing.”
“The enthronement of the gospel of progress necessarily required the final discrediting of the Gospel of Christ, and the destruction of the whole edifice of ethics, law, culture, human relationships and human behaviour constructed upon it. What we continue to call Western Civilization, after all, began with Christian revelation, not the theory of evolution, and, we may be sure, will perish with it, too — if it has not already. Jesus of Nazareth was its founding father, not Charles Darwin; it was Paul of Tarsus who first carried its message to Europe, not Karl Marx, or even Lenin. Jesus, by dying on the cross, abolished death wishing; dying became thenceforth life’s glory and fulfillment. So, when Jesus called on His followers to die in order to live, He created a tidal wave of joy and hope on which they have ridden for two thousand years.”
“Like a prisoner awaiting his release, like a schoolboy when the end of term is near, like a migrant bird ready to fly south… I long to be gone. Extricating myself from the flesh I have too long inhabited, hearing the key turn in the lock of time so that the great doors of eternity swing open, disengaging my tired mind from its interminable conundrums, and my tired ego from its wearisome insistencies. Such is the prospect of death. . . . For me, intimations of immortality, deafness, failing eyesight, loss of memory, the afflictions of old age, release me from preoccupation with worldly fantasy and free me to meditate on spiritual reality, to recall Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s remark that Christendom is over but not Christ.”
“Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful, with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have ever learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In another world, if it ever were possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo, as Aldous Huxley envisaged in Brave New World, the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable. This, of course, is what the cross signifies. And it is the Cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.”
Let me finish with just two quotes ABOUT Muggeridge:
“I would like to suggest to you that we should regard Malcolm Muggeridge as a true prophet of the twentieth century, and I take the liberty for just a moment of characterising for you the Prophet Muggeridge. This is how I want to express my gratitude, and I hope yours, for him. First he has courage. While Christian civilisation seems to be crumbling around us in the West, and there is an urgent need for Christian leadership, Malcolm Muggeridge again and again is a voice crying in the wilderness…” -John Stott
“As a twentieth-century Christian apologist, Malcolm Muggeridge stands beside G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Malcolm’s sensibility – more darkly satirical, more willing to balance doubt with faith, more deeply informed by a huge store of worldly experience – complements the romanticism of Chesterton and Lewis.” -Gregory Wolfe
Books by Muggeridge
While he of course wrote a number of noted works in his earlier years, here I want to present some of the key titles he penned after he became more vocal about his faith:
Jesus Rediscovered (Collins, 1969)
Something Beautiful for God (Harper & Row, 1971)
Paul, Envoy Extraordinary (Collins, 1972) with Alec Vidler
Chronicles of Wasted Time (Regent College Pub., 1972, 1973, 2006)
Jesus: The Man Who Lives (Harper & Row, 1975)
A Third Testament: A Modern Pilgrim Explores the Spiritual Wanderings of Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky (Little, Brown/Orbis, 1976, 1983)
Christ and the Media (Hodder & Stoughton/Eerdmans, 1977, 1978)
The End of Christendom (Eerdmans, 1980)
Confessions of a Twentieth Century Pilgrim (Harper & Row, 1988)
For further reading
Geoffrey Barlow, ed., Vintage Muggeridge: Religion and Society. Eerdmans, 1981, 1985.
Ian Hunter, Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life. Thomas Nelson, 1980.
Cecil Kuhne, ed., Seeing Through the Eye: Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith. Ignatius, 2005.
Gregory Wolfe, Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography. Eerdmans, 1995.
See also a piece I wrote on him eight years ago: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/11/09/muggeridge-marxism-morality-and-meaning/