December with its overtones of Christmas, the birth of Christ, the Holy Family, the Shepherds, the Ox and the Ass, the Three Kings, with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, epitomises the miracle of love, and all of the softness of Christianity. Lent, with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection more closely approaches the heart of the matter. For it is the Resurrection on which everything stands or falls.
In this sense, what is "everything"? As Lenin once remarked, "everything is connected with everything else".
Central to Christianity is the belief that there is such a thing as the human soul; that while the body passes out of existence at death, each person's soul is immortal, that is, it does not die, that a personal God who made and sustains the Universe is intimately concerned with our ultimate fate; that that fate is determined by the pattern of our conduct in this world, which, for a Christian, is measured by his fidelity to Christ's teachings; and for the non-Christian, by his fidelity to the law which is written in his own conscience.
It is those thousands of small decisions made daily that make a character which has finally chosen good or evil, and a consequent eternity of joy or deprivation.
Whether Christian belief is true or false, depends on whether the event attributed to the first Easter Sunday actually happened; whether, after His brutal death on the Cross on Good Friday, Christ actually rose from the dead on Easter Sunday.
There are two fundamental arguments against the basic Christian belief in the existence of a personal God, who is really concerned with each one of us. The first is the existence of suffering, and death. The second is the existence of evil. The Epicureans used to say that these realities indicated either that God did not exist, or that, if He did, He must be uncaring, evil or powerless.
No one can ignore the force of the argument arising from the simple volume of human suffering endured throughout human history, often completely undeserved, and without apparent meaning or purpose. It does not, in any way, destroy the force of the case that God is needed to explain the creation and continued existence of the universe. But pain, suffering and death inevitably cast doubts on His goodness. How can a God be good who is apparently insensitive to our pain, regardless of our suffering?
The answer which Christianity gives lies in a series of connected statements.
What Christianity asserts is that at a particular moment in history, some 2,000 years ago, in a particular country, the modern Israel, God Himself assumed a human nature in the person of Jesus Christ, by the process known as the Incarnation; that He underwent every form of poverty, deprivation and suffering, up to the excruciating pain of crucifixion; that he subjected Himself to all of the pains of human existence and the torture of the Cross for two reasons: on the one hand, to expiate human evil in the process known as redemption; and on the other, to show man that since the Son of God Himself embraced them, pain, suffering and death were an inevitable part of the human condition; that it is by withstanding and rising above them that we refine and perfect our characters before the final human encounter with God at the moment of death.
This view of human existence depends on whether a man named Jesus Christ actually existed at a particular moment of history; that the main events and teachings of His life as recounted in the books of the New Testament are known; that the New Testament, the only near contemporary record of those facts is, as to the main facts of Christ's life, an historical record as reliable and credible, although dissimilar in form, as Caesar's Gallic Wars, or other universally accepted historical sources.
The chief fact to be determined is whether, as the New Testament books report, Christ was seen physically alive by dozens of people during the six weeks after His Crucifixion.
It is because Christians believe that the books of the New Testament which record those facts actually stand up as historical sources that their belief in the Resurrection, and consequently Christianity, is sustained.
John A. T. Robinson's Can We Trust the New Testament? is the most recent, easy and popular vindication of the authenticity of the New Testament as an historical record.
If the Resurrection thus actually happened, Christ was God and the whole of the Christian interpretation of life is based not on mere human wisdom, however enlightened, but on divine authority.
The proposition does not make pain, suffering, death any easier to bear. But it provides meaning instead of meaninglessness. The question - "Why did God actually make things this way?" - is unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable. Perhaps part of the explanation lies in a profound psychological truth about ourselves. In moments of happiness or prosperity, most of us find it difficult to think about God. If life were simply prosperity, we would not think about Him at all.
It is moments of pain, suffering, loss, deprivation which bring us back to reflect on God and on the roots of man's being. Perhaps that psychological truth is the explanation of the pain of living which we must all undergo.
The indispensability of the foundational doctrines on which Christianity rests can hardly be described with greater precision than in the words used by the London Daily Telegraph in its editorial of 19 February 1990.
"Religions such as Christianity are fundamentally revelation-based or they are nothing. Each generation will, of course, bring its own understanding to that revelation; but there are certain central and timeless teachings that cannot be subject to passing intellectual fashions. people who doubt this would be much better off withdrawing from a Church whose faith spans the best part of 2,000 years."
Where the Daily Telegraph's logical description breaks down, however, is that today's Christian crisis - and particularly the Catholic crisis - is concerned not with logic but with power. Throughout the Western world those who spread doubt in general do not occupy positions in the outer periphery, but at the centre of the action. For, in general, it is the administrative and academic bureaucracies which exist by appointment of the bishops which misuse their authority to spread doubt. And, if you are visibly winning all along the line why should you "withdraw" from the Church which you effectively control?