Douglas Murray

Four Defenders of the Faith – 3: Douglas Murray

6 February 2024

6.8 MINS

We come now to the third of those I have dubbed the “Four Defenders of the Faith”, British author and political commentator Douglas Murray. I have only become familiar with Murray over the past couple of years, and for me he’s one of those few writers who you wish that you had discovered much earlier. He’s that good!

In the past year or so, I have read two of his books, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity and The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason. I found both of them fascinating.

It’s one thing to be able to put your finger on the pulse of the various culture war issues. But Murray succeeds in shining a light on all of the absurd, self-contradictory claims of adherents to the groups attacking our Western liberal democratic heritage in the subjects covered: gender, race and identity in the first, and race, history, religion and culture in the second.

Double Standards

Nothing highlights this better than a couple of unrelated incidents which he uses to show the constant hypocrisies of those (primarily) on the Left in their adoption of attitudes seeping into the culture than two unconnected events regarding the burning of sacred texts.

The first is an incident in Afghanistan:

“A serious incident had arisen in the country. For it had been rumoured – not confirmed, just rumoured – that some Muslim holy books, including Qurans, had been improperly disposed of at a US air base north of Kabul. For the time being nobody knew exactly what had happened, but riots were already starting, extremist clerics were getting their boots on, and the world’s press were gearing up, or battering down, for a major Quran-desecration story.”

He goes on to describe the pleading tone of the official military response:

“It may have been supplicating, or it may have been diplomatic. What nobody could say was that the era was capable of ignoring a reported Quran burning.”

He then contrasts this with an incident in Portland, Oregon, during the Antifa riots and takeover of the city centre, where at least one Bible, possibly a few, were used as kindling for a fire, and the dismissive way it was responded to by the US media. When rumours began claiming it was Russian misinformation, even though there was video footage:

“It was only at this stage that the New York Times and others began to write up the story to highlight how Russian-backed news websites aim to “fuel grievances and deepen political divisions”… as the New York Times wrote: ‘the truth was far more mundane. A few protestors among the many thousands appear to have burned a single Bible – and possibly a second – for kindling to start a bigger fire’. So nothing really to see here.”

The note of irony in the last sentence becomes apparent when he contrasts the two incidents:

“On the one hand, if there is even a rumour anywhere on the globe of the mishandling of an Islamic holy book, the top brass of the American military immediately pronounce a DEFCON 1 situation. But if the Bible is burned in an American city, the country’s paper of record says there’s nothing to see here, because it was only a couple of Bibles, and, besides, they were only being used as kindling… It serves as a reminder that the West is now willing to protect and revere almost any holy places, so long as they are not its own.”


But it’s in a series of online video interviews and conversations where I’ve found more direct references to his own stance in relation to Christian belief. In a video conversation at Premier Christianity between the host Justin Brierley, Douglas Murray, and author, theologian and former Anglican Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, Murray spoke of how he was a believer in his earlier days:

“I was brought up a Christian, a believing Christian into my adult life, and am now, I suppose, in a self-confessedly complex situation of being among other things an uncomfortable agnostic who recognizes the values and the virtues that the Christian faith has brought.”

He then speaks in a general fashion about “our culture’s current uncomfortable relationship with faith”, but notes that “if we go back and look at this, what we have and what we like does have roots in the Christian story”.

He then comes back to his own situation:

“Even outside of faith, I have the added discomfort of a non-believer who is disappointed by the behaviour of a believing church.”

He goes on to describe how he sees the situation with the established church “giving up its jewels”, which seems from what he says to mean its traditions, as he refers to the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. But he also refers to:

“… the fear that the Church is not doing what many of us on the outside would like it to do, which is to be preaching its Gospel, be asserting its truths and its claims… When one sees it falling into all of the latest tropes, one just thinks, well, that’s another thing gone, it’s just like absolutely everything else in the era. Everything in this boring, monotone, ill-thought-out, shallow dialectic… I’m a disappointed non-adherent.”

In relation to that mindset, over the years, I have debated with many atheists online, and there have been numerous times where the engagement has gone from hostile to a form of respectful confession on their part, with accounts of how they were once Christians, but lost their faith in God because of the actions of other Christians, either directly affecting them or just because they didn’t agree with things they saw.

But as none of that has any bearing on whether or not our faith is grounded in historical fact or not, it always makes me wonder just how grounded that person’s faith was. It’s a bit like deciding that you won’t bother following the road rules anymore because someone cut you off in traffic and flipped you the bird. Where is the logic in rejecting those rules that you believed provided for every person’s best interest because you’re personally affronted by someone who disobeyed them?

So, remember, if you encounter someone who claims to be an agnostic or atheist who had a bad experience of that kind, and threw away their faith, the only conversation worth having will require you to stick very closely to the historical facts of Christianity.


Which brings me back to the video, where towards the end of the conversation, in response to a question, “Does it matter if the Christian story is not true?”, Murray says:

“Well, obviously it matters. It matters a huge amount. There is a complex corner which I’m obviously at, which is whether you can, whether it is possible, and I’m not dogmatic on this question, to keep what you need without holding on to the idea of it being true.”

With Murray, as with all of these public intellectuals fighting for Christianity’s place in the public square of ideas, this kind of question, and its response, always causes me to wonder what it would take for them to cross that line and accept Christ as Saviour and Lord, not just an intellectual acknowledgement of Christianity’s pre-eminence in Western civilisation.

After all, if, as Tom Wright repeatedly points out in the video, Christ’s atoning death and resurrection are facts, then how is it possible to merely assent to the influence on the culture? How can something built on a lie be the greatest influence on the most advanced and humanitarian culture in the history of mankind?

I wonder if the “elephant in the room” for Murray is his homosexuality. In The Madness of Crowds, I was impressed by the fact that the first section of the book was a critique of the way the gay rights movement has been one of a series of “tripwires laid across the culture” through the setting up of a “new system of values”. But it’s one thing to be openly critical of aspects of one’s own group’s behaviour, but another to be able to confront the issue of whether or not that lifestyle itself can stand scrutiny.

Perhaps we’ll never know. But I think it speaks volumes for his keen and objective mind that, as a gay man, he is able to hold the opinions he does.

I would also recommend an episode of John Anderson’s Conversations with Douglas Murray from late last year following the brutal October 7th Hamas attack on Israel:

To finish, a wonderful conversation between Murray, the historian (and another non-believer upholding Christianity in the public square), Tom Holland, and Intelligent Design authority and Christian, Stephen C. Meyer, where the host gives a quote from an essay by the philosopher and social critic Sir Roger Scruton:

“Anybody who goes through life with open mind and heart will encounter moments that are saturated with meaning, but whose meaning cannot be put into words. These moments are precious to us. When they occur it is as though, on the winding, ill-lit stairway of our life, we suddenly come across a window through which we catch sight of another and brighter world – a world to which we belong but which we cannot enter. There are many who dismiss this world as an unscientific fiction. I am not alone in thinking it real and important.”

In response, Murray, who wrote the Introduction to that book of essays by Scruton, says:

“It’s a beautiful expression of something that Roger intuited, and so do I. There Roger is referring to a very important instinct, which is the thing that should always jolt a true atheist, which is that everybody in their lives would experience moments of an awesome feeling of some kind of transcendence. It might happen seeing a person, it might be in eros, it might be in human love. It might be in a place, in a building. It might be just waking up in the morning.

Everybody at some point in their life has to contend with this question of ‘What is this thing that I feel to be true and cannot reach?’ Christians would obviously say it’s the Christian God. I think the rest of us have to say, ‘We’ll live in the question.’”

We can only hope and pray that Murray continues to search for the answer.

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  1. Warwick Marsh 6 February 2024 at 10:10 am - Reply

    Great article!!!!

    • Kim Beazley 7 February 2024 at 7:51 am - Reply

      Thanks, Warwick. It’s been so personally rewarding discovering more about these public figures.

  2. Jillian Stirling 6 February 2024 at 10:38 am - Reply

    Excellent. I find anything Douglas writes is a must read. His pieces in the Spectator are great. As are his conversations with Rita Pana hi. I love his books too. He wrote a great piece during covid about his church left him rather than him leaving. Westminster took the step of closing St Margarets as many churches did during covid, where had previously attended and how disappointed he was. Having seen it in my own church I felt his pain.
    I agree with his views on the book of commons prayer and the bible. Most modern translations are so bland and boring.

    • Kim Beazley 7 February 2024 at 7:57 am - Reply

      Thanks, Jillian. I’m not sure about his stance on the handling of the pandemic or lockdowns specifically, as I’m not a subscriber of “Spectator”, but I do know that he was not attending church at all by then, as he had long ago publicly declared himself as an atheist. But I’m sure it would have been both respectful and reasoned, like every issue he covers.

      Which is more than I can say for some of the aggressive and angry commentary by a number of Christian commentators over the past four years, who could learn a thing or two from the non-Christian Murray.

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