I remember seeing a movie called “Gangster Squad”. I am not a big fan of MA movies but this one centred on a particularly nasty man by the name of Mickey Cohen. He was born in 1913, crossed paths with Al Capone, was a contemporary of Bugsy Siegel in the 1930s before a hit on Bugsy over the mismanagement of the Flamingo Hotel was successful. Mickey Cohen murdered a number of people and had a number of stints in gaol, including time in the famous Alcatraz prison for tax fraud. It will probably surprise no one that this man became a celebrity later in life. I don’t know why we make celebrities out of people whose lives are unworthy of acclaim.
What really amazed me about Mickey Cohen was his attitude to Christianity. In 1957, Time magazine wrote a brief about Mickey Cohen meeting with Billy Graham. Cohen said, “I am very high on the Christian way of life. Billy came up, and before we had food he said…What do you call it, that thing they say before food?… Grace?… Yeah, grace. Then we talked a lot about Christianity and stuff.” Allegedly when Mickey did not change his lifestyle, he was confronted by some Christian acquaintances. His response: “Christian football players, Christian cowboys, Christian politicians; why not a Christian gangster?”
I was amazed at what Mickey Cohen said, not because it’s strange but because so many people are just like him when it comes to being Christian. They’ll claim to be Christian but it won’t make any difference to the way they live. I am not just talking about people in church but also those who tick “Christian” on the census forms.
Like Mickey Cohen there are many people who clearly don’t understand the words of the Bible when it says, “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all”. In other words you can’t keep doing bad things, sinful things, dark things and think that God who is the light of all goodness will be happy with you.
One needs to be very careful of becoming like the village idiot. Let me explain by way of illustration.
As a visiting missionary walked around a particular village, he noticed bull’s-eyes on many fence posts. And in the middle of each bull’s-eye was a bullet hole.
“You must have a remarkable marksman here,” he commented.
“No,” said his friend, “those holes were made by a local idiot… He first fires the bullets into the posts and then draws bull’s-eyes around them.”
Now before you laugh at that, is that not the way many people live? First we do something we want to do, without regard for anyone else and then we draw the target around that action, claiming we were right to do it. We are all good at justifying our actions even when they are obviously wrong.
In the past, the Australian response to Christianity was to bank its moral capital. A capital that lay human accountability before God on everyone. Politicians, police, doctors, teachers, parents, those of every profession and those with none, those of every ethnic or indigenous background lived recognising an ultimate authority before Whom all must give account.
But what happens when the moral capital of our Christian heritage is spent? The same thing that happens when any government, company or individual spends down all its financial capital… “Bankruptcy!” And what chance is there of recouping our losses? Well, from financial institutions not much, but God is always ready to invest more capital if asked.
My good friend always asks how my imaginary friend is going. He means God of course. He thinks God has got to be imaginary otherwise Christian people would live really different and remarkable lives. He is both wrong and right at the same moment. He is wrong. God is not imaginary. He is right. Christians should live remarkable lives if there is still any moral capital in Christianity left.
Claims to be a Christian gangster are ridiculous and everyone knows it. People know that the distance between the Christian life and the gangster’s life is measured by righteousness. I hope we still have enough Christian capital to realise that a life with Jesus Christ in it, is better than a world without.
When you look at the way leaders behave, what the media displays, what the arts present, what the advertisers push, what businesses try to cover up, what sport has become, how broken marriages and family life are, and see the carnage of youthful stupidity while hearing the silence of those old enough to remember what Christianity gave to our nation, then you would be forgiven for thinking the capital is dwindling and bankruptcy is near. We are beyond paying off the debt. Our only hope is to let God manage the books and cancel our debt.