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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 10. July 19, 1957

Coats on? — Good-Bye to Dogma

Coats on?

Good-Bye to Dogma

Your article, "Christians Should Take Their Coats Off". contained some provocative statements; putting my coat on.

The life of a community, indeed a nation, is the product of the lives of its individual constituents. Universal corruption within the members of a nation implies a corrupt nation and universal "goodness" within, a good nation. The ethics that govern an individual—govern a nation. The ideas of the people have their roots in those of the individual.

Photo of men

Essential religion does not suffer from boom or slump—it is steadily existent (or non-existent). Foundationless, spiritless religious conventionalism and dogmatic doctrinism, no matter how active, aggressive, dynamic, will founder before the storm of inevitable progress again and again until religion and practical morality become the expression of an undercurrent of ethical truism. Systematic and progressive ethical research on the scale material and scientific research is now conducted will soon become a social necessity because, as a rough survey might show, the effects of the swift progress of science on the economic, social and political systems in the last fifty years, together with the retarded growth, almost stagnation, of ethical, in particular Christian ethical, and moral ideas of our time, has resulted in a potentially tragic gap between ethical controlling factors and material power and knowledge. This gap is the product of the difference in the rates of progression of ideas in the two spheres of human activity. It suggests that the scholars in the Arts faculties have not shouldered their responsibilities and forwarded the study of what might be called "applied ethics" to the stage at which as in science, progress tends to be automatic. The result of this lack of progress in othics is that we now master undreamt-of power but lack the allimportant guides to the use of this control. The great stress placed on military technical progress is an example of how a principle may radically alter the direction of scientific progress to achieve a definite end. Another illustration is the steady progress of medical research under the guidance of humanitarian principles adopted by the medical profession and many of its members. A lew words from the mind of Albert Schweitzer would seem appropriate here:

". . . In spile of the great importance we attach to the triumphs of knowledge and achievement, it is nevertheless obvious that only a humanity which is striving after ethical ends can in full measure share in the blessings brought by material progress and become masters of the dangers which accompany it. To the generation which has adopted a belief of an imminent power of progress realizing itself, in some measure, naturally and automatically, and which thought that it no longer needed any ethical ideals but could advance to its goal by means of knowledge and achievement alone, terrible proof is being given by its present position (world war), of the error into which it had sunk."

Such views as this constitute part of the development of basic Christian doctrine the essence of which may well apply to both individual and nation—not that the theme is new":

"... It is impossible to imagine the height to which may its carried, in a thousand years, the power of man over matter. We may, perhaps, learn to deprive large masses of their gravity . . . for the sake of easy transport. Agriculture may diminish its labour and double its produce; all diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of old age . . . . O that moral science were in a fair way of improvement, that men would cease to be wolves to each other and that human beings would at length learn what they now improperly call humanity."

—Benjamin Franklin (1780).

We should not expect the fruits of contemporary labour to be immediately forthcoming. Just as the prolific farms of the present day are the expression of the hard labours of the bush-clearing, scrub-cutting pioneers, so must the truthful, practical and productive social ethic be the expression of the contemporary work done on the wilderness of ideas, of part truths, uncertainty and insecurity that characterises modern "Confusionism".

As a preliminary to the establishment of improved ethical and moral foundations, especially within the Church, we might first endeavour to open ourselves and our ideals to criticism to ascertain their inherent strength under adverse conditions. We must attack our own beliefs with a vigour which half les the most ardent Church critic and leaves him at a loss for further words. We might realise that we are as much the slaves of subtle prejudice, conventional hates and habits, shallowness, narrowness, as we have ever been. As Christians we fall so far short of the standard set before us by our no-good (in that he denies his own goodness and sets us an even higher standard than his own definitely exemplary life) Master, that even the best of men cannot truthfully claim to be much better than the least!

Political activity in the religious community is continually under the surveillance, though still allowed sensibly restrained freedom, of ethical principles which are deeper than the action, whether or not such an action affects The direction of nation or person.

". . . On these two laws, hang all the laws and the prophets."