Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 11. August 1, 1957
Where is the Truth ?
Where is the Truth ?
It is a healthy sign if such articles as appeared in "Salient" on July 18th attest a lively interest in religion among students. However, some of the views expressed were of such a character that some disagreement must be expected.
The article of "Observer," especially, contained opinions which—when intelligible—are distinctly controversial. It is indeed an extraordinary piece of work, shot through with Hegelian, idealist notions (". ... ethical principles which are deeper than the action, whether or not such an action affects the direction of nation or person," "the expression of an undercurrent of ethical truism"). How ironical that it should appear next to "The Retreat from Reason"! in fact. I wonder if it is intended to be serious. However, I shall assume that it is.
"Essential religion docs not suffer from boom and slump—it is steadily existent or non-existent." Ax "Observer" does not say what he means by "essential religion." it is difficult to say whether this is true, but as he appears to contrast "essential religion" with everything that is usually meant by "religion." the statement as it stands is so incomplete as to be valueless.
But what is this "storm of inevitable progress" before which "conventional religion" will founder? What is this force? And how does "Observer" know that it is inevitable? is it science? if so, in what ways exactly have the sciences disproved religion? And in what ways was Christ "no good"?
Defenders of "inevitable progress" are rather rate birds these days. I submit that the fact of an area of free choice in human affairs contradicts any theory of "automatic progress" in ethics or science.
What could be meant. I wonder, by ethical "research"? One could reflect on or practise ethics, but to conduct "research"!
It is pleasing that "Observer" invites his fellow "confusionists" to attack their own beliefs with vigour, realising that they are "as much slaves of . . . prejudice . . . shallowness [and] narrowness" as they have ever been (inevitable progress!). It is not impossible that "ardent Church critics" can be silenced but it will need considerably clearer arguments, with more sober reasoning and less rhetoric, than "Observer" displays.
While the words "real, practical Christianity" are in themselves capable of an orthodox interpretation, their context makes it appear that B. is expressing a view of religion that is far too prevalent. Too many think that unless a person's religion issues forth in various sorts of social and political activities, it is valueless.
I wonder if it is unjust to harbour the suspicion that these persons would not be at all concerned if an individual's "personal religion" (if I may use the phrase) were weak, almost nonexistent, or without sufficient philosophical and theological foundations, provided that they concerned themselves with "political Christianity"?
While deploring the attitude of those Christians who show no concern for the welfare of society, who are concerned with the relation of their own souls to God practically to the exclusion of their duties to their neighbour. I think that it cannot be over-emphasised that such a practice of religion is not worthless, but incomplete. Sound religion must be based on a vital relationship with God, from which foundation recognition of our duties to our neighbour should naturally flow.
Disregard of the fundamental dualism of this relationship between God, on the one hand, and our neighbour, on the other, leads to such results as the "political Catholicism" of Charles Maurras—who was not a believer—to conceptions of a civil religion (as in Rousseau), to the view of religion as a "social cement."
Moreover, while social apathy is undoubtedly shown by many Christians, this should not be exaggerated. Recent Popes have shown a constant concern for social and political problems and their exhortations have by no means always fallen on deaf cars.
Furthermore, the failings of individual Christians should not be laid at the door of the Church; these failings do not invalidate Christianity in any way, but are only an indictment of the persons concerned.
We should remember, too, that men fill different places in society and their particular duties vary. Some are called primarily to action, others to thought and others to prayer. With most of us there is (or should be) a general fusion of the three.
While agreeing with "Thomas" that a reasonable foundation of religion and theology is essential and that it is highly desirable for the religious belief of the individual, in general (in particular cases for various reasons, it may be weak). I think that he over-emphasises "The Retreat from Reason" and that, within the Catholic Church, at any rate, such a trend is not discernible. Moreover, the statement that "every intelligent Christian one talks to in the University speaks as though his belief can have no concern with reasoned argument or the discoveries of science" is rather surprising, unless "Thomas'" range is very limited.
Although I would share G.A.W.'s disappointment at any "closed shop" attitude in our religious clubs and his belief in the value of reasoned discussion, it is impossible for any Christian to agree with the relativism that lies behind this belief, with the statement that "everything true is only relatively so." Surely, statements like "Mr. Wood is co-editor of 'Salient'," or "Napoleon died at St. Helena" or "Christ was crucified in Jerusalem" are true or false without qualification. To say that such statements are true, that is, that they correspond to reality, to what is or was the case, leaves no room for any qualification.