Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 14. September 26, 1957
The Man in the Room
Your leading article in the last issue of "Salient" told us something about the "students advisers" in some Australian universities, and it was asked. "Why not one at V.U.C.?" It would like to point out that there is such a person in the college who is most willing to discuss with. and advise, students on any matters which they are unable to cope with themselves. He is the Rev. Alan Gray, chaplain to the S.C.M., and he is available for interviews and talks with students all any time. He is to be found in the S.C.M. cabin, situated near the liaison officer's hut. or he may be contacted by 'phone, is there a need for a duplicate position?
No Ostrich Me
May I take this opportunity to clarify my views, which were thoughtfully criticised by Mr. Price in your August 1st issue?
Although "essential religion" cannot be strictly defined if the concept is to retain any depth, some idea of its meaning might be gained if one considers the relative importance of, say. strict, observance of contemporary orthodox church lore and an individual realization of the closeness, and value of God as a guide and companion, without conventional expression, if this is real, then it must exist independently of fluctuating church attendances and its position on the popularity poll of university discussion. The [unclear: vm] is used in an attempt to distinguish shallow "Sunday-only" worship from "living religion".
The "storm of inevitable progress" does refer more to the steady and unquestionable advance in scientific knowledge than in other spheres of human activity. Science does not necessarily disprove religion; in fact, it sometimes clarifies it, and corrects erroneous impression which have arise from a wide-eyed, credulous attitude to the Biblical scripture the origin of man, the age and history of his physical universe, are still points of contention between science and some religious groups. I find statements like: "God is omnipotent, with Him nothing is impossible . . and "Science will ultimately explain all things that we are conscious of even if we become conscious of all things . . fundamentally contradictory; yet as a scientist. I work with implicit faith in the truth of the latter statement. My Christian faith might ultimately be included within the infinite bounds of science.
I choose the latter of these two aspects of science and religion by considering, firstly, the self-consistency of each, and observing that whilst each statement implies universal consistency, the former is as yet an isolated principle which must at present be merely believed", as people once "believe" that the sun and stars rotated about [unclear: the earth] while the latter is an extension of the present scientific trend. The world is a closed but unbounded surface whether people choose to believe it or not. This very consistency may be made the basis of a world view which is neither completely materialistic nor confusing. Although I do not claim to be a "confusions", as Mr. Price wrongly suggests. I am at least aware of confusing and contradictory views (not being an ostrich) which interfere with my own to some extent, and I am interested in seeing whether a more truthful view might be cast from the melting pot of student ideas, even if it refutes the reality of God. It is only by opening one's mind to our own and contemporary ideas, ideals and actions that we may arrive at some approximation to the "truth" in its absolute sense.
Truth at the level of "sense perception" or scientific truth often seems inadequate. Rational explanations of religious events are difficult to formulate in terms of contemporary knowledge. One does not question the truthfulness of "Christ was crucified on Calvary" (so were others) if he accepts the historical accurate of the statement, but this is less important than the claimed significance of His death, which is more open to question.
I am prompted to write after reading a copy of your fine magazine. Compared with the student magazines in Australia, yours is good—particularly considering that staffing is voluntary (I presume).
The particular articles that prompt me to write are some of those in your debate on religion—especially those by Russell Price and K.K.C. and P.A.S.
The basis of Christianity is rather shaky, and depends on acceptance without proof. Consider the Bible, the basis of Christianity. Genesis I, i, begins: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." This has not been proved false, but it has also not been proved true But many scientific theories about the origin of the world also haven't been proved false.
Take prayer if I pray for rain and the weather gets drier and drier, the Christian will offer no end of excuses. If, however, it rains, he will say my prayer has been answered. The atheist will say it would have rained anyway. Who is to judge who is right?
One of the weaknesses of religion is its dependence on so-called "miracles". Volumes have been written on virgin birth, the walls of Jericho, and the rest: but the decision is always "not proved"—but also "not disproved".
To permit the hypothesis "There is a God" is almost to beg the question, yet to the Christian it is fundamental. But to say "there is no God" is equally false. The only statement we may justifiably make is, "There may be (or not be) a God"—with the united disapproval of both Christians and atheists.
Over the years. Christianity has done some good-the monks fostered learning when it was at an ebb, and the Churches have taken a stand on moral issues. But the basis of its beliefs is no less disputable for that. Other organizations with bad principles have done some good.
All this lets us see that atheist and Christian creeds are equally unsound. It is for each of us to choose what he will believe, and accept the logical consequences. Let Christians renounce the commercializing of Christmas, and the atheists work on religious holidays. Perhaps if that was the position, there would be more fence-sitters ("agnostics" they call us).
Mr. Price concluded by saying that statements must be either true or false without qualification. But whereas we have proof that "Napoleon died at St. Helena". we have no proof of the "Christ" in "Christ was [unclear: crucified] at Jerusalem", so this statement is not true—but then, neither is it false.
The Bible is a magnificent collection of stones—but so is Grimm's "Fairy Tales". Why make one the basis of a religion and not the other?
—A. M. Mathew.
N.S.W. University of Technology, N.S.W.. Australia.
(This letter has been slightly abridged.—Ed.)
The religious debate which I originally provoked seems to have got well side-tracked in the bog of Christianity's ultimate defensibility. I once discussed this very issue with an elderly and very scholarly clergyman (now dead) for a whole afternoon, and he afterwards wrote me a letter from which I excerpt the following:
"To the intellectualist, the reason for the truth of Christianity must. I think, always appear somewhat feeble and unconvincing. The fact is, the first steps to an acceptance of it are not conclusive reason or scientific proof, but faith and love, which must always appear to the intellectualist as slightly absurd.
"I don't think that the Christian religion can ever be proved true by argument. although it is. I believe, a reasonable faith. I suppose the hardest article of the Creed to accept is the first: I believe in God the Father Almighty' as so much in the world seems flatly to contradict it, if we can surmount this hurdle all the rest are easy in comparison.
"One great help I have found in times of doubt is to go on behaving as if Christianity were true, and not throw up church-going, worship. Communion, etc. I do not believe this is to act hypocritically."
This sems to me to sum up both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Christian position.
(This correspondence is now closed.—Ed.)
When you illustrated "Victoria Story No. 6" with the magnificent linocut of skulls, shells and so on, you should, perhaps, have added some comment.
Entitled "Still Life", it first appeared in Salient" in 1938, when V.U.C.'s political alertness and war handedness was at its height, and was the work of a V.U.C. student.
In addition to the more obvious symbolism, is is worth noting the little conventionalized stooped human figures on whose shoulders the whole weight of war is depicted as resting, and which are distorted beautifully into forms reminiscent of swastikas; and the bending crosses, suggesting not only the overworked nature of contemporary graveyards, but also the perversion of Christianity necessitated by its accommodation to war as a matter of state policy.