Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 13. September 12, 1957
New View of Christianity: — Immoral, Irrational and Un-British
New View of Christianity:
Immoral, Irrational and Un-British
The participants in the controversy about Christians and their coats, hats, and trousers, seem to all take their stand on a number of presumptions especially (1) that the readers of "Salient" are exclusively Christians, (2) that Christianity has some special claim to intellectual respect, and (3) that practical Christianity will somehow supply the world's worst wants.
To begin with, there are at this College a sizeable number of Buddhists. Moslems. Hindus, Jews, people who (like the Christian Scientists, for example) hold an only tenuously Christian position and deny the divinity of Christ, and atheists, agnostics, and incidents of many hues.
These people are probably not really very interested in the edifying spectacle of Christians scratching their mental fleas.
You could parry this with the argument that New Zealand is predominantly a Christian country. But to what extent is this true? A documented case could be made out for the proposition that the British people have never been fundamentally Christian. The work of Columba and Augustine and the rest of them was very superficial. A few Kings were brain-washed, and their subjects forcibly joined up (much after the manner of the Chinese regiment that was collectively christened with a firehose), but the Gospel never seeped down into the grass-roots of Britain and eradicated her profound paganism.
The fact that so little fuss was made about the royal order to switch the national allegiance from Rome to the Reformation, and that the only brands of Christianity to flourish outside the hothouse of State patronage have been the tight discipline of Rome and the hypnosis of evangelism, and that the Established Church itself (including its limb, the biggest Christian sect in New Zealand) has a theology so vague that it can embrace everyone from practical Roman Catholies through hell fire fundamentalists to atheists—all testify to the same truth.
Anyway, how many of the basic tenets of the Christian faith can command the respect of a reasonably self-respecting rational person? As the late learned Bishop of Birmingham (Dr. E. W. Barnes) said ten years ago: "There have been many great conflicts during the past two centuries between religion and science. The latter, in every case, has won the battle." His book. "The Rise of Christianity," wisely bases the claim of that creed to be taken seriously on its only intellectually acceptable aspect—the ethical doctrines of its founder, so far as they can be extricated from the prejudices of the ignorant age in which he lived.
This altitude, dubbed "Modernism" about 70 years ago, won a new respect for Christianity from wide sections of people in whose eyes the old-time religion was utterly discredited.
The return to emphasis on Calvary' rather than the Sermon on the Mount is comparatively recent, and has done more than anything else to produce a generation of intellectuals like Bertrand Russell. Fred Hoyle, Margaret Knight. Albert Einstein and so on who have no lime for religion at all, with the consequent collapse of the moral authority of Church leaders.
If Calvary is (as P.A.S. and K.K.C. believe) the essence of Christianity, then naturally Christianity can never hope to command rational respect. That the life of one innocent person (assured in any case of eternal life after death) should be accepted by the Judge (who was also the Creator) of the Universe as a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of everyone who believes this (but not of those who have never even heard it suggested)—turns the whole of existence into a fantastically irrational joke perpetrated by the Creator at the expense of the created.
It is small wonder that the only political movements claiming to be exclusively Christian—Von Papen's party, which paved the way for Hitler, for instance. or Adenauer's ruling clique in present Germany—represent the most irrational and reactionary forces.
Thirty years ago, a debate took place in New York between the rationalist Percy Ward and the Christian Socialist Professor Scott. Nearing on the question "That the practice of Christ's social teachings would make for social progress." Ward won on points for the negative by pointing out that Christ's teachings involved monarchism, feudal hierarchy, and non-resistance to evil.
It is possible to defend the most immoral and backward ideas with quotations from Scripture. That is why it seems to many of us that University Christians would be much better advised to limit their proselytising to the rational, ethical elements of their Creed, which are, after all, remarkably similar to the equivalent elements of most other creeds.
I would recommend Matthew Arnold's "Literature and Dogma" as an excellent and stimulating text.