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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 5. 1964.

Christians Retreat

page 2

Christians Retreat

Professor C. A. Coulson, who spoke recently at Victoria made the usual extravagant claims for Christianity. He declared that only Christianity could provide the insights into the nature of man that were necessary to give modern science the philosophical guidance it required.

Most people would probably agree with Coulson's hypothesis that science contains no "ought"—it has nothing in it to tell it where it ought to be going. But the main point of his talk, the reason why this "ought" can only be provided by religion, and most successfully by Christianity, he failed to make convincing. The reason he failed is quite simple—because he was wrong.

Religion in past centuries has been notably unconcerned about heaven-on-earth ideas that seem to have gained control of most of the modern Church. (I use the term Church to denote all the sects or schisms that once swore allegiance to the See of Rome.) The Christians of yesterday may have been highly concerned about achieving eternal bliss hereafter, but happiness on earth, was, through lack of economic physical and medical knowledge, near enough to impossible except for the favoured few.

Now we find that the timeless, ageless face of God is different. Surprise! In fact as we all know, it is only man's conception of God that has changed, etc., etc. New ideas have emerged and have become part of the established (I don't mean just legally established) Christion faiths. What is more important is the fact that these ideas of plenty on Earth arose when science made them possible. They are not necessarily Christian, and it seems to me to be the height of arrogance for anyone to claim a monopoly of them.

Thus we see that the Revolutionaries of the New World could declare that each man was "endowed by his creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Though there might have been religious motives behind the founding of the American colonies, it would be a brave man who would say the same of their desire to sever their links with the mother country. What the motives were is not important here. The point is that they were other than religious, but once having been stated they were advanced as basically Christian ideas. A similar situation exists today. It is quite easy to arrive at a rationale for science without ever considering religion, or the usual concepts of it.

Consider religion as some sort of belief with some idea of a supreme intelligence behind it, with some kind of pattern or plan for the universe or for humanity. I think this is a pretty broad description of one of the fundamental premises of religion, and I have kept it as general as I can to avoid pointless sectarian squabbling.

One could say that the Christian attitude is that the grand design requires that man fit into his proper place, and that he should behave towards his fellow men and the universe in a certain way (This is the meaning I take from Professor Coulson's talk).

This view is. I think, the way in which the Christian has succeeded in rationalising his ideas of "God" to fit the values currently held by almost all men—that men must be allowed to enjoy as far as possible the fruits of modern technology.

If, however, we take the knowledge that most men have of their ability to be happy, or sad, and assume that other people share it (this is my axiom) we can arrive at almost the same position as the Christian. *We can realise that other people cannot be happy unless we allow them to, just as if we wish to be happy ourselves we cannot unless other people allow us to be so. This may be sheer rationalisation of desires, but it is just as valid as that proposed by Christians, and has some rather interesting advantages.

I am not uggesting that this approach is the only one, though I think it is a better one than that used by Professor Coulson. If the reader accepts it as a valid one, he can no longer hold the view that only religion can provide the "ought" for science.

Basically, what is wrong with the Christian approach is the failure of those who believe it correct to take it to its logical conclusion. This could be the fault of the people, or it could be the fault of the idea, but I don't think it matters who must take the blame, so long as we can find a way out. Either we can change the nature of people or the approach to the problems. (We can of course alter both.) I think in the long run it will prove easier to alter the philosophy to one whose logical conclusions are so pressing that no one can ignore them.

The point is that we cannot afford the luxury of fitting new ideas to our previous beliefs and prejudices. The time taken to do this may in some cases be a generation or two, and we could easily find that the problems of human relationships we were going to solve have solved themselves in a way we would wish to have avoided.

I can illustrate this by referring to two of the world's most pressing problems—overcrowding and nuclear power.

How long will it take before the bulk of Christendom has related the nuclear facts of life to its religious beliefs and found a solution? Some groups already have, I agree, and I think I would include Professor Coulson in them. But though the problem is a pressing one, it does not find a ready response in Christianity. This is not surprising, because human problems are a secondary feature in the Christian religions (the primary feature is obviously the concept of the Deity).

As for overcrowding, this clearly raises the old question of sex and sexuality, a subject on which most people are thoroughly confused. Some of them are so confused that they just don't want to consider the morality of the subject. They think, for instance, that anything Salient prints about contraception is bad—because it makes them notice the problem.

It's difficult to be happy if you're being incinerated or starving with standing room on the planet only. We must just stop killing each other and reproducing ourselves out of existence. I think this means that we must categorically reject war and must accept practically any form of birth control available. I don't see the Christians adopting this view, or any sensible alternative—most of them just don t have ideas about these problems. I conclude that they have been sidetracked somewhere.

I think it's high time the religious organisms of this country stopped running around in sexual circles took their noses out of their books of common prayer, their Bibles and their hymnals and started thinking. It's all very well to produce reports to show that people are reading dirty books that aren't good for them, or learning to drink alcohol at University, it's a good way of forgetting that there are other vaster problems to be tackled. The University religious clubs deserve a good deal of the blame. The intellectual cream of the country should be the leaders of constructive thought, not followers.

I see that the Catholic Students' Guild is organising week-end retreats. They seem highly unnecessary—most of the religious clubs make retreating from the world's problems the central feature of their outlook anyway.