Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1925

Free Discussions Club

Free Discussions Club

"Truth is a good thing; but beware of barring too close to the heels of an error, lest you get your brains kicked out."

—S. T. Coleridge.

The efforts to follow that elusive lady, Truth, wherever she may lead, has been pursued with customary vigour and enthusiasm since the opening of the session, though of late weeks the quarry seems to have gone to earth in a somewhat unaccountable manner. Strenuous efforts are being made, however, to raise a new scent.

The season opened with a grand steeple-chase during the week March 30 to April 3, the whole of which was given to discussion of the more important of the reports of the recent Copec movement in England, organised largely by the impetuous energy of that insatiable sportsman, Mr. R. M. Campbell. The week's orgy was, on the whole, well attended, and we hope some portion at least of the quarry was caught and caged; certainly a good many other objects of the chase were badly mangled in the process. The five discussions were on the relations of Christianity and the following subjects: International Relations and War (led by Mr. J C. Beaglehole), Leisure (Mr. W. P. Rollings), The Relation of the Sexes (Mr. P. Martin-Smith), Industry and Property (Mr. J. T. V. Steele), and a general discussion on Christianity and Contemporary World-problems (Mr. R. M. Campbell). The most interesting of these discussions were the first and the last, probably because people knew more about the first, and the last left scope for those who didn't know a great deal about anything. The first discussion became concentrated on war, pacificism, non-resistance, and the Church's attitude in the last war, and finally lapsed into a personal quarrel between Mr. R. F. Fortune, who cast a wide net of accusations, and the Rev. Mr. Inglis, a doughty combatant, and one of the few parsons out of Wellington's fifty to whom invitations were sent who graced us with their presence. Mr. Dowsett gave a lucid exposition of the Quaker view, Mr. Campbell probed gingerly into mysticism, and the Rev. Dr. Gibb acknowledged his sins of the past as a minister of the Christian religion during the Great War.

The discussion on contemporary world-problems ranged from Mr. Campbell's stirring denunciation of the actions of the Bishops in the House of Lords during the course of the Industrial Revolution to Mr. Rollings' eulogy on John Wesley and the pioneers of British missionary enterprise, Mr. Beaglehole's indictment of Mr. Rollings' history, and Mr. James' confession of his lack of faith. Other features were Archdeacon Watson's defence of the bench of bishops and the "poor old Church," with special reference to the production of some mystically beautiful character by church schools, as opposed to the general godlessness of New Zealand, and Dr. Sutherland's exposition of the methods and aims of that distinguished revolutionist Mahatma Gandhi, accompanied by explanation of the more esoteric terminology of the faith. The general impression of the meeting Seemed to be that Christianity had seen its best days.

The Wednesday discussion on the Relation of the Sexes was again very interesting, though there seemed a certain unwillingness to speak on the part of even some of the most hardened conversationalists. Before the discussion could get well on its way, too, there was a regrettable disappearance of some of the female portion of the meeting, though we were subsequently assured that this was due to the urgency of a reformed train-service Mr. Martin-Smith gave a good sketch of the main lines of the Copec report, but the subsequent exchange of opinions became centred on birth control, after a fervent plea by the Rev. F. H. Dawn for enlightenment on the basic facts of sex for children. It was therefore impossible to discuss really deeply such pressing problems as the double standard of morality, the desirability or otherwise of marriage and divorce, etc. Mr. Dowsett, however, backed up Mr. Dawn's panegyric on marriage as an institution, whether Christian page 59 or not, and incidentally provided the sole touch of humour in the proceedings; and Dr. Neale summed up from the standpoint of the economist and statistician.

The meeting on Leisure degenerated into a duel between Professor Hunter and Mr. Rollings as to whether insurance was a form of gambling, with a few remarks edged in by other speakers on more or less cognate subjects. Mr. Campbell asked a good many questions. Mr. Beaglehole professed himself unable to understand what Mr. Rollings meant by describing Christianity as a Great Adventure. Mr. Steele expressed his extreme distaste for the majority of professing Christians as opposed to those of worth and character outside the pale. Mr. P. J. G. Smith gave a short resume of the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to matters of error, heresy, and faith generally, with some incursions into religious psychology. The Rev. Mr. Rollings threw in some lurid sidelights on the relations of the aforesaid Church with the local traffic in liquor; though it was gratifying to hear that a large amount of its capital was being transferred to the afternoon tea and cake business.

On the evening devoted to Industry and Property, Mr. Steele laid down the fact of the goodness of God as a necessary postulate for the Christian conception of property and everything involved therein from the point of view of reform. Professor Hunter, on the plea of getting down to fundamental conceptions, thereupon embarked on a theological wrangle whether there was a God, and, if so, whether he was good, ably seconded by other members present, among whom Mr. Eade and Mr. Fortune were prominent. 'It may have been on this occasion (memory being very tricky) that Mr. Smith upheld the logical banner of the Faith, and not on the preceding one: he certainly did on one occasion doughtily.

On the whole, this week of Copec proved one of the most stimulating series of meetings the Club has ever had, both for variety and intensity in discussion. The only regrettable feature was that so few ministers of religion out of the half-hundred asked were able to be present. It would have been excellent to have had a really powerful official apologist for Christianity; as it was, the "poor old Church," as Archdeacon Watson so aptly phrased it, got rather a rough spin.

At the Annual General Meeting, April 23, after the election of officers had been disposed of and a motion moved by Mr. Beaglehole to change the name of the Club to the original Heretics' Club had been lost by a thumping majority, Professor Hunter led a discussion on Freedom of Thought in Universities, with special reference to conditions in the United States. He briefly traversed the record of freedom of thought in history; religion was the great obstacle of old, but modern tendencies, mainly economic and financial, were more subtle and powerful. Instances of dismissals actually carried out by governing-bodies with the purpose of stifling freedom were given, e.g., Sanford at Clark University, Scott Nearing at Pennsylvania, Meiklejohn at Amherst, Laski (who resigned) at Harward. Toynbee (who also resigned) at King's College, University of London; while piquant instances of theological bias at Otago brought us nearer home. By way of stimulating commentary Professor Hunter read the opinions of many of his own acquaintances among the eminent of American education, on Upton Sinclair's celebrated "Goose-Step." Discussion was not very lively, mainly because everybody agreed with everything that had been said. Mr. Steele did not think that religion was such an intolerant force nowadays as it had been. He instanced such leading exponents of amity as Dean Inge, Canon Barnes, and Dr. Fosdick as fairly latitudinarian in their views, and adverted to a personal encounter of his own with an eccentric elder of the Presbyterian Church. Mr. Campbell quoted John Stuart Mill, and pointed out (rightly or wrongly) that Mr. Steele regarded the above-mentioned ecclesiastics as leading exponents of their faith merely because he himself agreed with them. Mr. Ivory rmarked that he had heard some very adverse remarks by the commercial fraternity of Wellington on the rabid radicalism of Professor Murphy's recent text book on economics. Miss Gardner referred to the general feebleness of thought at V.U.C.; Mr. Eade made some remarks on Truth in general; Professor Hunter summed up on the importance of influences on student mentality.

Professor Hunter also kicked off for the next discussion, on Immortality on June 11. He traversed the various arguments that had been brought forward in support of this pious aspiration, whether pagan, Christian or pseudo-scientific, and criticised them all in turn. He admitted the tre- page 60 mendous value morally of immortality; but this might be exerted to bad ends as well as good, and frequently was, e.g., we should carry out our social reforms here and now, and not wait for a benevolent deity to right all wrongs in the next world. He pleaded for the view of men and women as immortal in their descendants and emphasised the vital importance such an attitude would have on conduct if universally adopted.

The discussion was very vigorous. Mr. Steele, in a speech of much fervour, laid stress on the religious nature of man and the importance of immortality as starting now in this present life; the Kingdom of God was a progress; an analogy might be brought into the spiritual sphere from the conception of the conservation of energy. Mr. Simpson argued from texts, which he quoted with praiseworthy fluency, and stressed the value of emotion and faith rather than intellect as an argument. He preferred to believe in a certain interpretation of certain texts. Mr. Beaglehole asked Mr. Simpson for a definition of a faith as a proof of immortality; did Mr. Simpson regard his preference for a certain belief as valid proof of a future life? Mr. Fortune did not agree with Mr. Steele and Mr. Simpson. The idea of immortality was merely the egotism of human beings; if we were discontented with this life we should set about improving things at once. Mr. Wilson remarked on the utilitarian value of such a belief. Mr. Dowsett believed in immortality in spite of the lack of either academic proof or disproof; combatted statements that such a belief had always hindered, or should necessarily hinder, social reform. Mr. Ward remarked on the close connection between the belief and the fear of death. Professor Hunter summed up in his usual stimulating way, mainly in altercation with Mr. Steele on the interpretation of vital parts of the New Testament: the Church was dragged at the tail of the cart of social reform. (The idea of immortality at this juncture became rather evanescent).

On June 25 Mr. Campbell led a stirring discussion on Marriage and Divorce. For some inscrutable reason this meeting was unattended by women; one or two hung bashfully round the door at the beginning, but failed to come in; and when about 9 o'clock three unsuspecting damsels did stroll in, they did no more than sit down, send one horrified look round the room, and flee. For this extraordinary boycott we are quite at a loss to account. Mr. Campbell gave a brief historical sketch of the regard paid to marriage and divorce as institutions, contrasting the position at the present day with its religious implications with that under the Roman civil law. Nevertheless neither institution was essentially a question of law or religion. He considered various objections to easier divorce and on the whole pronounced himself to be in favour of marriage rites from purely utilitarian considerations, divorce by mutual consent on the Scandinavian plan. Mr. Riske was wholeheartedly against any ceremony of marriage or divorce at all. They were purely personal questions and society had absolutely no right to interfere with two individuals. This position was also .supported by Mr. Fortune and with modifications by Mr. Beaglehole. Mr. Eade, in supporting the sacramental character of a pure passion, painted in lurid colours the horrors of free love; Mr. Tattersall cleared up various legal points; Mr. Ward supplied one or two interesting footnotes.

And so the good work goes on.