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The Spike or Victoria University College Review, June 1927

Free Discussions Club

Free Discussions Club.

"Who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?"

— Milton.

This year, the relentless pursuit of Truth seems to be going on with all the vigour and enthusiasm so characteristic of the Club. All shades and types of opinion have come to tarry, though perhaps, not to rest, under our stormy wings, and the general discussion after each meeting has usually been fast and furious. There is one observation, however, which we would like to make, and it is this: That although a goodly proportion of club members are women students, it is but rarely that they take any part in the discussions, seeming for the most part content, to leave all the argument to the men. Surely this is a regrettable state of affairs. Are the women too shy or too nervous to voice their opinions? Or perhaps they have no opinion, at all? Anyhow, whatever be the cause of this modesty, we would urge all the women members (and more of the men. too, for that matter) to come forward, (in both a literal and metaphorical sense) and enter freely into the discussions.

On so many subjects there is room for more points of view than one only, so that it is a pity not to have a strong presentation of the "other side." After all, most people have opinions about most things. Well, the Club exists for your fellow students to hear yours. Don't disappoint him.

As to the meetings: The annual general meeting was held on March 29th. After rushing through the business part of the programme, the election of officers, perusal of balance-sheet, presentation of annual report — in a style which would earn us high praise from American efficiency experts, we composed ourselves for the meat and drink of the evening, namely, the presidential address by Prof. Hunter on "The influence of the Church on Society." Taking for his text, Tawney's recent book on Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and Graham Wallas, "Our Social Heritage," Prof. Hunter first showed that the attitude of the Church to business in mediaeval times was one of interaction. The Church had its finger in the page 47 business pie, and kept the level of business consistently high. The rules of trading, for instance, formulated by Calvin and applied throughout Calvanistic Churches (Tawney p. 129) would probably be conceived as idealistic nonsense by twentieth century captains of industry. Then the speaker proceeded to trace the decay of this old standard, and the substitution for it among the churches, of an attitude, winch is perhaps consciously, perhaps unconsciously, recognised to-day as being more or less hypocritical. This was illustrated by several examples from Graham Wallas. An interesting and illuminating discussion followed.

On Thursday, April 21st, a symposium was held on "the University Teaching System." The first speaker, Mr. F. F. Miles, discussed the question of Lectures in the University, drawing upon his experiences at Oxford and elsewhere to elucidate his points. Mr. R. M. Campbell impartially considered the problem of "Day and Night Lectures," showing, with the aid of a host of figures and statistical batteries, that although a system of day lectures was ideally perfect, yet in this important world, V.U.C. to wit, night lectures constituted the only possible way of providing mental pabulum for would-be-teachers, budding lawyers, and other seekers after the light, without imposing undue hardships upon them. Incidentally we would wish Mr. Campbell to explain the appositeness or otherwise of the figures which he brought forward to show the incidence of births among University graduates in America. Quite reliable information doubtless, but just where did they come in? Mr. W. H. Gould followed with a witty utterance on "Compulsory Attendance at Lectures." His position, as we understood him, was, that though not entirely in favour of lectures qua lectures, yet he thought some measure of compulsion necessary to secure attendance, even though some lectures were not worth attending. Among those who explained views later, were Prof. Hunter, Dr. Sutherland, and Mr. I. Frazer. The meeting closed with a vote of thanks to the principals.

The third meeting for the term was held on Thursday, May 5th, when Mr. C. F. Prael, a student of the Leland Stanford University, California, at present taking lectures at V.U.C., gave us something to chew over in his bright, breezy, unorthodox, provocative defence of the question—"Is America headed for Heaven or Hell?" Mr Prael took up one by one the charges levelled by critics against America, viz., her money making, her worship of applied science, her irreverence, her moral chaos, her failure to produce art and literature, her standardisation of industry; and showed that from his point of view, these features of American life, though he admitted and deplored many of them, were but symptomatic of America's struggling youth. All youth is crude and ignorant and dissatisfied, with tendencies to revolt against accepted standards. Just so is America rebelling against European culture, striving to evolve a new civilization, climbing upwards to what the speaker hoped would be something bigger and better, or, in the words of the old creed, "upwards and onwards for ever." In the following discussion Mr. E. Beaglehole pointed out that although some might say America was climbing up, others might say she was sliding down, but personally he was out of sympathy with many American ideas. Mr. A. E. Campbell gave his opinion of American literature which was possibly destined to become great, not because of America, but in spite of America. Mr. S. Wilson mentioned some of the things he admired and also some of the things he deplored in America. Miss Lysaght asked a pertinent question about the study of Evolution in America. Mr. W. Hall praised American efficiency. Dr. Sutherland held that America was instituting a new phase of civilization, which was gaining ground where tradition was weak, and, features of which were distasteful to those brought up under the old regime; Capele, Huxley, Stella Benson, and Shaw for example, were in violent reaction against this grab and graft stage of culture. Finally Mr. Roy Smith, although he gave America credit for such institutions as organised charity, arbitration and mass production, declared that he disliked America's mechanistic outlook on life. The hour being now late, the meeting adjourned after passing a vote of thanks to Mr. Prael for his address.

Finally on June 2nd, we had the opportunity of listening to the Rev. J. R. Blanchard, B.A., minister of St John's Church, Wellington, on the somewhat controversial subject of "Re-reading the New Testament in the Light of Modern Psychology." The speaker first laid down the essentials page 48 for a discussion of this subject, viz., an adequate knowledge of the New Testament and of Psychology; the necessity for consistently interpreting the evidence from the point of view of one and only one psychic theory; and lastly a freedom from prejudice in the examination of religious evidence. He then went on to consider specifically some more important facts, as, for example, faith-healing by Jesus, demon possession and Pentecost, which might be capable of explanation in terms of psychological concepts, but, which, in the opinion of the speaker, required for a complete and satisfying explanation the postulation of a theistic philosophy. Mr. Blanchard went on to give an outline of Jung's theory as set forth in his work on the "Psychology of the Unconscious"—the theory, that it, that Christianity is a myth, which, as a product of the dreaming of the race in the days of long ago, serves the biological salvation of the race through its providing a socially safe outlet for what would otherwise be the repressed libido of the individual. If such be the case, Jung would sweep away the Christ myth in modern times and substitute for it the virtue of self knowledge. With Jung's statement of the problem, the speaker disagreed, preferring to nail his colours to the mast of the good ship, Literal New Testament Interpretation.

The discussion which followed was keen and more or less to the point. Mr. Beaglehole held that though Freud and Jung might be more artistic than scientific in some matters, yet their psychology provided a fairly substantial basis for the consideration of biblical happenings; he also mentioned the case with regard to the historicity of Jesus himself. Mr. Sutch wondered why Jesus was worshipped and not Coue, when both were faith-healers. The answer from Dr. Sutherland was that Jesus was a supreme spiritual genius and this gave him the advantage over Coue. Mr. R. M. Campbell and Mr. W. P. Rollings now made a determined attack upon the validity or otherwise of New Testament miracles, both of them appearing to us to be rank disbelievers in such miracles as the Virgin birth, the Resurrection, the turning of Wine into water. This led on to a discussion of admissable evidence. Dr. Sutherland gave it as his opinion that the Resurrection was the outcome of the desire of the early Christians to make their religion as marvellous and as important as possible in a psychological reaction against their own feelings of inferiority. He also briefly mentioned the questions of demon possession and of the historical reality of Jesus. Mr Grieg wondered whether the divinity of Jesus was an essential plank in Christianity's platform. From his point of view it was not so; this was essentially the position of Middleton Murray on this question. In conclusion Dr. Sutherland called upon members to pass a vote of thanks to Mr. Blanchard for so patiently and so courteously standing up to the vigorous cross-examination to which he had been subjected by club members. It was carried in the usual manner.