Christian Ethics Unit Two

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Christian Ethics Unit One


An examination of the history, methodology, and content of Christian ethics with application to specific contemporary issues

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Chapter V: The Law of Love in Politics and Economics

The field of politics and economics is particularly strategic testing-ground for the adequacy and relevance of a religio-moral world view, and focuses on the problem of justice as a balance between the ideal of love and the fact of evil. The pessimism of Protestant orthodoxy based on manís sinfulness led to complacency, while the optimism of liberalism grounded on historical relativities issued in sentimentality. Prophetic religion relies on reason to balance the tragedy of human history and the hope for ultimate resolution.


The field of politics and economics is particularly strategic testing-ground of the adequacy and relevance of a religio-moral world view. Its realities betray the impossibility of an ultimate ideal more vividly than the realm of personal moral relationships. At the same time its necessities are concerned with the life and death, the happiness and misery, of the multitudes; and its qualified achievements and tentative harmonies and unities may, in spite of their tentative and qualified character, become the important symbols and harbingers of a more ultimate and absolute unity of life.

The importance of the political and economic problem increases in every decade of modern existence because a technical civilization has so accentuated the intensity and extent of social cohesion that human happiness depends increasingly upon a just organization and adjustment of the political and economic mechanisms by which the common life of man is ordered. Even though it may be true that the human spirit faces ultimate problems which transcend the relationship of man to his society, and that all solutions of the social problem are more tentative and less final from the perspective of a profound religion than the advocates of specific social panaceas realize, a socially imperiled generation will have both the inclination and the right to dismiss profound and ultimate interpretations of life which are not made relevant to the immediate problems of social justice. Men whose very existence is imperiled and whose universe of meaning is reduced to chaos by the social maladjustments of a technical society, may be pardoned if they dismiss, as a luxury which they cannot afford, any "profound" religion which does not concern itself with these problems.

The problem of politics and economics is the problem of justice. The question of politics is how to coerce the anarchy of conflicting human interests into some kind of order, offering human beings the greatest possible opportunity for mutual support. In the field of collective behavior the force of egoistic passion is so strong that the only harmonies possible are those which manage to neutralize this force through balances of power, through mutual defenses against its inordinate expression, and through techniques for harnessing its energy to social ends. All these possibilities represent something less than the ideal of love. Yet the law of love is involved in all approximations of justice, not only as the source of the norms of justice, but as an ultimate perspective by which their limitations are discovered.

Unfortunately, the relation of Christianity to the problems of politics and economics has not been a particularly fortunate or inspiring one. Christianity has been more frequently a source of confusion in political and social ethics than a source of insight and constructive guidance. Such an indictment could not be sustained unqualifiedly, of course. The contribution of Thomasian Catholicism to the peace and order of thirteenth-century Europe and the dynamic relation of Calvinism to the democratic developments of the seventeenth and eighteenth century are obvious exceptions to the indictment. Others equally significant might be mentioned. Yet on the whole it must be admitted that rationalistic political theory from Aristotle and the Stoics to the thought of the eighteenth century and, the theories of Marx, have contributed more to a progressive reassessment of the problems of justice with which politics deals than either orthodox or the liberal Christian thought. Among the many possible causes of this failure of Christianity in politics the most basic is the tendency of Christianity to destroy the dialectic of prophetic religion, either by sacrificing time and history to eternity or by giving ultimate significance to the relativities of history. Christian orthodoxy chose the first alternative, and Christian liberalism the second. The problems of politics were confused by the undue pessimism of the orthodox church and the undue sentimentality of the liberal church. In the one case the fact of the "sinfulness of the world" was used as an excuse for the complacent acceptance of whatever imperfect justice a given social order had established. The fear of the possible disintegration of a sinful world into anarchy prompted a rather frantic and pious commendation of whatever order had been historically established. In the other case the problems of politics were approached from the perspective of a sentimental moralism and with no understanding for either the mechanistic and amoral factors in social life or the mechanical and technical prerequisites of social justice.

No doubt economic determinism can throw some light upon the tragic failure of both orthodox and liberal churches in the field of politics. If Christian perfectionism on the one hand and Christian realism on the other have both been used to thwart the efforts at a higher justice in society, the suspicion naturally arises that the same use to which these opposite doctrines are put is determined not by the doctrines themselves, but by the similar social interests of the people who profess them. The Christian Churches in both the Middle Ages and the modern period were comprised, on the whole, of the classes which dominated their social orders. Their ability to use diametrically opposite religious tendencies as grist for the mills of their class interests proves that no element in human culture, not even the final religious effort to transcend the relativity of culture, can escape the fate of becoming, and being used as, an instrument of relative and partial social interests. Yet the Christian Church has never been purely the tool of particular social classes; and it could be maintained with equal validity that no cultural or spiritual enterprise of the human spirit can be explained purely in terms of the special social circumstances which condition and corrupt it. The very fact that an acute analysis of conditioning circumstances always involves and implies a charge of corruption suggests that there is any inner core of integrity and truth which can be corrupted. It is impossible to tell an effective lie without availing oneself of an element of truth. A pure lie is self-defeating. It is equally impossible to make use of spiritual forces for the defense and advancement of particular interests if they do not contain some values which transcend those interests.

The failure of the Christian Church in politics can, therefore, not be explained purely in terms of the economic and social interests which drove the historic Church into a position of social conservatism. The source must be sought in the character and nature of historic Christianity itself. It will be found in the fact that a religious interpretation of life, which does justice to the ultimate problems of human existence and is able to apprehend the final possibilities of good and evil, does not find it easy to deal with the questions of relative good and evil, which are the very stuff of the political order. Liberal Christianity adopted the simple expedient of denying, in effect, the reality of evil in order to maintain its hope in the triumph of the ideal of love in the world. This results in political theories which are not able to cope with the problem of establishing a relative justice in society through the strategic use of coercion, conflict, and balances of power. Orthodox Christianity was so well aware of the fact of sin that it saw in the ideal of love only an ultimate criterion by which all human social achievements are revealed in their imperfections. This is indeed a proper function of the law of love in any religion which appreciates the transcendent character of the ultimate ideal. But Christian orthodoxy failed to derive any significant politico-moral principles from the law of love. It did not realize that the law of love is not only in position of ultimate transcendence over all moral achievements, but that it suggests possibilities which immediately transcend any achievements of justice by which society has integrated its life. It therefore destroyed a dynamic relationship between the ideal of love and the principles of justice. The social principles of orthodox Christianity have, consequently, been determined by ideals of justice which were informed by reverence for the principle of order rather than by the attraction of the ideal of love.

The political ideas which governed Christian orthodoxy's strategy of compromise with the necessities of politics are chiefly drawn from two sources, the Pauline conception of the divine ordinance of government (Rom. 13) and the Stoic conception of the natural law. The natural law is, according to both Stoic teachers and the Christian fathers, the law of reason. It supposedly establishes universal standards of right conduct and action which are not identical with the standards of love but have equal validity as laws of God. The theory of the natural law is thus the instrument by which the orthodox Church adjusted itself to the world after the hope of the parousia waned. This was natural enough since the love perfectionism of the gospels, with its implied anarchism and universalism, was obviously not applicable to the arbitration of conflicting interests and the choice of relative values required in an imperfect world. The development of natural law theories in Christianity has been criticized as an apostasy from the Christian ideal of love. But all such criticisms are informed by a moral sentimentalism which does not recognize to what degree all decent human actions, even when under the tension and inspiration of the love commandment, are in fact determined by rational principles of equity and justice, by law rather than by love.

The difficulty in the Christian application of the theory of natural law lies elsewhere. It is to be found in the undue emphasis placed upon the relative natural law which was applicable to the world of sin, as against the absolute natural law which demanded equality and freedom. This distinction between two kinds of natural law was also inherited from Stoicism. Sometimes it was expressed in terms of a distinction between the jus naturale and the jus gentium, the former embodying the absolute demands of equality and freedom and the latter regulating the government, coercion, conflict, and slavery existing in the historic institutions of society. The significant development in the Christian adoption of this distinction lay in the particular emphasis placed by Christian orthodoxy upon the requirements of the jus gentium as necessities of the world of sin.1 The deeper pessimism of Christian orthodoxy is revealed in this emphasis. As a consequence the Christian church could insist in the same breath on the freedom and equality of all men before God and on the rightfulness of slavery as God's way of punishing and controlling a sinful world. The principle of equality was thereby robbed of its regulative function in the development of the principles of justice. It was relegated to a position of complete transcendence with the ideal of love. The consequence was an attitude of complacency toward whatever injustices in the economic and political order had become historically established. This continues to be the baneful influence of orthodox Christianity upon political questions to this day. It cannot be denied that the belief in an ultimate equality and freedom of all souls before God did frequently encourage the Church to qualify the attitude toward slavery in the ancient world. Above all, it sometimes led to a higher ethic in the Christian communion than in the political state. But it must also be noted that the Church usually capitulated in the end to the lower standards which it failed to challenge in the state.

If any problem of human justice is examined carefully it will be discovered that some such distinction as is suggested in the two types of natural law is as justified, as it is unjustified, to make the distinction as unqualifiedly and absolutely as has been the case in Christian thought. In every human situation and relationship there is an ideal possibility and there are given facts of human nature, historic and fortuitous inequalities, geographic and other natural divisive forces, contingent and accidental circumstances. The ideal possibility for men involved in any social situation may always be defined in terms of freedom and equality. Their highest good consists in freedom to develop the essential potentialities of their nature without hindrance. There can be no development of personality without discipline; but the ideal discipline is self-imposed, or at least not imposed by agents who have other motives than the enhancement of the ultimate values of human life. Since human beings live in a society in which other human beings are competing with them for the opportunity of a fuller development of life, the next highest good is equality; for there is no final principle of arbitration between conflicting human interests except that which equates the worth of competing individuals. If their actual worth is not equal, there is always the possibility that their potential worth is; and that the potential equality is hindered from realizing itself only by the accidental or hereditary advantages of one person over another.

A rational analysis reveals both the ideal possibility and the actual situation from which one must begin. In that sense there are really two natural laws ó that which reason commands ultimately and the compromise which reason makes with the contingent and arbitrary forces of human existence. The ideal possibility is really an impossibility, a fact to which both Stoic and Christian doctrine do justice by the myth of the Golden Age in Stoic doctrine and of the age of perfection before the Fall in Christian doctrine. The ideal is an impossibility because both the contingencies of nature and the sin in the human heart prevent men from ever living in that perfect freedom and equality which the whole logic of the moral life demands. The ideal equality will be relativized, as has been previously observed, not only by the fortuitous circumstances of nature and history, but by the necessities of social cohesion and organic social life, which will give some men privileges and powers which other men lack; and finally by human sin, for it is inevitable that men should take advantage of privileges with which nature or necessity has endowed them and should enhance them beyond the limits of the one and the requirements of the other.

Yet this impossibility is not one which can be relegated simply to the world of transcendence. It offers immediate possibilities of a higher good in every given situation. We may never realize equality, but we cannot accept the inequalities of capitalism or any other unjust social system complacently. There is no equality between the sexes, nature having placed a greater biological restraint upon the freedom of a woman than upon man. Yet the more advanced societies have properly sought to circumvent nature in diminishing the disabilities from which women suffer in the development of talents which transcend their maternal function. Nor can any intelligent society accept inequalities in ability between classes or races as final. They may be, and usually are, caused by forces of nature and history which an intelligent control of social life can greatly restrict and sometimes completely overcome.

The principles of equal justice are thus approximations of the law of love in the kind of imperfect world which we know and not principles which belong to a world of transcendent perfection. Equality has no place in such a perfect world because this principle of equality presupposes competition of life with life and seeks to prevent this competition from resulting in exploitation, by advancing and defending the claims and interests of one life with equal force against every other life. Since the law of love demands that all life be affirmed, the principle that all conflicting claims of life be equally affirmed is a logical approximation of the law of love in a world in which conflict is inevitable.

The ideal of love and the ideal of equality therefore stand in an ascending scale of transcendence to the facts of existence. The ideal of equality is a part of the natural law which transcends existence, but is more immediately relevant to social and economic problems because it is an ideal law, and as law presupposes a recalcitrant nature which must be brought into submission to it. The ideal of love, on the other hand, transcends all law. It knows nothing of the recalcitrance of nature in historical existence. It is the fulfillment of the law. It is impossible to construct a social ethic out of the ideal of love in its pure form, because the ideal presupposes the resolution of the conflict of life with life, which it is the concern of law to mitigate and restrain. For this reason Christianity really had no social ethic until it appropriated the Stoic ethic. As the ideal of love must relate itself to the problems of a world in which its perfect realization is not possible, the most logical modification and application of the ideal in a world in which life is in conflict with life is the principle of equality which strives for an equilibrium in the conflict.

The failure of Christian orthodoxy to relate the principle of equality to the law of love on the one hand and to the problems of relative justice on the other, resulted in a constant temptation to a complacent acceptance of historic forms of relative justice which ought to have been regarded, and by later ages were regarded, as injustice. A perfectionist ethic thus had the tragic consequence of increasing complacency toward remediable imperfections in justice. The force of this pessimism was accentuated by another element in Christian faith; the force of pious gratitude for the goodness of life and creation. The influence of this piety toward the natural world operated to increase Christian complacency toward the established, given, and traditional modes of social organization. Since there were rich and poor, God must have intended the distinction to exist, for nothing exists without God, in the thought of the Christian Church. This motif in Christian theology frequently reduces Christian ethics to a pantheistic diminution of the ethical element in life. Whenever the prophetic faith that all things have their source in God is not balanced by the other article of prophetic faith, that all things have their fulfillment in God, ethical tension is destroyed and the result is similar to a pantheistic religious acceptance of life as it is. It is significant that the amalgamation of nationalistic paganism and Christian faith attempted by the Nazi movement in the German Evangelical Church avails itself of the idea of God*s creation of the natural differences of race and blood for the purpose of giving a religious sanctification to the cult of race. Thus one of the Nazi theologians writes: "If blood deteriorates, then spirit is also destroyed. The blood brotherhood of our people was deteriorating. It was possible for the Church, through her belief in the order of creation (Schoepfungsordnung), to appreciate the mystery of the strength and character derived from blood as holy."2 Or again, "The people, the race, is a creation of God. God wishes mankind to live in the division of nations." The ability of Christian theology to regard the contingent and historically relative facts of human existence as both the immutable characteristics of a sinful world and yet also as divinely ordained and created values is due to an interesting and baneful perversion of the prophetic paradoxical estimate of the world as both evil and good, as being the creation of God and yet standing under divine judgment. Since the religious appreciation of the world and the religious criticism of the world are not used as sources of discrimination between the good and evil in specific instances, the consequence is merely a completely immoral compound of religious optimism and religious pessimism.

It must be admitted that the Lutheran doctrine of the Schoepfungsordnung is not a valueless concept. It is a symbol of the religio-mythical understanding for the organic aspects of life which rationalistic morality frequently fails to appreciate. Both liberal and radical social morality inclines to regard the organic unities of family, race, and nation as irrational idiosyncrasies which a more perfect rationality will destroy. So an English communist writes: "It must not be considered that communists consider the existence of separate national cultures, separate languages, and the like, will be features of a fully developed world communism. Such phenomena belong to the present, not to the ultimate stage of human development. It is clear that man will in the end tire of the inconvenient idiosyncrasies of locality and will wish to pool the cultural heritage of the human race into a world synthesis."3 It would be difficult to find a more perfect and naive expression of the modern illusion that human reason will be able to become the complete master of all the contingent, irrational, and illogical forces of the natural world which underlie and condition all human culture.

The frantic and morbid emphasis upon national and racial solidarities in modern reactionary politics is undoubtedly a device of the imperiled oligarchies of the modern world to obscure the issues of the class struggle. But it is a device which succeeds so well only because the advocates of a just social order have not taken sufficient account of the perennial force and the qualified virtue of the more organic and less rational human relationships. Nature, history, and traditions, create communities and establish loyalties and sentiments which are bound to be in conflict with the more rational and inclusive communities and loyalties which human reason can project. Since these narrower loyalties result in conflict and anarchy, they must be constantly subjected to criticism. Without this criticism the harmless divisions and disharmonies of nature are heightened into insufferable proportions by human sin. But they cannot be eliminated; and the effort to do so merely results in desperate and demonic affirmations of the imperiled values inherent in them. From the standpoint of certain rational and spiritual aspirations of the human spirit the differences between the sexes are irrational and illogical. Biological facts have determined motherhood to be a more absorbing vocation than the avocation of fatherhood, and thereby inhibited a mother*s freedom in developing certain talents which are irrelevant to the maternal function. An adequate social morality will neither exclude women from the professions because of this fact, nor yet quarrel with nature to the extent of imperiling the responsibilities of motherhood. It will be guided, in other words, both by the principles of equality and by the organic facts of existence. Such an attitude toward differences of sex may be taken as typical of the moral necessities in all situations in which the forces of nature are in conflict with the imperatives of man as spirit.

If the forces of optimism and pessimism are compounded in the orthodox Christian attitude toward the organic aspects of life, they are united in an even more baneful mixture in its attitude toward government. Government is too obviously the construct of human history to be regarded simply as a part of the Schoepfungsordnung, the order of creation. It therefore receives a special sanctification as an ordinance of God. The emphasis upon government as a divine ordinance in orthodox thought is not only derived from the general theory of the natural law, which does, indeed, support it, but rests particularly upon the words of St. Paul:4 "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the powers, resisteth the ordinance of God ó for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. . . ." No passage of Scripture has had so fateful an influence upon Christian political thought as this word. If it is compared with the words of Jesus, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so; but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief as he that doth serve,"5 one may observe a significant difference between the critical attitude of a prophetic religion toward the perils of power and the uncritical acceptance of the virtues of social power in a less prophetic type of religious thought.

The theory of the divine ordinance of government was partially derived from Christian pessimism in the sense that government was justified as an instrument of God to prevent the world from falling into anarchy. "Since men hated their fellow men," said Irenaeus, one of the early Fathers, "and fell into confusion of every kind, God set some men over each other, imposing the fear of man upon man." This argument is logical enough. Coercion is a necessity of social cohesion, and coercion demands the concentration of power in government and the manipulation of that power by some authority. In the same spirit St. Isidore of Seville regards both government and slavery as a consequence of and remedy for sin. The difficulty in Christian thought is that piety unduly accentuates the virtue of government by regarding it as unqualifiedly the fruit of God's power. Thus the pessimistic note derived from the emphasis upon the sinfulness of the world unduly accentuates the possibilities of anarchy, which government checks, while the pious note adds the aura of sanctity to the virtue of government.

Both elements are still influential in orthodox Christian thought. The pessimistic motif, and the conservative, not to say reactionary, consequences which flow from it are very marked in modern German theology, including that of the dialectical school. Emil Brunner writes: "The projection of ideal (political) programs is not only useless, but harmful, because it creates illusions, dissipates moral energy and tempts its proponents to become self-righteous critics of their fellows. The most important consideration for a better social order is that of practical possibility, since the question is one of order and not of ethical ideals. The prophetic demand, which does not concern itself with the possible and the impossible, has, of course, its own relevance as proclamation of the unconditioned law. But it has this significance only if it is presented not as a specific program, but as a general demand ó i.e., if it does not involve immediate political realization. When the question is one of immediate and practical problems, the rule must be: The given order is the best as long as a better one cannot be realized immediately and without interruption. . . . The Christian must submit himself to a social order ó which is in itself loveless. He must do this if he is not to evade the most urgent of all demands of the love commandment, the demand to protect the dyke which saves human life from chaos."6 This logic manages not only to express an excessive fear of chaos and to obviate any possibility of a Christian justification of social change by allowing only such change as will create a new order "immediately and without interruption"; but it neatly dismisses the Christian ideal from any immediate relevance to political issues. The same type of logic and the same theory of government as a dyke against chaos carries Gogarten completely into the political philosophy of fascism.7 If fascism may be regarded as being informed by a frantic fear of the chaos which might result if an old social order broke down, and as leading to the very anarchy which it fears through its futile attempt to preserve a disintegrated order artificially, after history has dissipated its essential vitality, we might come to the conclusion that fascism is really the unfortunate fruit of Christian pessimism. The theory that government is justified mainly by the negative task of checking chaos is held in common by both fascism and Christian orthodoxy. It may be that the political principles of the former are, at least partially, derived from the latter.

The pious element in orthodox political thought which endows government with an unwarranted aura of sanctity is not as obvious in modern orthodoxy as the pessimistic element. It wrought its worst havoc from the day of Constantine to the rise of modern democracy. In that long period the danger of regarding the mechanisms of power which control society with undue reverence was fully revealed. The idea of the divine right of the ruler, a conception which wedded Christianity to monarchism for centuries, achieved particular prestige in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when nationalism and the politics of the commercial classes used it to defeat the power of the nobles and to substitute national unity for feudal anarchy. But it was implicit in Christian doctrine through all those centuries. Fortunately, the conflict of the Church with the empire qualified the Catholic emphasis upon the divine right of kings, imparting somewhat of a "whig" and quasi-democratic coloring to Catholic political theory. Protestant orthodoxy supported the divine right of rulers more unqualifiedly than did Catholicism, just as it has tended to be more subservient to the nation, for in the latter papal internationalism created a moral fulcrum from which the Church could be critical toward both king and nation. Nevertheless, the total weight of both types of orthodoxy was on the side of whatever ruler had established himself, no matter by what means, since piety regarded his power as derived from God.

The influence of piety upon politics has tended not only to establish an intimate relation between Christianity and monarchism, but also to support the particular monarch who happened to rule. Both St. Augustine and St. Isidore of Seville believed in the divine appointment of even wicked rulers, and St. Gregory taught the duty of submission to evil rulers. There are always a few critical voices in the history of orthodoxy against this counsel of acquiescence, as that, for instance, of Peter Crassus: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, but not unto Tiberius the things that are Tiberius', Caesar is good, but Tiberius is bad." This word, in which the necessary distinction is made between government as a symbol of the principle of order and particular governments with their inevitable vices, partially anticipates the sentiment of Thomas Paine: "Society is the fruit of our virtues, but government the product of our wickedness."

Nevertheless, such critical voices were the exception rather than the rule in orthodox Christian thought. The idea that evil rulers are meant by God to be a punishment for evil people reinforced the general conservatism and the acquiescence of the Church toward unjust politics. Even Calvin wrote: "Wherefore if we are cruelly vexed by an inhuman prince or robbed and plundered by one avaricious, or left without protection by one negligent, or even if we are inflicted by one sacrilegious and unbelieving, let us first of all remember our offenses against God, which are doubtless chastised by these plagues. Thus humility will curb our impatience. And secondly let us consider that it is not for us to remedy these evils; for us it remains only to implore the aid of God in whose hands are the hearts of kings and changes of kingdoms."8 Both the unhealthy fatalism and the perverse idea that an evil ruler is a divine punishment upon an evil people are not Calvinís own. They run as a constant refrain through all orthodox Christian thought, both Catholic and Protestant, and prove to what degree historic Christianity has been an atrophied prophetic religion in which the force of piety was not properly balanced by a force of spirituality; and the idea of the world as God's creation by the idea of the judgment of God upon the world. In justice to Calvin and Calvinism it must be said that Calvin expressed a more revolutionary sentiment in his sermon on Daniel 6: "We must obey our princes who are set over us, but when they rise against God they must be put down and held of no more account than worn out shoes. . . . The princes are so intoxicated and bewitched that they think the world was made for them. When they seek to tear God from his throne can they be respected? When we disobey princes to obey him we do no wrong." This word is important for two reasons. It contains a significant weakness in that it justifies rebellion against princes only when they commit some final act of religious pretension, which in Calvin's case meant that they did not agree with his religion. In modern Germany it means that the state is resisted only when it tries to make itself God ó i.e., to make itself the source and end of a meaningful existence. We may be grateful for the ability of historic Christianity to set a final bound beyond which it will not allow political power to pass and to defend itself heroically against the pretensions of the state beyond those bounds. But this is not enough to establish a dynamic relation between Christianity and politics. A church which refrains from practically every moral criticism of the state and allows itself only an ultimate religious criticism of the spiritual pretensions of the state must logically end in the plight in which the German Church finds itself.

Calvin*s criticism against the princes has another significance. It opened the sluice for a new type of religious thought in Protestantism in which the theory of the natural law was developed to justify not only criticism of rulers, but rebellion against them. In the thought of such men as Beza and John Knox and the Dutch and American Calvinists this led to a Christian justification of political rebellion and laid the foundation for a dynamic relationship between Calvinism and the democratic movement. Thus the implied and covert democracy of Christian conceptions of natural law finally became explicit and contributed to the overthrow of monarchy and the establishment of constitutional government.

To complete the indictment against the political confusion of orthodox Christianity one further fact must be mentioned. Christian perfectionism was often added to theories which were informed by an undue pessimism on the one hand and an uncritical piety on the other, and its introduction made confusion worse confounded. Its real effect was to add weight to the counsel of acquiescence in injustice. The words of Luther to the rebellious peasants are prompted by this perfectionism: "Listen dear Christians to your Christian rights. Thus speaks the supreme Lord whose name ye bear: Ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall compel thee to go with him a mile go with him twain and if anyone would have thy coat let him have thy cloak also and whosoever smiteth thee on the right cheek turn to him the other also. Do you hear, you Christian congregation? How does your project agree with this right. You will not bear that anyone will inflict evil or injustice upon you, but you want to be free and suffer only complete justice and goodness."9 This gratuitous introduction of the principle of non-resistance from a perfectionist ethic into a political ethic of compromise, (an idiosyncrasy not only in Luther's thought but in the whole history of orthodoxy,) creates the suspicion of a conscious adjustment to class interest. This is particularly true of Luther because no theologian understood the impossibility of the law of love in a world of sin better than he. If some of the political ineptness of Christian orthodoxy must be explained in terms of honest confusions derived from Christian pessimism and Christian piety, the introduction of perfectionist ideas into politics for the purpose of reinforcing counsels of submission to injustice smells of dishonesty. Perhaps it may be regarded as a symbol of the degree to which Christianity became the witting as well as the unwitting tool of class interests.

In the light of this record of the relation of orthodox Christianity to politics the rationalistic and naturalistic rebellion against religion in the eighteenth century must be appreciated as being partly a rebellion of the ethical spirit against religious confusion. The Age of Reason had other and less noble inspirations than this revolt of conscience. It was an age of science which discovered the historical and scientific inaccuracy of religious myth and erroneously imagined that it had given the mythical interpretation of life the coup de grace. It was an age in which the bourgeois spirit first came to flower and lived under the illusion that it represented the ultimate spirituality of human history. It was an age of naturalism which interpreted the flux of history as the ultimate reality, partly because orthodoxy had placed the realm of meaning completely above history and partly because both scientific interest in nature and the scientific conquest of nature prompted the illusion that nature is an adequate home of the human spirit. But all these weaknesses and errors cannot detract from the achievements of the Age of Reason. A prophetic religion which tries to reestablish itself in a new day without appropriating what was true in the Age of Reason will be inadequate for the moral problems which face our generation. Nothing was more natural than the opposition of Voltaire, Diderot, and the Encyclopedists to historic religion on the ground that it sanctified injustice. Diderot's confidence that the elimination of "priests and their hypocritical tools" would guarantee a just society was, of course, naive. The Encyclopedists did not foresee how quickly one of their disciples would justify Napoleon's imperialism as the "last act in the drama of manís emancipation," nor how deftly the credo of rationalistic age would be bent to the uses of the capitalistic oligarchs, just as the faith of a pious age was used as a tool of power by the feudal oligarchs.

They were right, nevertheless, in this: Critical intelligence is a prerequisite of justice. Short of the complete identification of life with life which the law of love demands, it is necessary to arbitrate and adjust between competing interests in terms of a critical scrutiny of all the interests involved. Every historic and traditional adjustment of rights must be constantly subjected to a fresh examination. Otherwise the elements of injustice involved in every historic achievement of justice will become inordinate. They will grow not only because it is the tendency of all power and privilege to multiply its demands and pretensions, but also because shifting circumstances will transmute the justice of yesterday into the injustice of tomorrow. Since power is a necessity of social cohesion a rational politics must accept it as a necessary evil. But it must know that it is an evil; and that injustice inevitably flows from its unchecked expression. Consequently any undue piety and reverence for the centers of power is a source of confusion in politics. (Even in so constitutional a monarchy as that of England quasi-religious reverence for the throne was recently used by the Tories of England as a weapon of political conflict.) In so far as religious attitudes have either a constitutional or acquired hostility toward the function of critical intelligence they must be regarded as inimical to justice.

In the same manner, if the force of spirituality in religion and the consequent perfectionism results in an undue pessimism in regard to the immediate possibilities of a higher justice it is the function of reason to explore these possibilities in defiance of traditional religion, just as it is the function of a profound religion to discover the limits of these rational processes and reveal the canker of moral complacency in all moral idealism.

The separation of these functions is unfortunate and unnecessary. It has, in fact, led to the unholy plight of modern culture in which the final insights into the nature of human spirituality contained in historic religion are irrelevant to the specific problems of justice; which the immediate struggle for justice leads to illusions about the total human situation.

Prophetic religion would not only be able to deal more adequately with immediate situations if it were more sympathetic to the function of reason in solving problems of justice. It would also preserve its own vitality and distinctive genius to a greater degree if it allowed rational discrimination to relate the two forces of its faith, gratitude and contrition, to each human situation according to its requirements. Gratitude for the goodness of life and contrition for its evil, the force of piety and that of spirituality, of optimism and pessimism, must be held in balance if prophetic religion is not to atrophy. They cannot be held in balance by some abstract principle. The balance is possible only if each is related to every historic situation with some degree of discrimination. The lack of this discrimination has led the church at times to thank God for the order established by government when it should have resisted tyranny; and at other times to express contrition for sins which resulted in injustice, when it should have moved to change the institutions which generated the injustice.

Historic Christianity is in the position of having the materials for the foundation and the roof of the structure of an adequate morality. But it is unable to complete the structure. Its faith in a meaningful world, having a source beyond itself, is the foundation. Its faith in the end and fulfillment is the roof. The walls, the uprights and diagonals which complete the building are the moral actions and ideals which are fashioned by the application of religion's ultimate insights to all specific situations. This application is a rather sober and prosaic task and a profound religion with its insights into the tragedy of human history and its hope for the ultimate resolution is not always equal to it. Accustomed to a telescopic view of life and history, it does not adjust itself as readily as it might to the microscopic calculations and adjustments which constitute the stuff of the moral life.



1. A full analysis of this development of Christian thought may be found in A. J. Carlyleís Medieval Political Theory in the West.

2. E. Hirsch, Das Kirchliche Wollen der Deutschen Christen.

3. John Strachey, The Coming Struggle for Power, p. 389.

4. Romans 13:1.

5. Luke 22:25.

6. Emil Brunner, Das Gebot und die Ordnungen, pp. 208-214.

7. F. Gogarten, Politische Ethik.

8. Calvinís Institutes, book 4, chap 20.

9. Lutherís Werke, Gesammtausgabe, Weimar, vol. xvii, p. 309.


Chapter VI: The Law of Love in Politics (continued)

In attempting to correct the enervating pessimism of Christian orthodoxy, liberal Christianity has substituted the sentimental optimism of a moral utopianism that deprecates all forms of political violence and coercion as inimical to the gospel of love.


The effort of the modern church to correct the limitations of the orthodox Church toward the political order has resulted, on the whole, in the substitution of sentimental illusions for the enervating pessimism of orthodoxy. The orthodox Church dismissed the immediate relevancy of the law of love for politics. The modern Church declared it to be relevant without qualification and insisted upon the direct application of the principles of the Sermon on the Mount to the problems of politics and economics as the only way of salvation for a sick society. The orthodox Church saw the economic order as a realm of demonic forces in which only the most tenuous and tentative order was possible; the modern Church approached the injustices and conflicts of this world with a gay and easy confidence. Men had been ignorantly selfish. They would now be taught the law of love. The Church had failed to teach the law of love adequately because it had allowed the simplicities of the gospel to be overlaid with a layer of meaningless theological jargon. Once this increment of obscurantist theology had been brushed aside, the Church would be free to preach salvation to the world. Its word of salvation would be that all men ought to love one another. It was as simple as that.

Thomas Jefferson stated this faith of the liberal Christianity as well as any liberal theologian: "When we shall have done with the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that the three are one and the one three, when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask the simple structure of Jesus, when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since his day and got back to the pure and simple doctrines which he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples and my opinion is if nothing had been added to what flowed purely from his lips, the whole world would all this day be Christian."1 It is fitting that Jefferson, rather than the many theologians of the past two centuries who have repeated such sentiments, should be allowed to state this creed. For Jefferson was a typical child of the Age of Reason; and it is the naive optimism of the Age of Reason, rather than the more paradoxical combination of pessimism and optimism of prophetic religion, which the modern Church has preached as "the simple gospel of Jesus." The Age of Reason was right in protesting against theological subtleties which transmuted a religion of love into a support of traditional and historic injustice. It was right in assigning an immediate relevance for politics and economics to the law of love and the ideal of brotherhood. In doing that it recaptured some resources of prophetic religion which historic Christianity had lost.

Yet it was wrong in the optimism which assumed that the law of love needed only to be stated persuasively to overcome the selfishness of the human heart. The unhappy consequence of that optimism was to discourage interest in the necessary mechanisms of social justice at the precise moment in history when the development of a technical civilization required more than ever that social ideals be implemented with economic and political techniques, designed to correct the injustices and brutalities which flow inevitably from an unrestrained and undisciplined exercise of economic power.

The purely moralistic approach of the modern Church to politics is really a religio-moral version of laissez-faire economics. Jefferson's dictum that the least possible government is the best possible government is a secular version of the faith of the modern Church that justice must be established purely by appeals to the moral ideal and with as little machinery as possible. It would be as unfair to assume that the anarchistic and libertarian assumptions which underlie this belief represent a conscious conformity of the liberal Church to the prejudices of business classes, which have been able to profit from such doctrine, as it would be to accuse Jefferson of devising a political creed for the benefit of his Hamiltonian opponents of the world of finance and industry. It is true, nevertheless, that the plutocracy of America has found the faith of the liberal Church in purely moral suasion a conveniently harmless doctrine just as it appropriated Jeffersonian and laissez-faire economic theory for its own purposes, though the theory was first elaborated by agrarian and frontier enemies of big business.

The moralistic utopianism of the liberal Church has been expressed in various forms. Liberal theologians sometimes go to the length of decrying all forms of politics as contrary to Christian spirit of love. Sometimes they deprecate only coercive politics without asking themselves the question whether any political order has ever existed without coercion. Sometimes, with greater realism, they merely declare all forms of violent coercion to be incompatible with the Christian ethic.

In justice to the wing of the liberal Church which has sought to interpret the "social gospel," it must be admitted that it was usually realistic enough to know that justice in the social order could only be achieved by political means, including the coercion of groups which refuse to accept a common social standard. Nevertheless, some of the less rigorous thinkers of the social gospel school tried to interpret the law of love in terms which would rule out the most obvious forms of pressure for the attainment of justice. In one of the best-known social gospel books of the early part of the century Shailer Mathews wrote: "The impulse to get justice is not evangelical; the impulse to give justice is. The great command which Jesus lays upon his followers is not to have their wrongs righted, but to right the wrongs of others." This note of love perfectionism from the gospel is made applicable to the political order without reservation: "Despite the difficulty of realizing its ideal, the emphasis laid by the gospel upon the giving of justice rather than upon the getting of justice is consonant with life as we know it. Revolutions have seldom, if ever, won more rights than the more thoughtful among the privileged would have been ready to grant."2 Dr. Mathews partially qualifies this strikingly naive picture of the political problem by admitting "that to get justice for others by compelling the over-privileged to give it to them may be the quintessence of love, and in so far as the motives of the champions of the under-privileged are of a sort which the gospel declares to be the very quality of God."3 Unfortunately, this qualification in the interest of political realism fails to find any place in the Kingdom of God for the under-privileged themselves who may be fighting to "get justice." The formula gives moral sanction only to the kind-hearted "champions of the under-privileged."

Somewhat in the same vein Dr. Mathews' colleague, Prof. Gerald Birney Smith, wrote: "The tremendous agitation now going on in the direction of an appeal to an external and non-religious reconstruction is ominous. Does it mean that mankind has become convinced of the impotence of inner spiritual forces and is willing to trust its case to external reorganization."4

On the question whether coercion should be used to attain justice the teaching of the liberal Church, particularly in America, has been full of confusion. It was impossible for the Church to escape the fact of coercion or to deny its necessity. Yet it felt that the Christian gospel demanded uncoerced cooperation. It therefore contented itself, as a rule, with the regretful acceptance of the fact and necessity of coercion, but expressed the hope that the Christian gospel would soon permeate the whole of society to such a degree that coercion in the realm of politics and economics would no longer be necessary. Shailer Mathews, in a recent book, which allows the history of the past twenty years to add surprisingly little to his insights of twenty years ago, declares: "There is a general uncertainty as to whether love and cooperation are a practical basis upon which to build economic life. . .Can men be trusted to cooperate sincerely for their own well-doing or must groups be coerced into doing that which is to their advantage ?" The question remains unanswered, but is asked again in the same chapter and answered with a faint hope: "Whether the constructive forces will find capitalist groups sufficiently ready to democratize privilege and treat wage-earners as partners in the productive process remains to be seen. Humanity does not seem to be naturally generous and the transformation from acquisitiveness to economic cooperation is difficult. The neglect of the principle of sacrifice which Jesus so clearly saw was involved in that personal cooperation which he called love, continues to prevent the betterment of our economic relations." Upon the basis of the slight hope that men will be more loving than they now are Dr. Mathews then arrives at the conclusion: "The Christian principle of love applied to economic groups stands over against revolutionary coercion. The Christian movement emphasizes a moral process which does not stand committed to an economic philosophy."5 Christianity, in other words, is interpreted as the preaching of a moral ideal, which men do not follow, but which they ought to. The Church must continue to hope for something that has never happened. "The success of (industrial) reorganization depends largely upon the readiness of various groups involved to sacrifice profits in the interest of the general good. The fact that such good will is not fully exhibited explains the need of legal coercion. But the emphasis upon cooperation is another testimony to the validity of the principle of love which Christianity, despite the blundering and selfishness of Christians, has embodied and which it is its mission to evoke."6

Francis Peabody, one of the great liberal exponents of social Christianity of the past generation, is even more certain than Dr. Mathews that the principles of Jesus are already operative in the industrial world and need only to be extended. He writes: "In spite of insidious temptations in which the world of industry abounds, the spirit and intention of the business world has some contact with the spirit of the teachings of Jesus. The law of service which he announces for his disciples is not a wholly unknown principle in the world of competitive trade. It governs the world of industry regarded as a whole. . . The pillars of modern industrial life are securely set in the moral stability of vast majority of business lives. . . . If any revolution is to overthrow the existing economic system the new order must depend for its permanence on the principles of the teachings of Jesus; but if the principles of the teachings of Jesus should come to control the present economic system, a revolution in the industrial order would seem to be unnecessary."7

The unvarying refrain of the liberal Church in its treatment of politics is that love and cooperation are superior to conflict and coercion, and that therefore they must be and will be established. The statement of the ideal is regarded as a sufficient guarantee of its ultimate realization. In a recent analysis of the political and economic problem by a British Quaker we read: "The new world must be built upon cooperation and good-will on mutual respect and that sincerity which can face openly and together unpleasant truths. It means in the international order the end of power politics. . . . We have to exorcise the bullying and hectoring spirit of Palmerston. . . . We have to get rid of the national egoism represented by Bismarck. The old standards of party politics are not good enough for the modern world. . . . It is no longer the prime duty of a party to concentrate upon contentious measure, to appeal to the instincts of pugnacity, to magnify its own credit. It is not the present duty of the opposition to oppose. Its main duty is to offer constructive criticism. . . . If the material well-being of the people is seen to be the purpose industry, the employer and the shareholder will not regard profits as their prerequisite. . . . I believe laborers should try to forget class."8 Liberal Christian literature abounds in the monotonous reiteration of the pious hope that people might be good and loving, in which case all the nasty business of politics could be dispensed with. In the same vein Church congresses have been passing resolutions for the past decades surveying the sorry state of the world*s affairs and assuring the world that all this would be changed if only men lived by the principles of the gospel. Recently the Federal Council of Churches passed resolutions commending the Christian character of Roosevelt's NRA program, but deprecating the degree of coercion it involved. The implication was that an ideal political program would depend purely upon voluntary cooperation, of the various economic forces of the nation.

The Buchman movement, supposedly a revitalization of Christianity but in reality the final and most absurd expression of the romantic presuppositions of liberal Christianity, has undertaken to solve all the problems of modern economics and politics by persuading individuals to live in terms of "absolute honesty" and "absolute love." All the ordinary political techniques are disavowed in favor of a voluntary and individualistic love absolutism. The real problems of the political order are understood so little that an apologist for the movement recently recorded the naive observation: "One of the most helpful facts in speeding the acceptance of the Oxford Group message is that in many lands young and old have grown accustomed to the idea of personal discipline and willingness to sacrifice for the sake of their country."9

The sum total of the liberal Church*s effort to apply the law of love to politics without qualification is really a curious medley of hopes and regrets. The Church declares that men ought to live by the law of love and that nations as well as individuals ought to obey it; that neither individuals nor nations do; that nations do so less than individuals; but that the Church must insist upon it; that, unfortunately, the Church which is to insist upon the law has not kept it itself; but that it has sometimes tried and must try more desperately; that the realization of the law is not in immediate prospect, but the Christian must continue to hope. These appeals to the moral will and this effort to support the moral will by desperate hopes are politically as unrealistic as they are religiously superficial. If the liberal Church had had less moral idealism and more religious realism its approach to the political problem would have been less inept and fatuous. Liberal solutions of the social problem never take the permanent difference between man's collective behavior and the moral ideals of an individual life into consideration. Very few seem to recognize that even in the individual there is a law in his members which wars against the law that is in his mind.

Sometimes the preacher of hope betrays his realistic fears in spite of his hope. Thus Bishop McConnell writes: "It seems like the wildest quixotism even to think of trying to get patriotism on the basis of mutual respect between nations. Hitherto the nations have not respected one another. The most hopeless of all tasks is to get nations to a basis of mutual respect. . .The case seems hopeless, but it must not be allowed to continue so. Just because the situation seems hopeless is a good reason for not allowing the hopelessness to persist. . . Just think of trying to get a modern nation to bear a cross. Hopeless as the task may appear in dealing with nations, it is not impossible. It calls for a high quality of spiritual attainment admittedly not common even among individuals."10 These words from one of the really great leaders of the liberal Church fill one with the disquieting feeling that the curious reiteration of despair and hope express the final bankruptcy of the liberal Christian approach to politics. It looks for a moment at the really dark abyss of human sin as it reveals itself particularly in man*s collective life, and then edges away. For we must above all continue to hope.

The most perfect swan song of liberal politics has just been written by one of the greatest missionaries of our day, E. Stanley Jones, in his Christ*s Alternative to Communism. There is a moving fervor and honesty in the book. The communists are establishing an equalitarian society, so runs the argument, by coercion and violence. We must have a just society, but it must be free of political conflict. The only way to beat the communists is to beat them to it. How? By persuading all Christians to live by the law of the Cross. The alternative to revolution is "The Lord*s year of Jubilee. . .men sensibly deciding that it is the only way out, catching the thrill of the new merging of brotherhood, willing to sacrifice to bring it to pass as men were willing to sacrifice during the last war, marching into the new day with a strange new joy. . . . But will men accept it? Yes, I think they will. For two reasons or pressures; disillusionment and desire. . . . The mind of man is becoming more and more latently Christian, perhaps unconsciously so, because of the application of the method of trial and error . . other methods prove that they invariably lead to chaos. . . . Let men see the Kingdom of God as a really possible way, and the latent Christianity will burst into flame. The Lord's Year of Jubilee may be nearer than we suppose."11

Dr. Jones' book is such a sincere and moving plea from one of the genuine saints of the missionary movement that one records its complete lack of relevance to the political and economic problems of the hour with regret. Yet its irrelevance is perfectly typical of liberal Christian thought as a whole. Perhaps the actual facts of contemporary politics, the drift toward another world war, the rising tide of tyranny in the nations, driven to desperation by a deepening economic crisis, which are obscured in Dr. Jones' sentimental hopes, have been given unconscious recognition in the curious error of his assertion that "the mind of man is becoming more and more latently Christian."

Liberal Christianity has not been totally oblivious to the necessary mechanisms and techniques of social justice in economic and political life. But the total weight of its testimonies has been on the side of sentimental moralism, it has insisted that good will can establish justice, whatever the political and economic mechanisms may be. It has insisted on this futile moralism at a moment in history when the whole world faces disaster because the present methods of production and distribution are no longer able to maintain the peace and order of society.

Against this moralism it is necessary to insist that the moral achievement of individual good will is not a substitute for the mechanisms of social control. It may perfect and purify, but it cannot create basic justice. Basic justice in any society depends upon the right organization of men's common labor, the equalization of their social power, regulation of their common interests, and adequate restraint upon the inevitable conflict of competing interests. The health of a social organism depends upon the adequacy of its social structure as much as does the health of the body upon the biochemical processes. No degree of good will alone can cure a deficiency in glandular secretions; and no moral idealism can overcome a basic mechanical defect in the social structure. The social theories of liberal Christianity deny, in effect, the physical basis of the life of the spirit. They seem to look forward to some kind of discarnate spirituality.

The function of a social mechanism is much more important than liberal Christianity realizes and much more positive than that of acting as a "dyke against sin," as in the view of orthodox Christianity. A profound religion will not give itself to the illusion that perfect justice can be achieved in a sinful world. But neither can it afford to dismiss the problem of justice or to transcend it by premature appeals to the good will of individuals. Social techniques will not be changed in the interest of justice without the aid of moral incentives. But moral purpose must actually become incorporated in adequate social mechanisms if it is not to be frustrated and corrupted.

Living, as we do, in a society in which the economic mechanisms automatically create disproportions of social power and social privilege so great that they are able to defy and evade even the political forces which seek to equalize and restrain them, it is inevitable that they should corrupt the purely moral forces which are meant to correct them. Christian love in a society of great inequality means philanthropy. Philanthropy always compounds the display of power with the expression of pity. Sometimes it is even used as a conscious effort to evade the requirements of justice, as, for instance, when charity appeals during the Hoover administration were designed to obviate the necessity of higher taxation for the needs of the unemployed. The cynicism of the victims of justice toward philanthropy is a natural consequence of the inevitable hypocrisy and self-deception which corrupts philanthropy even when its conscious motives are above reproach. There will never be a social order so perfect as to obviate the necessity of perfecting its rough justice by every achievement of social and moral good will which education and religion may be able to generate. But it must be clearly understood that voluntary acts of kindness which exceed the requirements of coercive justice are never substitutes for, but additions to, the coercive system of social relationships through which alone a basic justice can be guaranteed.

In modern society the basic mechanisms of justice are becoming more and more economic rather than political, in the sense that economic power is the most basic power. Political power is derived from it to such a degree that a just political order is not possible without the reconstruction of the economic order. Specifically this means the reconstruction of the property system. Property has always been power, and inequalities in possession have always made for an unjust distribution of the common social fund. But a technical civilization has transmuted the essentially static disproportions of power and privilege of an agrarian economy into dynamic forces. Centralization of power and privilege and the impoverishment of the multitudes develop at such a pace, in spite of slight efforts at equalization through the pressure of political power upon the economic forces, that the whole system of distribution is imperiled. Markets for the ever-increasing flood of goods are not adequate because the buying power of the multitudes is too restricted.

Consequently, a periodic glut of goods leads to unemployment crises and general depressions. Efforts to solve this problem, short of the socialization of productive property, lead to a dangerous increase in the power of the state without giving the state final authority over the dominant economic power.

Whatever the defects of Marxism as a philosophy and as a religion, and even as a political strategy, its analyses of the technical aspects of the problem of justice have not been successfully challenged, and every event in contemporary history seems to multiply the proofs of its validity. The political theories of the moralists and religious idealists who try to evade or transcend the technical and mechanical bases of justice are incredibly naive compared with them. The program of the Marxian will not create the millennium for which he hopes. It will merely provide the only possible property system compatible with the necessities of a technical age. It is rather tragic that the achievement of a new property system as a prerequisite of basic justice should be complicated by the utopian illusions of Marxism on the one hand and the moralistic evasions of the mechanical problem by liberal Christianity and secular liberalism on the other.

The methods which must be used to achieve such a new property system raises the question of violence and the Christian ethic. An increasing number of Christian liberals, particularly in the left wing of the social gospel movement, have not been as oblivious to the mechanics of justice as the main stream of Christian liberalism. From Walter Rauschenbusch to the present day the economic implications of their social theory have been socialistic. But they usually have made one reservation. They have insisted on pacifism in the social struggle. Their arguments in opposition to violence have generally combined many excellent but purely pragmatic scruples against violence with an absolutistic religious objection to it.12 This confusion of pragmatic with perfectionist scruples is the natural consequence of the lack of clarity in liberal thought about the ethic of Jesus. If Christians are to live by the "way of the Cross" they ought to practice nonresistance. They will find nothing in the gospels which justifies non-violent resistance as an instrument of love perfectionism. They will find only such uncompromising words as "who has me a divider over you." They must recognize that a Christian's concern over his violation of the ethic of Jesus ought to begin long before the question of violence is reached. It ought to begin by recognizing that he has violated the law, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Out of the violation of that commandment arises the conflict of life with life and nation with nation. It is highly desirable to restrict this conflict to non-violent assertions and counter-assertions; but it is not always possible. Sometimes the sudden introduction of a perfectionist ethic into hitherto pragmatic and relative political issues may actually imperil the interests of justice. The Christian who lives in and benefits from, a society in which coercive economic and political relationships are taken for granted, all of which are contrary to the love absolutism of the gospels, cannot arbitrarily introduce the uncompromising ethic of the gospel into one particular issue. When this is done we may be fairly certain that unconscious class prejudices partly prompt the supposedly Christian judgment. It is significant, for instance, that the middle-class Church which disavows violence, even to the degree of frowning upon a strike, is usually composed of people who have enough economic and other forms of covert power to be able to dispense with the more overt forms of violence.

The principal defect of the liberal Christian thought on the question of violence is that it confuses two perspectives upon the problem, the pragmatic and the perfectionist one. Both have their own legitimacy. But moral confusion results from efforts to compound them.

The attempt to maintain an absolute Christian ethic against the relativities of politics, essentially the strategy of the Christian ascetics, is a valuable contribution to Christian thought and life. We ought to have not only the symbol of the Cross, but recurring historical symbols of the tension between the Christian ideal and the relativities and compromises in which we are all involved. The missionary movement has provided Protestantism with the only symbol of this kind at all comparable to ascetic movement in Catholicism. Orthodox Protestantism had a theory of justification and grace which invalidated ascetic perfectionism; and liberal Protestantism did not feel the tension of the absolute position sufficiently to produce asceticism. It believed rather in the possibility of living by the law of Christ while remaining related to all the relative and compromising forces of ordinary society. The value of asceticism lies chiefly in its symbolic character. Since the ascetic saint is, economically speaking, a parasite on the sinful world, and since disavowal of the natural relationships and responsibilities of ordinary life leads to the destruction of life itself, his devotion to the absolute ideal can be no more than a symbol of the final ideal of love, under the tension of which all men stand. Yet asceticism is the only possible basis of such symbolic perfection. As soon as the family is introduced into the calculations, the absolutist is forced either to a perverse disavowal of natural family obligations or to compromise his perfectionism by protecting the interests of his family more than he would protect merely his own interests. The insistence on celibacy in Catholic asceticism is the product of a profound moral realism. This realism is lacking in every modern religious idealism which thinks it possible to be involved in all the moral relativities, incident upon the defense of limited human groups, beginning with the family and ending with the nation, and yet be true to an absolute ethic by the simple expedient of disavowing violence. Religious pacifism, as a part of a general ascetic and symbolic portrayal of love absolutism in a sinful world, has its own value and justification. A Church which does not generate it is the poorer for its lack. But it ought to be clear about its own presuppositions and understand the conflict between the ideal of love and the necessities of natural life.

A pragmatic pacifism is as justified in its own sphere as a purely religious pacifism, if it is not falsely mixed with the latter. A pragmatic pacifism does not claim the "law of the Cross" as its inspiration. It accepts a world in which interest is set against interest and force against force, and it knows (or ought to know) that in such a world the ideal of the Cross has been violated from the beginning. Its interests lie in mitigating the struggle between contending forces, by insinuating the greatest possible degree of social imagination and intelligence into it and by providing the best possible means of arbitration so that violent conflict may be avoided. Such a pacifism is a necessary influence in every society because social violence is a great evil and ought to be avoided if at all possible. It frequently defeats its own ends. A technical civilization has measurably increased its perils to the whole fabric of civilization and has furthermore increased the hazards of its success as a weapon in the hands of the victims of injustice. When resort is taken to armed conflict, the possessors may have more deadly instruments than the dispossessed. For these and other reasons the avoidance of violence is important in any society, and particularly in the complex society of modern times.

So great are the perils of complete social disintegration, once violence is resorted to, that it is particularly necessary to oppose romantic appeals to violence on the part of the forces of radicalism. But this cannot be done successfully if absolutistic motifs are erroneously mixed with a pragmatic analysis of the political problem. The very essence of politics is the achievement of justice through equilibria of power. A balance of power is not conflict; but a tension between opposing forces underlies it. Where there is tension there is potential conflict, and where there is conflict there is potential violence. A responsible relationship to the political order, therefore, makes an unqualified disavowal of violence impossible. There may always be crises in which the cause of justice will have to be defended against those who will attempt its violent destruction. Men may, of course, be mistaken in their devotion to a particular cause and have an erroneous estimate of its relation to the essentials of justice; but that is a possibility in the whole moral and social life. Such a consideration is not an argument against the use of violence, but an important reminder of the relativity of all social issues.

A pragmatic defense of non-violence against romantic appeals to a violent cleansing of the social order would be more effective not only if it remained strictly within the limits of pragmatic and relative canons of the social good, but also if it challenged the real and not the superficial errors of radicalism. Communism is dangerous not so much because it preaches violence, but because it makes so many errors in its analysis of the social problem. Its recognition of the bourgeois origin of democracy leads it to the false conclusion that democracy is purely an instrument of class rule. The fact is that democratic principles and traditions are an important check upon the economic oligarchy, even though the money power is usually able to bend democracy to its uses. The proof that this democratic restraint is still vital is given by the effort of the economic power to abrogate democracy when the latter imperils the rule of the financial oligarchs. This peril of fascism is increased by the unqualified character of the radical cynicism toward democratic institutions. The 1935 meeting of the communist international belatedly recognized this error in communist strategy and sought to amend it. The recognition, however, came too late to save Germany from fascism; and the simplicities of communist dogma will continue to vitiate it as the basis of a new politics. A wise statesmanship will not subordinate its cause to democratic instruments of arbitration, long after the enemy has destroyed their reality (as the German socialists did) but neither will it play into the hands of the enemy by prematurely casting the resources of democracy for orderly social change aside.

Communist romanticism and utopianism are a further hazard to orderly and non-violent social change because it imagines that a pure and anarchistic democracy will grow out of a dictatorship, once the latter has destroyed the capitalistic enemy of democracy. This hope rests upon a totally false analysis of the political problem. It attributes the corruptions of justice solely to capitalistic power and does not recognize that all power is a peril to justice; and that democracy, whatever its limitations, is a necessary check upon the imperialism of oligarchs, whether communistic or capitalistic. The belief that communistic oligarchs have an almost mystical identity of interest with the common man, may seem to justify itself for a brief period in which a radical leadership is kept pure by the traditions of its heroic revolutionary past. But there have been oligarchies with as heroic and sacrificial a tradition in the past. The potency of the tradition hardly outlasts the second generation. The dream of a utopia, to follow a dictatorship once all the enemies of the dictatorship are destroyed, is based upon a failure to discriminate between what is perennial and what is capitalistic in the sources of injustice. This failure increases the tendency to violence in social change because a utopian illusion tempts the proponents of the overthrow of the old system to destructive fury.

A further hazard to orderly change lies in the preoccupation of radicalism with the mechanisms of social life and its inability to appreciate the significance of the organic aspects of society. The organic forces of historic tradition, national sentiment, cultural inheritances, and unconscious loyalties, have a more stubborn vitality than mere social mechanisms, and they may complicate the processes and retard the tempo of social change. The too mechanistic interpretation of society in the typical philosophy of radicalism throws these forces on the side of fascism and leads to false estimates of the intricate processes of social change. The prestige of the Russian example increases this defect in communistic radicalism, because the organic and cultural forces in Russia were so weak that they were easily destroyed with the breakdown of the political and economic structure. A pattern of social change was thus established which is not likely to find a parallel in Western civilization and which confuses the judgment of radical analysts.

These errors of radicalism undoubtedly increase the hazards of social change and tend toward violence. They must be met by a more realistic appraisal of the total social situation. A mere insistence upon the evils of violence is as ineffective against them as homilies on the sinfulness of murder would be in decreasing the homicide rate of a large city.

The avoidance of violence depends not only upon combating the errors of radicalism, but even more upon dissuading the imperiled wielders of power from a violent defense of their social position, when it is endangered by the rebellious victims of injustice. Since such self-restraint on the part of those who have most to lose is practically impossible to achieve, it would be more accurate to say that the avoidance of social violence depends upon the ability of a wise statesmanship to prevent the lower middle classes and farmers from becoming the political allies of an imperiled capitalistic oligarchy. If those who hold property without possessing essential social power (homes and small savings) are driven, or allow themselves to be beguiled, into the camp of the property-owners, whose property represents essential social power, and in political opposition to the dispossessed, violence in the coming decades of social adjustment will scarcely be avoided. Such a political alignment offers the imperiled oligarchy the fascist alternative to capitulation and increases the desperate fury of the dispossessed. Unfortunately, the classes which have moral scruples against violence are not always particularly helpful in guiding the political thinking of lower middle-class life away from the deceptions and perils of fascist politics.

If the statesmanship of neither radicalism nor liberalism is wise enough to prevent violence in the social changes which are obviously impending in the whole of Western civilization, a responsible relation to politics still requires a moral choice between the contending forces. It is hardly necessary to take sides in every social struggle. If no essential issues of justice are at stake in it or if the issues are too confused to justify the hope of any solid gain for the cause of justice, abstention from the conflict may be the only possible course. Such considerations will persuade many to refuse participation in the possible and probable international conflicts which now threaten the peace of the world, even when they do not have perfectionist scruples against participation in social conflict. This type of war-resistance is frequently accused of inconsistency because it does not pledge itself to abstain from internal as well as international struggles. The alleged inconsistency exists only if other than pragmatic reasons are advanced for the refusal to bear arms in international conflict.

This wholly pragmatic and relativistic analysis of the problem of violence obviously fails to arrive at an absolute disavowal of violence under all circumstances. It is therefore tainted with the implied principle that the end justifies the means. This is supposedly a terrible Jesuitical maxim which all good people must abhor. Yet all good people are involved in it. Short of an ascetic withdrawal from the world, every moral action takes place in a whole field of moral values and possibilities in which no absolute distinction between means and ends is possible. There are only immediate and more ultimate values. Whether immediate or ultimate, every value is only partly intrinsic. It is partly instrumental, in the sense that its worth must be estimated in terms of its support of other values. Obviously, any end does not justify any means because every possible value does not deserve the subordination of every other possible value to it. Yet the subordination of values to each other is necessary in any hierarchy of values. Freedom, for instance, is a high value which ought not be too readily or too completely sacrificed for other values. Yet it is sacrificed or subordinated to the necessities of social cooperation. To what degree freedom ought to be subordinated to the requirements of social cohesion, and vice versa, is one of those problems for which there is no final answer. It will emerge perennially in human history and be solved according to the requirements, pressures, convictions, and illusions of the hour. Truth is a high value without which the whole structure of social intercourse would disintegrate. Yet even moral purists sacrifice truth, on occasion, to some other high values; they may even sacrifice it to the comparatively dubious end of frictionless social intercourse. No moral purist who holds the doctrine, that the end justifies the means, in abhorrence would fail to make a distinction between a surgeon's violence to the human body and the violence of one who cuts a throat to kill. The distinction would remain valid even if the surgeon's operation resulted in death, as long as death was not the intention but the fortuitous consequence of the operation.

Pacifistic absolutism is sometimes justified by the argument that reverence for life is so basic to the whole moral structure that the sanctity of life must be maintained at all hazards. But even this rather plausible argument becomes less convincing when it is recognized that life is in conflict with life in an imperfect world, and therefore no one has the opportunity of supporting the principle of the sanctity of life in an absolute sense. Fear of the overt destruction of life may lead to the perpetuation of social policies through which human life is constantly destroyed and degraded. How shall one estimate the value of the lives of infants who fall prey to the poverty of an unjust social system against the value of lives which may be sacrificed in a final social crisis? Capital punishment is probably ineffective as a deterrent of murder. But if it were effective its abolition for the sake of the principle of the sanctity of all life would result in an ironical preference of the life of the guilty to that of the innocent.

When dealing with the actual human situation realistically and pragmatically it is impossible to fix upon a single moral absolute. Equal justice remains the only possible, though hardly a precise, criterion of value. Since no life has value if all life is not equally sacred, the highest social obligation is to guide the social struggle in such a way that the most stable and balanced equilibrium of social forces will be achieved and all life will thereby be given equal opportunities of development. But so many contingent factors arise in any calculation of the best method of achieving equal justice that absolute standards are useless. How shall a hazardous method of achieving a predictable social end be measured against a safe method of achieving an unpredictable goal? How shall one gauge the security of the moment against an insecure but promising future? Or how shall one test the validity of any social expectation? To what degree is it illusory and in how far does the illusory element invalidate it? Such questions are not answered primarily by nice rational calculations. They are finally answered through exigencies of history in which contingent factors and unpredictable forces may carry more weight than the nicest and most convincing abstract speculation.

Political problems drive pure moralists to despair because in them the freedom of the spirit must come to terms with the contingencies of nature, the moral ideal must find a proper mechanism for its incarnation, and the ideal principle must be sacrificed to guarantee its partial realization. For the Christian the love commandment must be made relevant to the relativities of the social struggle, even to hazardous and dubious relativities. No doubt prophetic religion must place the inevitable opportunism of statesmanship under a religious perspective. But if we are to have prophetic critics of the statesman may they be prophets who know what kind of a world we are living in and learn how to place every type of statesmanship under the divine condemnation. A prophetic criticism of political opportunism, which mistakes moral squeamishness for religious rigor is easily captured and corrupted by the conservative forces in a social struggle. The "decencies" are usually on the conservative side. The more basic moral values are more likely to rest with the standard of the attacking forces, particularly since human burden-bearers usually have more patients than rebellious heroism and are not inclined to attack established institutions and social arrangements until their situation has become literally intolerable.



1. Quoted by T. C. Hall, The Religious Background of American Culture, p. 172.

2. Shailer Mathews, The Gospel and the Modern Man, p. 253.

3. Op. cit., p. 255.

4. G. B. Smith, Social Ideals and the Changing Theology, p. 145.

5. Shailer Mathews, Christianity and Social Process, chap. 6.

6. Op. cit., p. 177.

7. Francis Peabody, Jesus Christ and the Social Question, pp. 320-326.

8. H. G. Wood, Christianity and Communion, pp. 135-144.

9. Stephen Foot, Life Began Yesterday.

10. Francis J. McConnell, The Christian Ideal and Social Control, p. 131.

11. E. Stanley Jones, Christís Alternative to Communism, p. 169.

12. Thus, for instance, Professor Bennet in his recent excellent book, Social Salvation, lists seven conclusions in regard to the use of violence by Christians. Five of them offer pragmatic scruples against the use of violence, more or less convincing. One justifies participation in social movements if only "incidental" violence occurs. The final conclusion declares "that the way (of the Christian) is the way which prefers to accept the cross to the use of violence against persons."

Chapter VII: Love as a Possibility for the Individual

The coercion of the political order must be complemented by uncoerced kindness between individuals who live under the impossible possibility of the command to love. Moral possibilities are realized by will informed by both reason and emotion, while love as agape is a fruit of the grace of God.


No system of justice established by the political, economic, and social coercion in the political order is perfect enough to dispense with the refinements which voluntary and uncoerced human kindness and tenderness between individuals add to it. These refinements are not only necessary, but possible. If the error of the medieval system of politics was to take traditional equilibria of justice for granted without seeking to perfect their basic structure, its virtue was to seek the refinement of this justice by the love of individuals. In spite of the hypocrisies of the traditional medieval "lady bountiful" a genuine humaneness developed within and above the injustices of feudal society which bourgeois society, in spite of its sentimental devotion to the ideals of justice and love, has never achieved. The most grievous mistake of Marxism is its assumption that an adequate mechanism of social justice will inevitably create individuals who will be disciplined enough to "give according to their ability and take according to their need." The highest achievements of social good will and human kindness can be guaranteed by no political system. They are the consequence of moral and religious disciplines which might be more appreciated in our day if the Christian Church had not mistakenly tried to substitute them for the coercive prerequisites of basic justice.

What is necessary in this respect is also possible. The life of the individual stands in an ascending scale of freedom and therefore under an ascending scale of moral possibilities. An individual who lives in New York does not have the freedom, and therefore lacks the possibility, of relating his life in terms of intimate contact and brotherly obligation to an individual in Tokyo. He is even restrained from that kind of relationship with many people in his own city and his own nation. But there are always areas in which he is free to transcend the mechanisms and the limitations in which all life is involved and to relate his life to other life in terms of voluntary and free cooperation. It must, of course, be remembered that he is not free to transcend the total system of nature in which he stands which sets his life in competition with other life. The command to love his neighbor as himself must, therefore, remain an impossibility as well as a possibility. The ultimate reach of the ideal into the realm of the impossible does not, however, restrict the possibilities. On the contrary, it establishes a dimension in which every achievement of human brotherhood suggests both higher and broader possibilities.

A moral discipline calculated to increase the intensity and range of man's obligation to other life involves two factors: The extension of the area in which life feels itself obligated to affirm and protect the interest of other life and the provision of an adequate dynamic to support this obligation. Corresponding to these two factors there are two resources in human nature to which this religio-moral discipline must be related: The natural endowments of sympathy, paternal and filial affection, gregarious impulses and the sense of organic cohesion which all human beings possess, and the faculties of reason which tend to extend the range of these impulses beyond the limits set by nature. Unfortunately, the moral systems which have sought to extend the rational range of social obligation have been deficient in dealing with the problem of social and moral dynamics, while the systems which have dealt with the latter have usually neglected to deal adequately with the rational contribution to morality. On the one side Stoic, Kantian, and utilitarian rationalism have neglected or obscured the problem of moral dynamics, while on the other side Romanticism and many schools of Christian thought have failed to do justice to the contribution of reason to moral conduct. The failure of both schools of moral thought imparts a tragic aspect to the whole history of morality in Western culture.

The rationalists from the Stoics to Kant have correctly assessed the role of reason in morality, but have not been able to relate it to the dynamic aspects of life. It is true that reason discloses the "moral law." It reveals, or at least suggests, the total field of life in which obligation moves. The rational man is thus able to recognize the mutual relationships between, let us say, life in Africa and life in America, which the ignorant man does not see and for which he therefore recognizes no obligation. Furthermore, reason discloses how uncontrolled impulses create anarchy both within the self and within the social whole. Against this anarchy it sets the ideal of order. Reason tries to establish a system of coherence and consistency in conduct as well as in the realm of truth. It conceives of its harmonies of life with life not only in ever wider and more inclusive terms, but also works for equal justice within each area of harmony by the simple fact that the special privileges of injustice are brought under rational condemnation for their inconsistency. Under the canons of rational consistency men can claim for themselves only what is genuinely value and they cannot claim value for any of their desires if they are not valuable to others beside themselves. Reason thus forces them to share every privilege except those which are necessary to insure the performance of a special function in the interest of the whole. A large percentage of all special privilege is thereby ruled out by the canons of reason; a fact which persuaded the Enlightenment to expect injustice to vanish with ignorance and has tempted a modern radical rationalist to seek the destruction of social injustice by the simple expedient of puncturing the illusions and prejudices by which social injustice justifies itself in the eyes of both its victims and its beneficiaries.1 Even utilitarian moral rationalism is not altogether wrong; for on certain levels of conduct reason discloses harmonies of life so immediate and so necessary that only the most heedless egoism will destroy them, since their destruction involves the destruction of the ego's interests.

Reason, in short, discovers that life in its essence is not what it is in its actual existence, that ideally it involves much more inclusive harmonies than actually exist in history. This is what the Stoics meant by the natural law, though neither the Stoics, nor the Age of Reason after them, were always clear whether natural law was the ideal to which reason pointed or certain universally accepted standards of conduct in actual history, a confusion which sometimes led to a curious compound of radical and conventional morality in both cases. Romanticism with its undue and uncritical emphasis upon the moral dynamic of the emotions failed to do justice to this critical function of reason in the moral life; and Protestant orthodoxy, allowed its idea of total depravity in which man's rationality was involved, to betray it into contempt for the rational contribution to morality. Furthermore, reason could only project a law and men could be saved not by law, but by grace. The errors of Romanticism were partially corrected, at least at this point, by the Enlightenment; but the error of orthodox Protestantism (particularly Lutheran Protestantism) contributed to its ineptness in the field of social ethics. The fact is that Christianity as a whole always had to borrow from some scheme of rationalism to complete its ethical structure. The early Church borrowed from Stoicism and Thomasian Catholicism appropriated Aristotelian doctrine to provide a foundation for its more distinctively Christian superstructure.

In spite of these necessary contributions of reason to moral conduct and of rationalism to moral theory, no rational moral idealism can create moral conduct. It can provide principles of criticism and norms; but such norms do not contain a dynamic for their realization. In both Stoic and Kantian moral theory the conflict in the human psyche is mistakenly defined and virtuous reason is set at variance with the evil impulses. In both cases the social impulses with which men are endowed by nature are placed outside of the moral realm. Thus the Stoics regarded the sentiment of pity as evil and in Kantian ethics only actions which are motivated by reverence for the moral law are good, a criterion which would put the tenderness of a mother for her child outside of the pale of moral action.

Rationalism not only suppresses the emotional supports of moral action unduly, but it has no understanding for the problem of moral dynamics and has, therefore, failed dismally in encouraging men toward the realization of the ideals which it has projected. Laws are not automatically obeyed, whether the laws of the state or the higher law of reason. Henri Bergson criticizes the Stoics for their inability to produce a morality consistent with their universalistic idealism.2 In view of the fact that in every system of moral thought, achievements fall short of ideals, and

No deed is all its thought had been,
No wish but feels the fleshly screen.

It may seem unjust to single out the Stoics for condemnation, particularly when the lives of an Epictetus and a Marcus Aurelius give a luster of moral sincerity to a system of thought which the reputed hypocrisies and dishonesties of a Seneca, Cicero, and Brutus cannot altogether dim. Nevertheless, it remains true that Stoicism was unable to arrest the decay of Roman life and that its idealism was, on the whole, little more than an affectation of a small intelligent aristocracy.

The effort of various types of rational idealism to provide an adequate dynamic for their ideal or an adequate theory of dynamics vary greatly; they are similar only in their common inadequacy. Utilitarian rationalism sought to use reason to harness egoistic passion to social goals. It thought that the intellectual demonstration of the ultimate inter-relatedness of all life could persuade men to affirm the interests of their neighbors in immediate situations out of self-regarding motives. The theory is absurd because in immediate situations one life may actually live at the expense of another; in such situations egoistic purpose can hardly be beguiled by considerations of what life is and ought to be in its truest and most ultimate essence.

According to the naturalistic rationalism of John Dewey, reason cuts the channels into which life will inevitably flow because life is itself dynamic. Reason supplies the direction and the natural power of life-as-impulse insures the movement in the direction of the rationally projected goal. The theory presupposes a nonexistent unity of man*s impulsive life, a greater degree of rational transcendence over impulse than actually exists and a natural obedience of impulse to the ideal which all history refutes. Nothing in the theory could explain why the nations of the world are still so far from realizing the rationally projected and universally accepted goal of universal peace.3 The explanation in terms of the theory would probably be that reason had not yet sufficiently corroded the old tribal behavior patterns of the nations; but such an explanation hardly does justice to the non-traditional and immediately vital and spontaneous impulses toward war.

If the naturalists among the rationalists think that reason can beguile natural life to extend itself beyond itself, the Kantian idealists can find no effective contact between the real and the ideal world. The intelligible self is the lawgiver and imposes the law of rational consistency: Act so as to make thy action the basis of universal law. But what is to persuade men to obey the law? An inherent force of reverence for law, the sense of obligation. There are two difficulties in this interpretation. One is that the law is only in the realm of essential and not in existential reality. It therefore has no force in the realm of existence to secure its realization. The other error follows naturally from the first: The intelligible self with its sense of obligation is hopelessly cut off from the sensible self of the passions and desires of natural life. The ideal cannot get itself realized; it cannot even enlist the forces of nature in man which inchoately support the ideal.

The failure of Kantian ethics and of rationalistic ethics in general gives the most important clue to importance of the Christian doctrine of love and the Christian faith in God which supports it. Faith in God means faith in the transcendent unity of essence and existence, of the ideal and the real world. The cleavage between them in the historical world is not a cleavage between impulse and reason, though it is by reason that the "law of God" is most fully apprehended. The cleavage can only be mythically expressed as one between obedience and sin, between good will and evil will. This cleavage is ultimately overcome by love. Now love implies an uncoerced giving of the self to the object of its devotion. It is thus a fulfillment of the law; for in perfect love all law is transcended and what is and what ought to be are one. The self is coerced neither by a society to conform to minimal standards nor is it coerced by its other intelligible or rational or ideal self.

Now manifestly this perfect love is, like God, in the realm of transcendence. What relevance does it have, then, to the historical world and what moral action is it able to invoke in human beings in whom "there is a law in their members which wars against the law that is in their minds?" The answer is given in the paradox of the love commandment. To command love is a paradox; for love cannot be commanded or demanded. To love God with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds means that every cleavage in human existence is overcome. But the fact that such an attitude is commanded proves that the cleavage is not overcome; the command comes from one side of reality to the other, from essence to existence.

The ideal of love is thus first of all a commandment which appeals to the will. What is the human will? It is neither the total personality nor yet the rational element in personality. It is the total organized personality moving against the recalcitrant elements in the self. The will implies a cleavage in the self but not a cleavage, primarily between reason and impulse. The will is a rational organization of impulse. Consequently, the Christian ideal of a loving will does not exclude the impulses and emotions in nature through which the self is organically related to other life. Jesus therefore relates the love of God to the natural love of parents for their children: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more will your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" In its appreciation of every natural emotion of sympathy and pity, of consanguinity and human solidarity, the ethic of Jesus is distinguished from the ethics of rationalism. In this respect there are points of contact between Christianity and Romanticism, perhaps most fully revealed in such men as St. Francis. The moral will is not a force of reason imposed upon the emotions. It utilizes whatever forces in nature carry life beyond itself. But since the forces of nature carry life beyond itself only to enslave it again to the larger self of family, race, and community, Christian ethics never has, as in Romanticism, an uncritical attitude toward impulses of sociality. They all stand under the perspective of the "how much more" and under the criticism, "If ye love those who love you what thanks have ye."

The "natural man" is not only under the criticism of these absolute perspectives, but under obligation to emulate the love of God, to forgive as God forgives, to love his enemies as God loves them. Love as natural endowment, EROS, is transmuted under this religious tension into AGAPE.4

In Henri Bergson's Two Sources of Morality and Religion the religious force which breaks through the "closed morality" of devotion to family and community is called the force of mysticism. The word mysticism to designate what Bergson has in mind is badly chosen because of the tendency toward passivity and contemplation rather than moral creativity in mysticism, a tendency Bergson himself recognizes but seeks to confine to the eastern rather than Christian mystics.5 But his idea is correct. The motive power of a love which transcends the impulses of nature is a combination of obedience to God and love of God. The idea of obedience is maintained in Jesus' teachings by the concept of the sovereignty (basileus) of God, usually translated as the "Kingdom of God." The element of obedience, of a sense of moral obligation, of a willful act of conformity to the divine standard, is consonant with the division between good and evil in the human soul which makes perfect love impossible, because no act is possible in which the resistance of egoism and sin is completely absent. The element of love of God as a motive of social love is consonant with the fact that the attraction of the good is actually present in human life, in spite of its sin. Both the fact that it is present and that it is challenged by sin is expressed in the paradox of the love commandment, "Thou shalt love." In the terms of the moral experience of man it might be stated in the terms, "I feel that I ought to love."

The God, whom to love is thus commanded in the Christian religion is, significantly, the God of mythical-prophetic conception, which means that he is both the ground of existence and the essence which transcends existence. In this mythical paradox lies the foundation for an ethic which enables men to give themselves to values actually embodied in persons and existence, but also transcending every actuality thereby escaping both the glorification of human temporal, and partial values characteristic of naturalism and also the morally enervating tendency of mysticism to regard "love of creatures" as disloyalty to God and to confine the love of God to a rational or mystic contemplation of the divine essence which transcends all finite existence. Whatever the weaknesses of Christianity in the field of social morality, history attests its fruitfulness in eliciting loving and tender service to men of all sorts and conditions without regard to some obvious merit which might seem to give them a moral claim upon their fellow men. The Christian love commandment does not demand love of the fellow man because he is with us equally divine (Stoicism), or because we ought to have "respect for personality" (Christian liberalism), but because God loves him. The obligation is derived, in other words, not from the obvious unities and affinities of historic existence, but from the transcendent unity of essential reality. The logic of this position is clearly stated by the Quaker saint, John Woolman, in dealing with the question of slavery: "Many slaves on this continent have been oppressed and their cries have reached the ears of the Most High. Such is the purity and certainty of His judgments that he can not be partial to any. In infinite love and goodness he has opened our understanding from time to time, respecting our duty to these people."6 Naturally such a religious presupposition operates to make men sensitive to the actual underlying unities of human life in historic existence, as expressed, for instance, in the words of St. Paul: "He hath made of one blood all the races of men." But the obligation is derived from a more transcendent unity and purity of value than any historic realities, and is therefore proof against the disappointments and disillusions of naturalistic morality, in which there is always a touch of a romantic exaggeration of the goodness of man and a corresponding cynical reaction. But the insistence upon the Creation as a work of God always saves prophetic religion from contempt for the partial and imperfect values of history and a consequent identification of religion with a passive contemplation of a transcendent ideal beyond existence. Unfortunately, historic Christianity has sometimes been partially beguiled from this prophetic position, as, for instance, in the theology of Thomas Aquinas in which Aristotelian rationalism influences him to regard a rational and mystical contemplation of the divine as religiously superior to ethical action.

The Christian doctrine of love is thus the most adequate metaphysical and psychological framework for the approximation of the ideal of love in human life. It is able to appropriate all the resources of human nature which tend toward the harmony of life with life, without resting in the resources of "natural man." It is able to set moral goals transcending nature without being lost in other-worldliness. The degree of approximation depends upon the extent to which the Christian faith is not merely a theory, but a living and vital presupposition of life and conduct. The long history of Christianity is, in spite of its many failures, not wanting in constant and perennial proofs that love is the fruit of its spirit. Martyrs and saints, missionaries and prophets, apostles and teachers of the faith, have showed forth in their lives the pity and tenderness toward their fellow men which is the crown of the Christian life. Nor has Christianity failed to impart to the ordinary human relations of ordinary men the virtues of tenderness and consideration.

While every religion, as indeed every human world view, must finally justify itself in terms of its moral fruits it must be understood that the moral fruits of religion are not the consequence of a conscious effort to achieve them. The love commandment is a demand upon the will, but the human will is not enabled to conform to it because moralistic appeals are made to obey the commandment. Moralistic appeals are in fact indications of the dissipation of primary religious vitality. Men cannot, by taking thought, strengthen their will. If the will is the total organized personality of the moment, moving against recalcitrant impulse, the strength of the will depends upon the strength of the factors which enter into its organization. Consequently, the acts and attitudes of love in which the ordinary resources of nature are supplemented are partly the consequence of historic and traditional disciplines which have become a part of the socio-spiritual inheritance of the individual and partly the result of concatenations of circumstance in which the pressure of events endows the individual with powers not ordinarily his own.

The soldier's courage, his ability to transcend the inclination of "natural man" to flee death, is the fruit of a great tradition and the spirit of the military community which enforces it. In the same manner the tenderness and graciousness with which men are able to regard the problems of their fellow men, beyond the natural inclinations of human nature, is the fruit of a religio-moral tradition and the loyalty of a religious community to the tradition. Even if we cannot accept St. Paul's Christ-mysticism, bordering as it does on the very edge of the magical, it is nevertheless true that the Church is the body of Christ and that the noble living and the noble dead in her communion help to build up in her the living Christ, a dimension of life which transcends the inclinations of natural man. It is consequently natural and inevitable that the faithful should regard genuine acts of love as proceeding from propulsions which are not their own, and should confess with St. Paul, "I, yet not I, but Christ that dwelleth in me."

Sometimes the act of complete self-abnegation, the pouring out of life for other life, is the consequence of pressures of a given moment which endow the individual with resources beyond his natural capacities. The mother who sacrifices her life for her child is enabled to do this by the heightening of the natural impulses of mother love in a moment of crisis. In soberer moments of reflection she could not give herself so completely for another life. The same mother who thus sacrifices herself might conceivably be engaged in more prosaic moments in shrewd unconscious calculations in which mother love is compounded with the will-to-power. Martyrs do not achieve martyrdom by taking thought. Whether a man stands or yields

in the hour of crisis is of course determined by commitments made before the crisis arises. Devotion to a cause may be such that it becomes irrevocable and its revocation would result in the complete disintegration of personality. The crisis with its impending martyrdom adds its emotional pressures to the commitment of previous years. Furthermore, a strong devotion to a cause absorbs the individual in the cause so that the entire socio-spiritual impetus of the enterprise sustains him in the hour of crisis and endows him with resources which transcend anything possessed in his own right.

The Catholic doctrine that faith, hope, and love are "theological" virtues which are added to the moral possibilities of natural man by an infusion of grace is thus, broadly speaking, true to the facts. Only it is not true that the grace which is added is necessarily infused by the sacraments nor even that the Christian faith is its only possible presupposition. The grace of God is not confined so narrowly as theological defenders of historic religious institutions would like to confine it. But there are, nevertheless, forces in life which can only be described as the grace of God. What men are able to will depends not upon the strength of their willing, but upon the strength which enters their will and over which their will has little control. All moral action really stands under the paradox: "Work out your salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do his good pleasure."

But love is not only a fruit of grace, but also a fruit of faith; which is to say that the total spiritual attitude which informs a life determines to what height a moral action may rise in a given moment. Deeds of love are not the consequence of specific acts of the will. They are the consequence of a religio-moral tension in life which is possible only if the individual consciously lives in the total dimension of life. The real motives of love, according to the Christian gospel, are gratitude and contrition. Gratitude and contrition are the fruits of a prophetic faith which knows life in its heights and in its depths. To believe in God is to know life in its essence and not only in its momentary existence. Thus to know it means that what is dark, arbitrary, and contingent in momentary existence can neither be accepted complacently nor tempt to despair.

To understand life in its total dimension means contrition because every moral achievement stands under the criticism of a more essential goodness. If fully analyzed the moral achievement is not only convicted of imperfection, but of sin. It is not only wanting in perfect goodness, but there is something of the perversity of evil in it. Such contrition does not destroy selfishness in the human heart. But there is a difference between the man who understands something of the mystery of evil in his own soul and one who complacently accepts human egoism as a force which must be skillfully balanced with altruism in order that moral unity may be achieved.

To understand life in its total dimension means to accept it with grateful reverence as good. It is good in its ultimate essence even when it seems evil and chaotic in its contingent and momentary reality. Faith in its essence is not an arbitrary faith. Once held, actual historic existence verifies it; for there are in life as we know it in history and nature innumerable symbols of its ultimate and essential nature. Grateful reverence toward the goodness of life is a motive force of love in more than one sense. Gratitude for what life is in its essence creates a propulsive power to affirm in existence what is truly essential, the harmony of life with life. Furthermore, under the insights of such a faith, the fellow man becomes something more than the creature of time and place, separated from us by the contingencies of nature and geography and set against us by the necessities of animal existence. His life is seen under the aura of the divine and he participates in the glory, dignity and beauty of existence. We do not love him because he is "divine." If that pantheistic note creeps into prophetic faith it leads to disillusion. He is no more divine than we are. We are all imbedded in the contingent and arbitrary life of animal existence and we have corrupted the harmless imperfections of nature with the corruptions of sin. Yet we are truly "children of God" and something of the transcendent unity, in which we are one in God, shines through both the evil of nature and the evil in man. Our heart goes out to our fellow man, when seen through the eyes of faith, not only because we see him thus under a transcendent perspective but because we see ourselves under it and know that we are sinners just as he is. Awed by the majesty and goodness of God, something of the pretense of our pretentious self is destroyed and the natural cruelty of our self-righteousness is mitigated by emotions of pity and forgiveness.

The moral effectiveness of the religious life thus depends upon deeper resources than moral demands upon the will. Whenever the modern pulpit contends itself with the presentation of these demands, however urgent and fervent, it reveals its enslavement to the rationalistic presuppositions of our era. The law of love is not obeyed simply by being known. Whenever it is obeyed at all, it is because life in its beauty and terror has been more fully revealed to man. The love that cannot be willed may nevertheless grow as a natural fruit upon a tree which has roots deep enough to be nurtured by springs of life beneath the surface and branches reaching up to heaven.



1. Cf. Robert Briffault, Rational Evolution and Breakdown.

2. Henri Bergson, Two Sources of Religion and Morality, p. 52.

3. Cf. John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, pp. 79-83.

4. Professor Anders Nygren in his Agape and Eros succinctly states this distinction as developed in Christian theology: "Eros must always regard the love of man as the love for the good in man. . . Agape is the precise opposite. Godís love is the ground and pattern of all love. It consists in free self-giving and it finds its continuation in Godís love for man; for he who has received all for nothing is constrained to pass on to others what he has received." p. 171.

5. Cf. Henri Bergson, op. cit., p. 216.

6. Gummere, Journal of John Woolman, p. 216.


Chapter VIII: Love as Forgiveness

The genius of prophetic Christianity is love as expressed in forgiveness. This most difficult of moral achievements is possible only for those who know they are not good, and who know that there is a transcendent perspective upon which we are finally dependent. Such humility exposes all claims of righteousness, whether ecclesiastical or secular, for the pretensions they are.


The crown of Christian ethics is the doctrine of forgiveness. In it the whole genius of prophetic religion is expressed. Love as forgiveness is the most difficult and impossible of moral achievements. Yet it is a possibility if the impossibility of love is recognized and the sin in the self is acknowledged. Therefore an ethic culminating in an impossible possibility produces its choicest fruit in terms of the doctrine of forgiveness, the demand that the evil in the other shall be borne without vindictiveness because the evil in the self is known.

Forgiveness is a moral achievement which is possible only when morality is transcended in religion. No pure morality can bridge the gap which divides men according to their conflicting interests and their natural, racial, and geographic backgrounds, because their moral idealism is conditioned by these very factors. The fact that it is really a moral idealism and not purely a selfish or partial interest which motivates them makes them more secure in their self-respect and therefore more ruthless against their foes. One reason why modern social conflicts are more brutal than primitive ones is that the development of rationality has actually imparted more universal pretensions to partial social interests than those of primitive men, and yet has stopped short of transmuting any partial interest into one of genuine universal validity. The consequence is that modern men fight for their causes with a fury of which only those are capable who are secure in the sense of their righteousness. Thus all modern social conflicts are fought for "Kultur," for democracy, for justice, and for every conceivable universal value. A rereading of the pronouncements of the men of learning and philosophers, as well as of the statesmen and politicians, who were involved in the world war, fills the reader with a depressing sense of the calculated insincerity of all their pretensions. Yet while some of the sentiments were no doubt brazenly insincere and calculated to deceive the public, many of them were merely a striking revelation of the pathos of modern spirituality.

The effort of modern secularism to solve this problem is perfectly stated in Professor John Dewey's recent exposition of his religious faith.1 He would eliminate conflict and unite men of good will everywhere by stripping their spiritual life of historic, traditional, and supposedly anachronistic accretions. This proposal is a striking example of the faith of modern rationalism in the ability of reason to transcend the partial perspectives of the natural world in which reason is rooted. Every event in contemporary history proves that modern idealists are divided from each other by something more vital and immediate than anachronistic religious traditions. Modern communism and modern nationalism are both religions, both modern, and both maintained by a demonic fervor in which partial perspectives and devotion to a high ideal are compounded. Where is the rationality which will resolve or modify this fervor? Perhaps it may be found among a small group of intellectuals whose intellectual idealism is rooted in the comparative neutrality and security of the intellectual life.

There is no deeper pathos in the spiritual life of man than the cruelty of righteous people. If any one idea dominates the teachings of Jesus, it is his opposition to the self-righteousness of the righteous. The parable spoken unto "certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others"2 made the most morally disciplined group of his day, the Pharisees, the object of his criticism. In fact, Jesus seems to have been in perpetual conflict with the good people of his day and ironically justified his consorting with the bad people by the remark that not those who are whole, but those who are sick, are in need of a physician. The Christian tradition, partly under the influence of the conflict between the early church and the synagogue, echoes of which have colored the gospel narratives, has pictured the Pharisees as particularly brazen hypocrites. This tradition probably betrays an unconscious effort to avoid self-accusation on the part of the good people in the Christian Church through all the ages. The strictures against the Pharisees would apply with equal validity to any moral aristocracy of any age.

The criticism which Jesus leveled at good people had both a religious and a moral connotation. They were proud in the sight of God and they were merciless and unforgiving to their fellow men. Their pride is the basis of their lack of mercy. The unmerciful servant, in Jesus* parable is unforgiving to his fellow servant in spite of the mercy which he had received from his master. Forgiving love is a possibility only for those who know that they are not good, who feel themselves in need of divine mercy, who live in a dimension deeper and higher than that of moral idealism, feel themselves as well as their fellow men convicted of sin by a holy God and know that the differences between the good man and the bad man are insignificant in his sight. St. Paul expresses the logic of this religious feeling in the words: "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not thereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord."3 When life is lived in this dimension the chasms which divide men are bridged not directly, not by resolving the conflicts on the historical levels, but by the sense of an ultimate unity in, and common dependence upon, the realm of transcendence. For this reason the religious ideal of forgiveness is more profound and more difficult than the rational virtue of tolerance.

Tolerance is, no doubt, an important rational and moral achievement. It is actually possible for an intelligent person to appreciate the merits of an opponent's position to a degree impossible for the ignorant devotee. Yet tolerance tends to become dissipated as soon as the impartial observer is forced by the exigencies of history to espouse one side or the other. The observation of G. H. Chesterton, that tolerance is the virtue of people who do not believe in anything, is fairly true. The ideal of tolerance in modern liberalism, for instance, lasted only in the expansive period of capitalism during which the social struggle was not acute. The oligarchs could espouse the ideal of tolerance because their power was not challenged and the intellectuals could espouse it because social stability created a large area of social neutrality from the vantage-point of which conflicting movements and contrasting creeds could be surveyed with impartiality. But the sharpening social struggle in Europe has almost completely destroyed the ideal of tolerance of traditional liberalism. It is significant that in Germany, where the processes of modern life are most advanced, secular liberalism has been completely destroyed. Only the churches, which the secular liberals of yesterday regarded as anachronistic institutions, have been able to preserve some of the humanities in the terrible social tension to which that nation is being subjected. The recent history of Germany gives point to the observation of Irving Babbitt: "The honest thinker, whatever his own preferences, must begin by admitting that while religion can get along without humanism, humanism cannot get along without religion. The reason has been given by Burke in pointing out the radical defect in Rousseau. The whole ethical life has its roots in humility. As humility diminishes, conceit and vain imaginings rush in almost automatically to take its place."4

Yet it might be claimed that a forgiving attitude toward the foe is no more possible than a tolerant one, except perhaps by a strategy of declaring all moral and social issues upon which men are divided to be irrelevant not only from a divine but from an historical perspective. In that case it might be possible but not desirable. This fact confronts Christian ethics with a problem for which there is no easy solution. A religious ethic, like that of Tolstoi, which makes forgiveness of the foe a substitute for socio-moral action, is full of danger. In Russia Tolstoi's absolutism deflected a promising movement of political reform. Equally dangerous is the emphasis of modern dialectical theology upon the irrelevance of moral and social issues. The victim of injustice cannot cease from contending against his oppressors, even if he has a religious sense of the relativity of all social positions and a contrite recognition of the sin in his own heart. Only a religion full of romantic illusions could seek to persuade the Negro to gain justice from the white man merely by forgiving him. As long as men are involved in the conflicts of nature and sin they must seek according to best available moral insights to contend for what they believe to be right. And that will mean that they will contend against other men. Short of the transmutation of the world into the Kingdom of God, men will always confront enemies; and the enmity between man and man will be rooted not only in the divisions which nature has created, but in the idealisms which men have erected upon these divisions.

Forgiveness in the absolute sense is therefore an impossibility as much as any other portion of Christ's perfectionism. If one were to follow the words of Jesus, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," without qualification, no criminal could ever be arrested. Every society which punishes its anti-social members is more responsible for their anti-social conduct than it realizes. But it is not possible to desist from all forms of social punishment when this responsibility is realized. Yet it is possible to deal with the criminal in terms of this realization and to qualify the spiritual pride of the usually self-righteous guardians of public morals. In the same way is it possible to engage in social struggles with a religious reservation in which lie the roots of the spirit of forgiveness.

The spirit of forgiveness in social conflict does not depend upon the ability of men to reach an absolute perspective which transcends the conflict. The pretension that they are able to do this is the very tendency toward the demonic which imparts such a pathos to all human history. They need only to know that there is a transcendent perspective from which "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Implied in such a faith is the sense of a goodness which not only fulfills, but may negate, the highest human goodness. This is the implication developed in the Book of Job, when God refuses to be judged by human standards of justice and quiets the protests of Job by overawing him with the mysteries of the world beyond human ken.

It cannot be denied that such a faith is dangerous to morality. It may tempt men to blunt the sharpness of moral distinctions which must be made in human history. But it is as necessary as it is dangerous. Without it men always construct God not only in terms of the universally human, but in terms of particular and partial human perspectives, and thereby increase the fury of their self-righteousness. The ultimate paradox of a genuine theism is that only its supra moral pinnacle is able to save its moral values from degeneration. The merit of such a faith lies not only in its destruction of human pretension, but also in its guarantee against religious disillusionment. A too strongly humanistic theism cannot possibly comprehend the whole world into its universe of meaning, because there are processes in nature which are in obvious conflict with the highest human purposes. Such a theism, therefore, tends to perpetual dissolution into a humanistic dualism in which man is persuaded to rebel against the world as nothing more than "the trampling march of unconscious power." A genuine prophetic faith reaches a transcendence in which the conflict between man and nature is overcome, even when the conflict defies every effort of rational comprehension.

It is an instructive fact that our age, which began with the substitution of humanism for theism as a more direct and unambiguous method of protecting human values, ends in a series of international and fratricidal struggles in which the common human dignity of man is outraged. Amid such struggles men as men have no rights at all. Their humanity is recognized only in its functional relationship to the national or other political cause to which they are related. Fascists and communists not only destroy one another, but subject each other to tortures and cruelties which a common respect for human life ought to make impossible. A humanism which is sustained only by the obvious marks of common humanity breaks down when the hysteria of conflict destroys or obscures these obvious human ties. The humanities, which secularism tries to preserve as ultimate ends and as self-sufficient values, literally depend upon a structure of value which reaches beyond them. A universe of value in which there is no dimension of depth is rent asunder along its thin surfaces by the forces of nature and history if it is not held together in a larger universe, the heights of which transcend the conflicts of the moment.

Historic Christianity has frequently been no more successful than secularism in subjecting historic and partial human perspectives and moral values to the scrutiny of the Absolute. The fact is that the tendency toward the religious sanctification of partial values is so powerful that no religion, no matter how potent its presuppositions, escapes. The very division of Christianity into various denominations, churches, and sects is a consequence of the influence of relative historical forces upon the universally valid presuppositions of a prophetic faith. Catholicism is the form which Christianity has taken in the Latin and Slav countries, on the one hand, and in the feudal structure of society, on the other. In spite of its universal pretensions (and universal achievements beyond those of Protestantism) it is today, particularly in Spain, Latin America and in the Latin world generally, the spiritual facade behind which a decaying feudal social structure seeks to hide its shabbiness and through which it tries to achieve a measure of spiritual dignity. The Catholic doctrine of the Church is, in fact, a constant temptation to demonic pretensions, since it claims for an institution, established in time and history, universal and absolute validity. Except for the fact that its institution is actually more universal than a single state, this Catholic claim leads to reactionary political consequences, similar to those of Hegelianism, in which the Absolute is thought to be incarnate in a single state. Considering the tremendous perils of these religious pretensions, Marx is quite right in asserting that "the beginning of all criticism is the criticism of religion."

Protestant theory does not give the historic and concrete institution the same aura of the Absolute. It does not identify the Church with the Kingdom of God, nor the historic Church with the Church of Christ. The real Church is always in the sphere of transcendence. In spite of this difference, Protestantism has frequently lent itself to the religious sanctification of partial values more abjectly than Catholicism. The actual universal structure of the historic institution in Catholicism has saved it from some of these errors of Protestantism. Thus Protestantism in Germany was much more definitely the interest of a particular class than Catholicism, which actually mitigated the intensity of the social struggle and avoided the peril of becoming the instrument of reaction against the forces of social radicalism. The thesis that Protestantism in general and Calvinism in particular had something of the same intimate relationship with capitalism, which existed between Catholicism and feudalism, is now a quite generally accepted presupposition of historic interpretation in spite of the modifications to which the theory has been subjected since Max Weber first propounded it. The relationship of Protestantism and Catholicism to the political dispute between the southern and northern Irish, a dispute to which both economic and Scotch-Irish racial antagonisms contribute, reveals either form of Christianity equally enmeshed in the political conflicts of national, racial, and economic groups. Religion has been, in fact, so perennially involved in, and has served to accentuate, such disputes that a secular age thought it possible to eliminate the disputes by destroying religion. It failed to realize that all wars are religious wars, whether fought in the name of historic creeds or not. Men do not fight for causes until they are "religiously" devoted to them; which means not until the cause seems to them the center of their universe of meaning. This is just as true in a supposedly secular age as in an avowedly religious one.

It must be admitted, therefore, that historic Christianity, in common with other religions, usually succumbs to the parochialism of the human heart and lends itself to the sinful inclination of human groups to make themselves God. The critics of Christianity, or of religion in general, are wrong only in attributing this tendency to some defect in Christianity itself or in the character of religion, and in not realizing with how basic a difficulty of human spirituality they are dealing.

Whatever the delinquencies of historic Christianity in this matter, there is no question but that the essential genius of the Christian faith is set against the religious sanctification of partial and relative values. The very rise of prophetic religion is to be found in the criticism by the eighth-century Hebrew prophets of the absolute religious claims made by their race and nation. The prophets insisted that the same God who had called Israel to be his people might also judge them and destroy them. Historic religion is not frequently true to this religious perspective. Nor is it easy to be true to it and yet remain in responsible relationship to the various historic human enterprises in which men seek to establish relative justice amidst the confusion and controversy of social life.

Loyalty to such a faith requires a responsible relationship and devotion to whatever cause seems most likely to achieve the highest measure of relative justice; but also the spirit of forgiveness in the struggles in which such a cause becomes involved. Genuine forgiveness is not a frequent achievement in individual relationships. It is naturally even more rare in collective relationships. But it is not impossible, because the consciousness of sin within the self, even while the self contends against the sin of others, is a natural consequence of any really thoroughgoing analysis of life. The superficialities of modern culture have not predisposed modern man to such an analysis. He has consequently taken a complacent attitude toward the forces of anarchy which reside in the human soul. But what is hidden becomes revealed. Contemporary historical events must finally persuade the modern soul how little its complacency conforms to the perilous facts of human existence.

In the inevitable struggles through which this generation must pass before its civilization can achieve any measure of health, it will be more important to preserve the spirit of forgiveness amidst the struggles than to seek islands of neutrality. The very breadth of social cohesion in a technical social order has made such islands extremely narrow, so that they afford little or no protection against the waves of party strife which periodically inundate them. If the humanities are preserved at all they will be preserved only to the degree that the resources of a profound and prophetic religion will inform the spirit of modern man so that he may look at the confusion of his day without despair and seek to coerce its anarchy into some new order without the fury of self-righteousness.

The spirit of modern man is much too seriously corrupted by the romantic substitutes for a prophetic faith, inherited from the past two centuries of "emancipation," to justify the hope that a prophetic interpretation of life will wield a potent influence in contemporary history. There will be occasions when it will be able to speak a decisive word and there are localities and nations in which its influence will perceivably mitigate the fury of the social struggle. On the whole it will have no more influence in a secular age than humanism had in an age when religion had degenerated to magic. Yet the humanism of the Middle Ages was an exceedingly important seed corn for all that was good in the history of Western culture.

"If hopes are dupes, fears may be liars," and it may be that the insights of a prophetic religion may qualify and mitigate the cruelties of the social struggles through which we are passing to a greater degree than now seems probable. It is comforting to know, nevertheless, that if this should not prove true, the truth of prophetic religion, and of Christianity in so far as Christianity is truly prophetic, must survive the tempests of a dying civilization as an ark surviving the flood. At some time or other the waters of the flood will recede and the ark will land. Human life can have dignity only as it is comprehended and understood in a universe of meaning which transcends human life. It is the life in this ark of prophetic religion, therefore, which must generate the spirituality of any culture of any age in which human vitality is brought under a decent discipline.

Since the anarchy of human life is something more than the anarchy of animal existence, it cannot be checked by the forces inherent in a rational culture. The vitality, and the resulting anarchy of human existence, is the vitality of children of God. Nothing short of the knowledge of the true God will save them from the impiety of making themselves God and the cruelty of seeing their fellow men as devils because they are involved in the same pretension.



1. John Dewey, A Common Faith.

2. Luke 18:9.

3. I. Corinthians 4:3-4.

4. Rousseau and Romanticism, p. 380.

Interpretation of Christian Ethics was published in 1935 by Harper & Brothers

Assignment: After reading  this material Write a 3-4 Page Essay on it




Christian Ethics Unit Two

An examination of the history, methodology, and content of Christian ethics with application to specific contemporary issues