-rrHIS Foolish Age". The title is a Malcolm Muggeridge phrase; he pins It like a label on the world of today. And he is most certainly right. Ours is a foolish age; indeed, few (if any) can have been more foolish.
Ever since Jeremiah and before, prophets have made it their business to issue indictments of their contemporary world. So it is only to be expected that the same should happen to ours.
Now there can he no doubting that Malcolm Muggeridge fulfils the role, although in an unconventional way, of a prophet. For he addresses himself to a very wide audience; and mostly he moralises, while he diagnoses the ills, upbraids the shortcomings, exposes the shams and mocks at the absurdities of Western society at large. His general conclusion is that our age is foolish. This is a hard saying; and it sticks like a fishbone in the gullets of many a modern. They would agree if Muggeridge called our society materialistic, mammonistic, sensual, grasping, cynical, superficial . . But foolish? Surety not. The prophet and sage is here sadly off-beam.
Look, they would argue, at what this so-called foolish age has achieved. It is nothing short of breathtaking and epoch-making. We live in a brave new world of welfare, abundance and enlightenment. And within, say, fifty to a hundred years, the benefits of our civilisation will have spread over the entire globe. Then not only Western man, but Eastern, African, indeed universal man, will live in a technological paradise.
Far from being foolish, then, our age deserves instead to be described as enlightened, brilliantly so. Sec how education is opening its doors to everyone. As an American friend of mine might put it, there's enough culture around to satisfy whole armies of avid vultures. Never have so many books been sold to so many people at so cheap a price.
Then there are the mass media of communication. Besides informing and entertaining, they serve to knit a nation together as one large family. And before not too many decades a world-wide system of satellites (Early Bird is to be joined by a veritable flock) will bring the farthestoff programmes to our firesides.
As for Western society's daily living, the standard and style are high. And we have mod. cons. galore. Also, we enjoy a wonderful system of social services. Tied up with this is our social conscience; it is generally most informed and sensitive about issues both at home and abroad. Thus a large humanity prevails: we feel a real concern for world hunger and the morality of hanging, the colour problem and earthquake disasters, road safety and world peace—and many other issues besides.
Rather call Muggeridge a fool for calling our age foolish! Today's world, they point out, is a wonderful place. Lhe city of modern man is like ondon writ large—a swinging place to live in.
And so it is indeed! Yet, for all that, our age is foolish, profoundly and pathetically foolish. This arises chiefly from our obsession, our infatuation with the good things of this world. So much so, the world is too much with us.
Not that there is anything inherently wrong or harmful about the world or any of the diverse things in it. Material things were made by God for man to achieve himself and render glory to His Creator. Thus mod. cons., mink coats and martinis can mediate spiritual values. And in a small number of cases they do.
Generally, however, they don't; instead, they tend to choke the spirit with the riches and pleasures of this world.
Here we have the heart of the matter. Our age's foolishness, as we shall presently see, is mostly the result of its spiritual near-bankruptcy. Take. the Bomb, for instance.
We have in our cleverness actually devised a press-button means of self-destruction. There is something bizarrely funny as well as abysmally foolish about the whole nuclear situation. It is the sickest of sick jokes.
For these reasons (and there
are others) our age is foolish with a capital F. But the prime cause is a spiritual one; that is, to do with modern man's soul. He has forsaken God. In so doing, he has forsaken the never-failing fountain of wisdom.
This is precisely what foolishness means: the want of wisdom. In practical terms, wisdom stands for the vision, and values, of God's kingdom here on earth. Wisdom recognises God's claims on us, His creatures. Wisdom respects the voice of conscience, H i s mouthpiece.
Notice, our age is not atheistic. For very few people actually deny God's existence. Professed atheists form but a fringe, a mini-one at that. What our Western world is guilty of is practical atheism. That means to say, vast numbers of people go it without God.
They work and play, they wive and trade, they dine—and died—with a minimum of reference to Him who made them. They ignore God. They treat Him as an Outsider at best, a Remote-Tyrant at worst. Any they grossly flout H i s commandments. S i n, many-sided sin, is rampant.
Venus, the pagan goddess of sex, and Mammon, the grand old man of materialism, jointly preside over today's scene. And the result is a right old jamboree.
So Malcolm Muggeridge's label is appropriate.
Of course, many of our contemporaries would strongly oppose the motion that they form part of a foolish age. But as Thackeray (how he would have admired Muggeridge's immaculate prose) once said: "A fool can no more see his own folly than he can sec his own ears."
Richard Foley, &J.