IBy Michael de la Bedoyere
LOSS OF RELIGION
Does Not Lead To Personal Moral Decay
Paradox That Should Set Us Thinking
EPORTS from both the Army and the Air Force appear to establish the fact that, with the exception of Catholics and a very small minority of non-Catholics, religion as a serious factor in life is dead among men and women between twenty and thirty. And scarcely less disconcerting is the general impression that this generation to all appearances does quite well without religion. Again and again one is told in letters and conversation that one could not wish for a decenter set of fellows than these young contemporary pagans. Indeed, withopt making precise enquiries into our modern manners and morals. we can scarcely deny that this country as a whole today presents a picture of a community, not only with high standards of personal conduct—as the history of nations goes—but manifesting in general a degree of self-sacrifice in the community's cause, of charity and of uprightness that is remarkable. Yet no one would deny—despite the wartime lip-service that is paid to Christianity— that real belief in the dogmas and the moral teaching of revealed religion, probably even real belief in a personal God, has never been so 'weak.
One wonders whether Catholics have really faced this paradox whichat first sight—challenges a good deal of our apologetics and apostolic habits. Yet it may be that our failure to study this phenomenon accounts for our failure to make the impression on our contemporaries which we expect COUNTER MORAL ORDER ARISES WE know well that when a Catholic boy. educated with care within a good Catholic family and in a Catholic school, goes suddenly into a secular university or into the world, he is often faced with a very severe temptation " to have a fling." The sense of liberation, of freedom, is apt to go to his head, and his whole life may easily be ruined by this vivid contrast between a carefully protected past and the apparent lack of any standards in the new world into which he has been thrown.
This danger is ever present in the minds of parents, priests and educators, and—real as it is--one wonders whether it does not unconsciously shape our whole attitude towards the world. We still tend to think of the world as a place emancipated from Christian standards. a place where men and women must necessarily " go to the dogs " because Christian dogma, morals and manners are not enforced. The contrast between the Catholic moral atmosphere and the pagan atmosphere of the world is always in our mind, and we expect the world to be as immoral and decadent as is the young Catholic who yields to the temptation of sudden emancipation from Catholic family and school.
But this unconscious comparison is really superficial, for it overlooks a truth which we are constantly forgetting. This truth is that the world, as the world, has been emancipated from Christian standards for a very long time indeed. The world is not a place that has suddenly thrown of the shackles of religion and that in consequence is " having its fling." The truth is rather that the world has for so long ceased to take Christianity seriously that it has developed its own moral standards. Catholics are not faced today with a world of immoral people—i.e., a world more immoral than in the past—but rather with a world in which new moralities have grown. Whether they are better or worse moralities we shall see below. but the fact to recognise is that there does exist a counter-moral order within which the natural virtues of man can develop.
A peculiarly apposite example of this is afforded by Russia today, where a new morality that is not even based on a Christian inheri tance has been made. Because Russia is godless and bolshevik. Christians (and others) expected that she would crumble in any severe moral test. In fact she has not, and the conclusion is drawn that she could not have been as irreligious as she was painted. But this does not follow. What we have to recognise rather is that the new imposed morality in Russia does work in the sense that under it certain basic natural virtues are enabled to flourish in the supreme hour of trial.
SOCIETIES SUFFER MORE THAN PERSONS RUT, from the Christian point of view, this consideration does not seem to carry one further. Granted that the contemporary world is not so much immoral as governed by a new morality, we still have to answer the question : how is it that a new (and false) morality produces apparently good results? Why is it that Christians should bother to convert a world that is apparently getting along quite nicely without Christianity? Of course. the obvious answer for the Catholic is that the end of man is not merely to live decently in this world, but to save his soul. And God has revealed that the normal and proper way of salvation is by accepting and living up to the Truth. But we can hardly expect those who deny our premises to be moved by this argument. Moreover, the difficulty is not really removed, for God has revealed what is. God did not indicate one of many possible good ways of life. He indicated the one good way. How, then. explain the apparent fact that men can live decent lives in disregard of the Truth—that is, by doing what is false?
In the year 1941 the Christian hal evidently not to look far for the real answer. However decently—and often nobly—men may live in Britain, America, Russia, Germany. the picture of the civilized world in a mighty death-grip indicates clearly enough that there is something profoundly wrong somewhere. This we know. But do we draw the right conclusions? What we are really being led to by this argument is that the prolonged loss of Christian belief does not apparently vitiate the moral lives of men and women—that is to say their lives, by and large, are not more obviously immoral than in the past, and in some respects they may actually be better—but that this loss falsifies the ends which societies seek to achieve and consequently produces a profound disorder in the world, leading to all kinds of social and economic dislocations and disruptions, and finally to mass war.
EVEN CATHOLICS CAN BE VICTIMS OF WRONG ENDS IF there is any truth in this analysis, it seems to imply certain very practical consequences that are commonly disregarded.
For the practical Catholic apostolic appeal is still almost wholly concentrated on preserving what may be called islands of belief and innocence in a disordered world. In practice, though not of course in theory. we accept the ruling political, cultural, social and economic values of contemporary society. but endeavour to increase the numbers of individuals who privately profess the Catholic faith and personally lead lives in accordance with the Christian moral code. This in a sense presupposes that the real evil to be combated is the private and personal disorder of those who have no faith and live by the world's moral standards. But, as we suggested at the beginning, those whom we are endeavouring to convert are not for the most part leading obviously disordered lives. For, while they may disregard matters that we know to be vital, calling them " taboos," they still are capable of the great natural virtues of self-sacrifice, love of their neighbour, courage, charity, and so on. On the other hand, it is equally clear that in the contemporary world this natural virtue is abused, as never before, by being harnessed to ends that are quite obviously suicidal. To take the case of Germany alone. Are we to suppose that the millions of Germans are all actuated by evil motives? Is it not rather the case that the average German is displaying many high qualities, but for thoroughly evil ends of which he has been kept in ignorance by false and specious leaders? Do we Catholics really believe, for example, that the millions of German Catholics are consciously living in sin? Rather they are very ignorantly exercising high qualities of patriotism and devotion to their fellow-Germans for ends which they persuade themselves to be good, or at least necessary. So that in this case we have to admit that even a great Catholic community, whose private and personal lives are governed by the true Faith and true morals, has become the helpless victim of the evil ends of the contemporary pagan way of life.
BACK TO EARLY CHRISTIANITY point two objections may be brought forward to what has AT this been said. In the first place, it may be pointed out, matters were really no better when the Christian faith was still accepted. And in the second Christianity must necessarily deal with individual souls rather than with general theories of society.
The answer to the first objection is to underline the unpleasant truth that the evil does indeed go very far back. And it goes very far hack because the Christian way of life for society was rejected very early. It goes back, for example, well beyond the Reformation, to the time in fact when the mediaeval unity of Christendom was challenged by the kingdom of France; and national interests began to be preferred to the cultural interests of a Christian civilization. From then onwards the will of the State, in time powerfully reinforced by the post-Reformation State-claims to enforce State religion, gradually ousted Christian values in social life, and Christianity developed into a personal—a sacristy—creed, to be used by the State so long as it served and to be destroyed whenever it attempted to make a protest. Public life has been non-Christian for many centuries, and perhaps we attach too much importance to the final stages of the decay when Christianity was largely destroyed as a factor of importance in personal as well as public life. For by that time new moralities had taken the place of Christianity and, as far as personal life was concerned, they are not as obviously evil as one might have expected. But man, who is still more or less able to manage his personal life, has been delivered to poverty, injustice and war by the long process of social apostacy.
As regards the second objection, it is evidently true that Christianity must necessarily deal with individual souls. But the question is how? Does this mean that Christianity is to be content with double lives for Christians? May Christians lead good personal private lives, while socially serving ideals whose falsity is apparent in their results? And this method, which certainly came to be the general practice after the Reformation, is the more peculiar in that the most obvious results of non-Christianity are to be found, not in private lives so much as in the disorientation of society. Moreover, the whole trend of the Papal leadership in the last fifty years has been in the direction of emphasising the social, political, and economic evils of secularism a.nd the importance of a social return to Christianity. Unhappily there is an immense lag between this call to Christians to rebuild a Christian society and the practice of the apostolate, which is still so largely concerned with the thankless and unending task of trying to preserve the private religion of individuals and rescuing a few from the world. while being forced to watch the steady drift away.
It does seem that Catholicity in relation to the world is coming back more and more to the position of early Christians who were faced with a pagan civilization that in fact worked. But, filled with ardent faith in the gospel of Christ, they knew that however powerful that civilization might be, however naturally virtuous might be many of its members, however little these might be feeling the need for something else, the pagan Roman Empire was doomed because its principles were false and its organisation immoral. And they, socially organised mystically and even physically, attacked it on all fronts with the weapons of prayer, study and action. Against infinite odds, as the world judges, they conquered. Our task is certainly not more difficult, but it may be as difficult, and it may call for methods as uncompromising and as heroic.