Lack of Spiritual Resistance to Pagan Currents
The Call to Christians in Lent, 1942
DESCRIPTION by Nicolas Berdyaev, the Russian exile and A-Marxian„ of the bourgeois mind is much to the point at this
season. " Everything the bourgeoisie touches. the family, the State, morality, religion, science, all is deadened," he says. " Contemplation. which would set us free, is unwelcome to him. The paradox of his life consists in his repudiation of tragedy: he is Weighed down by his non-acceptance of the internal tragedy of life, of Golgotha; there is a relief and freedom in the acceptance of the Cross and the pain and suffering this entails. Because the bourgeois consciousness of guilt and sin has become so weak he is the slave of ' the world,' and his ideal is that of worldly power and wealth; the mystery of Golgotha is unacceptable to him. The bourgeois spirit is nothing but the rejection of Christ; even those whose lips confess Him may be the first to crucify Him anew."
This accurately describes the effect which has followed the dilution of English religion. It is nowhere so plainly seen as in the class which for some hundreds of years has exercised the dominating influence in our national life. Such has been this influence that it has infected the whole population and has extended even to those who have retained the older religious tradition. If one were asked to diagnose the disease from which English Catholicism is suffering. the best answer would be that its present condition is due to the " deadening" effect of that bourgeoisie which constitutes its social environment.
THE DYNAMIC OF FAITH SOME attempt is being made to overcome our sluggishness in this crisis in our history by copying the drastic totalitarianism of our Russian Ally and our German enemy. Laws of increasing severity are imposed upon us and inch by inch our traditional freedom is sacrificed to the exigencies of the hour. The result can be scarcely described as happy. Although the national temper would forbid us going to the extremes exemplified in the cases mentioned, the effect of these draconian regulations is calculated to produce a state of mind very far from satisfactory. For we have made the mistake of borrowing alien forms of discipline without providing that incentive which both in Germany and Russia makes discipline tolerable and even welcome. The soldiers of the Third Reich and of the Soviet have been given a Cause for which to fight which demands and evokes faith. and that faith generates a mystical fervour reinforced by indoctrination with ideologies that, in the case of the more thoughtful, enlist the mind. It is but a one-sided representation of totalitarianism to speak of it as a tyranny without taking into consideration the fact that the tyranny is made acceptable by this appeal to faith and reason. It is a characteristically English kind of compromise which appropriates the totalitarian regime without employing the totalitarian motive, and it is doomed to failure. To rear a disciplined people capable of heroic effort on an agnostic basis is impossible. Either you must supply the motive-power in the form of a creed deemed worthy of self-sacrifice or you must abandon the attempt to dragoon a freedom-loving people. The present compromise is unworkable.
THE DANGER THE public instinct has found a remedy for the situation. Too loyal and law-abiding to dispense itself from the regulations imiiosed on it, it has found the requisite motive for obedience in interpreting the war in terms which transform our military alliance with Moscow into an ideological alliance. There have been in fact two stages in the war. In the first the appeal was made to patriotic sentiment. The assumption of office by Mr. Churchill, his decision, after the collapse of France. to continue the struggle alone and the Dunkirk episode raised the national mood to patriotic heights it has rarely reached. But the mood did not outlast the cessation of the immediate peril. Patriotism, in fact, so far as the proletariat is concerned, is an outmoded virtue. For a rootless generation with no stake in the country and little understanding of its traditional institutions, the appeal on behalf of hearth and home falls on deaf ears. There followed. in consequence. a dangerous period when we lay in the trough of the waves. The professional propagandists repeating, like tired old men, platform platitudes expressed in verbose rhetoric, could not galvanise the workers.
Then came the second stage. Russia entered the war as our Ally. In that fact the workers found a Cause for which, in their eyes, it was worth fighting. The heroism of the Russian soldier infused new courage and determination.
That is the danger. Into the vacuum created by agnosticism have
rushed the strong winds of a revolutionary and materialistic movement. A needed motive supplemented by heroic example has been found, and the probability is that it will play an increasing part in rousing a sluggish people to the maximum effort, though it may well also cause a dangerous division, hinted at by the Prime Minister. Bourgeois complacency has been defeated but by an alternative more inimical to all we hold sacred than even the middle-class agnosticism whose deadening effect was formerly our chief peril.
THE APPEAL OF THE CROSS THE problem is a much larger one than that suggested by the immediate political and military situation. It is nothing less than that of our salvation, Without a faith for which to live and die we shall perish or become subservient to those who have found a power wherewith to break the apathetic spell that lay upon them in antiChristian creeds.
The relevance to these circumstances of the Season upon which we are entering ought not to be hard to discover. Lent brings us face to face with Golgotha and the tragic element in Christianity. But the very crucifix which is the symbol of all that we need to recover has for us lost its significance. Its relentless realism has been' veiled in pious sentiment. To enable us to look upon that sagging Figure with gaping mouth and lolling tongue and limbs bathed in blood and sweat, these indices to the intensity and horror of the final struggle with diabolism have been toned down so that they may not too violently disturb bourgeois complacency.
The effect of this evasion upon our Christianity has been marked. " No creature truly can love too much. In all other things all that is too much turns to vice, but the more the strength of love surpasses. the more glorious it shall be." So wrote Richard Rolle, the Yorkshire mystic, in an age when such language was more common than it is now. We have indeed recognised the fact that " in all other things all that is too much turns to vice." It is one of our national virtues that we are not given to fanaticism and that our asceticism is tempered by good sense, but we have failed to note the exception made by Rolle. Indeed, in such a love as he and those like him exhibited we find something indecorous and lacking in good taste.
The ultimate remedy for that attitude is to be found in a recovery of the medieval ability to contemplate in all its terrible realism the symbol of our Faith. Such contemplation. being more than mere concentration on the physical spectacle, needs, of course, the kind of preparation that fits us to behold visions, and it is to such preparation Lent calls us.
QUANTITY AND QUALITY THE age of large-scale production has familiarised us with cornmodifies intended to suit the taste of the million rather than that of the select few. Newspapers, entertainments and art must be .popular. Those who ignore this fact must be content with poverty and ostracism. Democratic institutions expressing the views of a wide and indiscriminate electorate accentuate this feature of our civilisation. And it has affected our Catholicism.
In the mercy of God• St. Peter's net has been made exceeding wide. The ideal of a spiritual and moral elite has been left to the sects; it has never been ours. To appeal therefore for such contemplative exercises as those described and the heroic sanctity resulting therefrom would be to exhibit a failure of understanding as to the genius of the Church which, happily, throws open its doors with splendid hospitality to sinful mortals of all degrees.
But this is no reason for turning the minimum into a maximum and discouraging those who are called to form the creative minority through whose heroic example the standard of sanctity for all is raised.
Lacking the appearance of such a minority, we are doomed to encounter conditions which will make it necessary to be either a saint or nothing. To withstand the increasing pressure of a materialistic society, not to speak of positive persecution, will require, even for the performance of our ordinary obligations. the heroic spirit. In other ages the need of a "creative minority ".was met by religious Orders withdrawn from the world. These. indeed, will still play their part, but to-day the only adequate sanctity must be that exemplified by those living in the world. Under these circumstances it is at least possible that the improvement in the quality of our Catholicism will involve a drastic reduction in its quantity.