HON Its Lesson Can Be Applied To Our Times
An Armistice of Propaganda
URING the Middle Ages, when Christianity was rent by an epidemic of private wars between armed bands fighting for their potty lords, the Church instituted the Truce of God. The immediate purpose of the Truce was to forbid by excommunication all fighting on Sundays and on the greater feasts of the Church. Its ultimate purpose was to put an end to this sort of illicit fighting whose chief victims were, as always when violence reigns, the peaceful toilers on the land. The idea of the Truce spread from France to Italy and Germany, and towards the end of the eleventh century it was applied to the whole Church by decree of an cecumenical council. The Truce achieved both its ends, and wars were eventually confined to international conflicts.
To-day uncontrolled fighting is with us again, though in rather different form. In the first place international conflicts are entered into with little regard for either justice or legality, and within the boundaries of a single nation civil conflict is waged through the clash of political and social ideals. In these cases there is little hope of applying the remedy that obtained some success in a Christian age. So many to-day explicitly deny the existence of a common mind towards the meaning of life, and this, taken together with the totalitarian nature of modern warfare, makes it well-nigh impossible either temporarily to suspend hostilities or to bring them to an end by any means other than military victory.
It has been suggested that the fighting in Spain should cease during the Christmas season. Surely the Nationalists, claiming to fight on religious grounds among others, should, it is contended, be ready to agree to a Truce of God. Their answer is probably that, just because they claim to be fighting for right against wrong, good against evil, they cannot trust their opponents to respect the conditions for such a Truce. It takes two God-fearing parties to make a Truce. Theirs is more the position of the Christian fighting pagan in the Middle Ages than that of Christian fighting Christian.
The Truce of God, we imagine, did not apply to such occasions. Some of us, however, may feel that even though a compromise would be tantamount to a betrayal of the essence of the Nationalist cause, a Christmas Truce of God as suggested by high French ecclesiastics, would be well worth risking.
However this may be, there is a second way in which our times compare with the Middle Ages. We may not be divided into armed bands constantly at one another's throats, hut we are all the time morally and emotionally at one another's throats, and in our conflicts we are not ashamed to make use of any weapon, however unjust and foul. Nations are at one another's throats, and parties and sub-parties, sometimes cutting through national divisions, are also at one another's throats.
This warfare, whose effects are in the moral order probably more serious than the armed conflicts of the Middle Ages and whose consequences, as we all fear, may sooner or later develop into an orgy of fighting and anarchy of which the Middle Ages, by comparison, knew nothing, is carried on by politicians, party-leaders, men and women with any kind of public voice, and it is carried through the world by press, radio, pamphlet, cinema, placard and every other resource of modern propaganda.
POST-CHRISTIANS : NOT PAGANS
As we noted last week, we must recognise fairly the fact that there exists to-day in a secularist world a division of opinion that reaches to the very depths of human nature. With Christianity thrown out of court because of the prevalent loss of faith in its dogmas, men are everywhere searching for substitutes. The very nature of the search demands that whatever is found, however wrong, however superficial in itself, is conceived to be a faith, something about which men cannot compromise without betraying their human nature, just as we are unable to compromise with our Christianity.
The fact that we happen to be right and others wrong makes 00 difference to the way they feel about the faiths by which they seek to live—and indeed into most of these false faiths there enter elements of genuine moral truth, some of which may at any mement be more deeply realised by them than by us who possess the Truth entire, though not necessarily fully realised and felt in certain of its aspects.
For these reasons it is false and empty idealism to look for compromises and bargains which shall suddenly clear the atmosphere and bring into existence a Truce of God. We do not frankly see any way of securing real agreement in the world again until there exists agreement about the essential nature, meaning and final end of the things created by God. Goodwill, even the goodwill of " Moral Rearmament," is not enough ; there must be agreement about Truth.
It must be 1:emembered that ours is a unique time. We are not just pagans : we are post-Christians. We have been living for centuries on the inheritance of Christianity, but we have only saved from it aspects of its whole truth and the moral earnestness which it teaches. Those partial truths and that moral earnestness, falsely applied and applied in many contradictory ways, have brought about our contemporary divisions which are literally unprecedented. Nothing can cure them but a rediscovery of the clue by which they may be understood and which sets the whole direction that mankind may safely take.
ART OF PROPAGANDA Even so, there does remain an important field in which the ideals behind the old-time Truce of God, or perhaps even more its counterpart, the Peace of God, can still apply. The Peace of God was a permanent but partial Truce by which sanctuary was guaranteed for people, places and times closely connected with the ecclesiastical functioning of the Church. By analogy we might consider that there still remains among civilised people a sanctuary for truth and fairness, the common code which we apply to our private lives and without which social community is impossible.
During the years since the Great War, and particularly during the last two or three years, the very elements of that common code have been persistently violated. Misrepresentation, lies, incitement to hatred, patent sophistry of every kind, these are becoming the universally accepted standards of all public affairs even though they are condemned in private, personal and even business dealings.
A new art has entered into the world, the art of propaganda, an art which is a contradiction of human nature itself, attacking, as it does, not merely the supernatural teaching of religion but the very elements of the simplest principles of natural law. Yet within a few years we have reached a stage when even the best of us do not hesitate to make use of it without scruple in public life, and some have gone far towards letting it permeate. the very structure of their social institutions.
Allowing for the existence of many different and contradictory faiths, sincerely held, whether religious, political, national or social, there is absolutely no reason why any of them should be defended by the arts of propaganda, as the term is used to-day. There exists hut one excuse : the excuse that since our opponents do so, we have to imitate them in sheer self-defence.
It is for this reason that there is little hope of improving the situation except by some general coming to terms after the example of the Truce or the Peace of God.
PROSTITUTING OUR FAITHS Let us be clear about the fact that we are all tarred with the same brush. The Left wing in this country may have reason to oppose Hitlerism, but the only excuse they have for reviling public men in Germany, misrepresenting them, exaggerating their deeds, emphasising one aspect of Germany at the expense of another, is that the Germans do the same about them. Likewise it is perfectly reasonable for some people to wish well to the cause of Barcelona to give it aid, but to couple this with claims of non-intervention and to invent lies about, let us say, social conditions in Nationalist territory, and bigger lies about religious conditions in Government territory, is but a confession of the weakness of their caose.
More reprehensible still are the methods by which the opponents of Mr Chamberlain wage their war against him. Mr Chamberlain, it will be generally admitted by fair-minded opponents, has been conspicuous, both in dealing with foreign nations and his domestic oppouents, for his fairness. He has kept a Peace of God in these respects and perhaps weakened himself temporarily through having done so. His opponents, however, have thought nothing of dubbing him " Fascist," " enemy of democracy," of setting traps for him, of starting rumours that will prejudice his work, even of forgetting what they well know the country owes to him this Christmas. One hates the cliché, " not playing the game." But we are precisely dealing with that level of morality, the acceptance of that lowest common standard which we all wish to abide by in private, but which we are now despising in public.
In the long run it can prejudice nobody's cause, however deeply felt, to stick to the truth and to be fair. On the contrary, it. must be that in the long run the worth of a cause can be measured by the degree in which it can be defended with truth ful and fair means. We believe that responsible democratic gove.rnments have maintaineel a certain standard, but we do not think that there is much to choose as between dictatorship governments, democratic demagogues and press, and Socialist-Communist regimes for consistent and systematic lowering of public standards in this regard. If their causes are as worthy as they would have us believe, let them remember to fight worthily for them. It can do them no harm, but it will go a long way towards securing temporary appeasement at least, and towards leading to just warfare, if warfare must come.
Meanwhile let us not forget that it is hard to live in the world to-day without accepting something of the prevalent standard. If we can recall the Christian ideals of a Truce of God and a Peace of God and try to find some useful application for them in the modern world, let us be the first to give the good example. If it is true that no good cause can be injured by truth and honesty, it is a thousand times certain that the cause for which we Christians wish to live can only prosper by such scruples.
The Truce of God used to obtain at Christmas time. We can at least make use of that time to resolve that we shall not fail to learn a lesson that. can he derived from meditating on it.