Page 5, 25th November 1966

25th November 1966
Page 5
Page 5, 25th November 1966 — MICHAEL WHARTON (Peter Simple of the Daily Telegraph)

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Locations: New Jerusalem


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MICHAEL WHARTON (Peter Simple of the Daily Telegraph)

looks at modern 'progress' and the ro le of the Churches



move with the times. Today we live in a secular world, dedicated to the advancement of knowledge, the conquest of nature and the improvement of the human condition. Religion must find a place in this world, or perish. If it is to survive, it must come to terms with progress."

This, crudely simplified and compressed, is the gist of a thousand pronouncements by clerical publicists, of a thousand articles and television programmes on Religion and the Modern World, Long canvassed among other faiths, such views are now beginning to find a place even in the Catholic Church, This effort to adapt traditional religion (in particular, Christianity) to a secular world of perpetual change takes innumerable forms. Scriptures in "Modern English", their language and imagery made intelligible (so it is thought) to urban, industrial workers; "beat" services, in which earnest clergymen rig themselves out in transatlantic paraphernalia with the idea of appealing to the young: the scaling down or abolition of ecclesiastical ranks and titles as offensive to the spirit of democracy; these are a few comparatively trivial forms of the passion for change.

More important are the permissive ideas of sexual morality now being put forward in the Protestant Churches, which imply that everyone has to make up his own rules of conduct from his own experience (life, significantly, is seen as a laboratory): or the furore about birth control in the Catholic Church.

MOST remarkable of all are fashionable systems of theology which have abolished all dogma and attempt not merely to adapt religion to

the secular world but to assimilate it altogether.

What is this secular world to which Christianity is now expected to adapt itself? What are the times it is expected to move with? The world, of course, since it exists in time, has always been "secular" by definition. But the unique characteristic of the world in which we are now living, the "modern worldas it is proudly called, is that it is a world which denies that there is or can be any world beyond itself.

There have always been individual philosophers who maintained this view. But it has never before been held, or rather taken for granted as a thing hardly worth arguing about, by a whole civilisation, a civilisation moreover which is rapidly becoming worldwide, destroying or eroding all other human patterns, whether they are primitive tribal cultures in Africa or South America or highly sophisticated civilisations like those of India and China.

It is the spread of this scientific, technological, purely secular civilisation over the world, not the quarrels of the Communist and Capitalist systems or the emergence of proliferating nationalisms, which is the most important factor in our lives.

Unlike previous civilisations, this secular civilisation is continually changing, and changing ever faster and faster. It is a process which by its very nature must continue to change the face of the planet. To this end it pours out an everincreasing abundance of material objects by ever more efficient systems of massproduction, objects meant not new types and yet more new to last but to be superseded by types as technical processes change and improve. The world is turning into a huge factory in which traditionally non-industrial processes like agriculture. fishing or forestry are absorbed.

HE theorist s and dreamers of this scientific world have already realised, of course, that the drag in this process, the unassimilated facto r, is humanity itself, physically inefficient, still clinging to all sorts of customs, attitudes and desires which belong to the unscientific past, sometimes called "the Childhood of the Human Race".

It is obvious, therefore, that it is not enough to change the surface of the planet. Human beings must be changed as well, or if they cannot be altogether changed, they must be adapted and controlled by drugs or psychological techniques.

What is the end-purpose of this accelerating process? The more sophisticated theorists would reply that it has no purpose; the process itself is the purpose; or that the question "What is its purpose?" has no meaning.

But an unsophisticated person who accepts the inevitability and desirability of unlimited technological progress is not satisfied with this. If he thinks of the human future at all he thinks of the kind of world described in a hundred popular magazine articles: a world in which science has "solved" all the "problems" that really matter.

It is a world of automation, a world without drudgery, a world from which physical disease (including mental disease) has been expelled, a world so efficiently run that there are no accidents, a world of increasing leisure in which all pleasures (including the "pleasures of the mind") are readily available to all. It is a completely urbanised world, in which Nature has truly been conquered for good and all, The world has become one great City. It is Megalopolis.

It is obvious of course that such a system involves the denial of all sorts of freedoms which until quite recently have been generally taken for granted. Birth control (and perhaps death control) will be compulsory. Movement of people will be controlled. Education, environment and (within a graduated scale, perhaps) most of the conditions of life will be uniform, with no deviations permitted. The loss of freedom, the surrender of choice to vaguely imagined benevolent rulers able to plan every eventuality by supercomputers is the price which has to be paid for equality, security, health and happiness. THAT such a world will actually come into existence is, of course, extremely unlikely. The same people who complacently write (and read) articles extolling its coming may equally write (and read) articles foretelling the conversion of the earth into a radioactive desert,

The point is not so much that this universal, technological and wholly secular civilisation may in fact come into existence in the future as that it is the commonly accepted aspiration of the present. Its values—whether it is called Utopia, Brave New World or the New Jerusalem—are already beginning to dominate the world we live in, the secular world to which religion is called on to adapt itself.

What would such a secular religion be like? in the first place, it would have to accept the fundamental premise of the modern world: that there is no other. It would have to abandon the supernatural. It would have to divest itself of symbols (one of the characteristics of the secular world is that it is without symbols—everything means or should mean exactly what it says),

It would be a religion without dogma, other than a vague belief in some Directing Principle of Evolution whose aim is the advance of consciousness and the increasing perfection of the human race. It would he without rituals or ceremonies.

Its worship would he a form of psychotherapy, aimed at instilling a feeling of well-being, of healthy "adaptation to environment" (virtue) and dispelling neurotic doubt (sin).

It would, in fact, he no more than an arm of some superWorld Health Agency, itself a branch of that World Government of which the present United Nations Organisation is the dim, confused and ineffectual prefiguration.

Both within the present Churches themselves and outside them, there are already many people who see the future of religion (supposing they think it has any future at all) as something like this. The attitude is beautifully illustrated by a recent letter in a newspaper in which a doctor declared that if Christ were to visit a modern hospital his primary concern would not be to save the patients' souls but to make sure they had the benefit of an efficient kidney machine.

II' is a wonder that the Churches, continually advised to adopt this travesty of religion, continually asked how else religion can

have any meaning in the modern world, do not turn the question round and ask what can be the meaning of the modern world for religion.

To ask such a question would take them into un fashionable regions of thought, provoking speculations which most people, for obvious reasons, would prefer to regard not merely as "reactionary" but as totally ludicrous. But the more we look at this developing modern world, this world which aspires to be wholly secular, the more strikingly it seems to resemble the End State foretold in Christian eschatology, tradition and prophecy—the world dominion of Antichrist, who, it must he remembered, is represented in legend not only as a worker of magical, technological prodigies but as an apparently benevolent ruler who brings peace and material wellbeing, and

who combines all existing religions in a humanist cult which

is eagerly embraced by all but a small remnant of the faithful in the days before the end of all things.

CHRISTIANITY, we are told, must be demythologised, expressed in terms intelligible to industrial man. Here is one myth which will not be so easy to get rid of, so crushingly apposite is it to our times and so terrifyingly intelligible to all.

Here religion and the modern world indeed come together, though not in the way the secular progressives and progressivist theologians hope for, Far from religion being assimilated to the modern world, it is the modern world, with all the secular hopes and material prodigies that to us seem so overwhelmingly important, which is here assimilated to religious tradition.

If religion is anything, it must be that which transcends and embraces all secular activities. If religion is anything, it is the times which must move with religion. How could the times, in fact, possibly do otherwise?

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