The twilight of Christianity
If you increase the sum of twopence 50 per cent., you get threepence. But if you reduce threepence by 50 per cent., you get threeha’pence. Simple, isn’t it ! Everybody knows that, of course. Do they? There were some hundreds of innocent workmen who did not know it during the war, and when wages began to fall, and the same percentages were taken off as were put on, it was a long while before many made the discovery. We simply refer to the matter now so that the trickiness of percentages may be perceived. For instance, when the readers of the Daily News saw the result of their Religious Questionaire announced in huge block letters, “70 per cent. strictly orthodox,” what did they gather? Very little reflection would have taught them much. Did they do that little?
The Daily News has upwards of 700,000 readers. For a fortnight they were daily urged to answer a series of questions, designed to find out the extent of their religious belief. Fifteen thousand, or 2 per cent., replied; 98 per cent. did not. So that the heavily leaded 70 per cent. is only 70 per cent. of 2 per cent. In the quieter regions of ordinary type, the Daily News Editorial sees this objection, and, whilst regretting the paucity of the poll, is of the opinion that, like the deep-sea drag-net, its contents are tolerably representative. We beg to differ. The analogy is not a good one. This was not a shot in the dark as the heaving of a deep-sea drag-net would be. This was a sustained appeal, in a prominent daily paper with a pronounced Nonconformist flavour, to its readers to testify that their belief in Christianity was a real, live thing. And for every 2 that answered, 98 did not. Innumerable preachers and teachers made it the theme of their sermons. The interest, we were assured, was widespread. And only two in each hundred answered. So that the heavy heading, “70 per cent. strictly orthodox,” is only part of the sum. A more cumbrous, but possibly more truthful, heading would have read, “98 per cent. indifferent, 2 per cent. muddled.” Yes, muddled; for whilst 70 per cent. of this tiny fraction are described as strictly orthodox, only 38 per cent. accept the first chapter of Genesis. Further, there were 1,500 more persons who were active members of Churches than believe in the formulated tenets of any Church. Again, “a number declaring themselves active Church members confess to a disbelief in a personal God.”
So that muddled seems the mildest word to describe them. And if the first chapter of Genesis is dubious, what of the second and third. If the Fall of Man is a fable, where is the necessity for a Redeemer, a Reconciler, an Atonement, and all the other things with capital letters that hinge upon the Fall.
We may reasonably admit that a plebiscite of this sort has but a limited utility. As an indication of the trend of current thought it is interesting without being valuable. Its significance lies in its beng held at all. If the Christian religion were the great factor its adherents claim, a plebiscite would be superfluous. One does not take votes on the self-evident, the universally obvious. We assume, therefore, that a vote was taken because the connection between religion and behaviour is not apparent to ordinary observation. If an impartial, uninformed observer were to try and discover the connection: between the philosophy “Blessed be ye poor” and the Bishop of London’s .£10,000 a year, or the, slow, brutal, relentless crushing of the miners, and the Church’s £300,000 coal royalties, or the message of “Peace on earth, good-will toward men,” with the Christian Church’s attitude during the War, or all the contrasts of riches and poverty, magnificence and squalor, satiety and sheer hunger, wisdom and pathetic ignorance, contained within modern society, with the Gospel of Love, would he not be bewildered? If he were told our morals rested upon a basis explained to him as the Christian religion, would not his bewilderment increase?
No ! We think the true lesson to be gathered from the Questionnaire is that the average man is indifferent to the Christian religion. To openly avow oneself free from traditional superstition requires a definite effort and often some courage. The average man declines to make that effort. He finds indifference more comfortable. Indifference may not be definite disbelief, but it is nearer to that than to Christianity. How often do people refer to their God for guidance in their daily lives? In business matters, which gives them the greater concern, God’s blessing or the solvency of their customer?
The literature of former periods is filled with constant references to God. Even Acts of Parliament describe natural happenings as acts of God. If a battle was victorious, thanks were duly rendered to God. If a king escaped assassination, again to God the praise. The hand of God was seen everywhere, in the most trivial as in the most momentous happenings. The common people thanked Him ceremoniously at every meal, the uncommon people whenever worship could be combined with display.
As an instance of the change that has taken place, perhaps we cannot do better than quote the Daily News itself, the very issue following its comments on the Questionnaire, that of September 13th. The Editorial is commenting upon the escape of Mussolini from assassination, thus :
” ‘God has saved Italy,’ begins the Fascist order of the day, recounting Mussolini’s escape. It is an exaggeration. What happened was that a delay time fuse saved Signer Mussolini.”
We can ignore the subtle sarcasm wherein Mussolini is reminded that he is not Italy. Such distinctions are not stressed nearer home. But even the orthodox Daily News is compelled to admit that a murder was averted, not by the intervention of God, but by the breakdown of a piece of mechanism. And so we find with man’s advance in knowledge and his consequent control of natural forces, God becomes ever more nebulous, and religion a matter of husk-like forms. Even the so-called act of God is practically confined to strokes of lightning, and the lightning conductor makes His task ever more difficult.
W. T. H.
(Socialist Standard, October 1926)