The Decay of Religion

With institutions there are degrees, even of deadness. Religion, for instance, may be deader than we think. The following extract from the religious notes in the Daily News of March 5th is quite illuminating : —


“An Anglican clergyman has described to me what he alleges to be the ‘unholy scramble’ that goes on behind the scenes for clerical appointments in the patronage of the Crown. He states that every possible string is pulled, not of course by the clergyman himself, but by his friends (with his knowledge). No avenue of approach is refused and a political caucus could not behave with greater skill and discrimination. While the friends of one man are at work he knows full well that several other clergymen are being pushed forward in a similar manner. Everyone concerned hates the system. But, as my informant says : ‘What can be done to improve it and place such patronage upon a more dignified basis?'”

This we might usefully follow with the following extract from Robert Graves’ “Good-bye to All That.”

“It was said that not one soldier in a hundred was inspired by religious feeling of even the crudest kind.
For the regimental chaplains as a body we had no respect. If the regimental chaplains had shown one-tenth the courage, endurance and other human qualities that the regimental doctors showed, we agreed the B.E.F. might well have started a religious revival. But they had not. The fact is that they were under orders not to get mixed up with the fighting, to stay behind with the transport, and not to risk their lives. No soldier could have any respect for a chaplain who obeyed these orders, and yet there was not in our experience, one chaplain in fifty who was not glad to obey them. Occasionally on a quiet day, in a quiet section, the chaplain would make a daring afternoon visit to the support line, and distribute a few cigarettes, and that was all. But he was always in evidence back in rest-billets. Sometimes the colonel would summon him to come up with the rations and bury the day’s dead, and he would arrive, speak his lines and hastily retire.”

There you have two pictures of the value of superstition as a guide to living. There is a “holy scramble” for jobs in the world of witch-doctors when what is called peace is the order of things. When war presents the opportunity of a quick acquaintance with the joys of heaven, the self-appointed guides show a strange reluctance to leave the solid earth. Whether Robert Graves knew Prof. J. B. S. Haldane or not is not known to the writer, but it is remarkable how similar are their observations.

In an essay called “Mercy” in his “Possible Worlds,” Prof. Haldane says:

“I should be the last to suggest that the late war was a good thing, but there is no doubt it furnished a rough test of character. It will therefore be interesting to analyse the conduct of ministers of religion during its course.”

He proceeds, in the course of the essay, to do so. The following are fair extracts :

“A large number of the younger clergy became army chaplains. In this way they at once obtained the very satisfactory status of commissioned officers. With other officers that status was on the whole a fair return for the very grave dangers which they ran. The army chaplains generally ran the irreducible minimum of risk. Most of them kept well behind the line. In my war experience I never saw a chaplain display courage.”

Another extract.

“It may be contended that I was unfortunate in my acquaintance among army chaplains, and biassed in my interpretation of their conduct. It is therefore important to examine the behaviour of the clergy as a body. When conscription was introduced in Britain the clergy of all denominations showed a unanimity without parallel since the Reformation. Conscription was not for them, and so great was clerical influence among the governing-classes that their exemption was taken as a matter of course. Now from a Christian point of view, it is perhaps arguable that ministers of religion should not fight. But there is absolutely no reason why the self-styled disciples of Jesus should not, as privates of the R.A.M.C., have tended the sick and wounded under conditions of moderate discomfort if relatively little danger.”

The final extract.

“Priests have always used their power to evade the moral obligations of the ordinary man ; and threatened him with fire here or hereafter, or with social or economic penalties if he referred to the fact. What is new in the situation is that the public is beginning to recognise the moral and intellectual inferiority of the clergy. Their income is diminishing, and it is not likely to increase. For whereas the clergy of sixty years and over are on the whole men of fair intelligence, those of to-day are being recruited from the dregs of the universities, whilst many have no higher education at all. Under these circumstances they are hardly likely to tap fresh sources of revenue.”

So there you are. Knowledge and correct action will kill capitalism ; religion will flicker out.

W. T. H.

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