The Myth of Moral Rearmanent

Moral Rearmament—religious movement—has been making quite a lot of noise lately. The premier of its latest film, The Crowning Experience, was shown a few weeks ago in the West End of London. Full page advertisements have caught the reader’s eye in such respectable newspapers as The Guardian and The Times. According to Ivan Yates in The Observer, this publicity offensive represents their most sustained effort yet for support in Britain. A costly campaign it is, too, and quite clearly the wherewithal is not lacking.

Just what then is Moral Re-armament? When and where did it begin? Just what are its aims? The outstanding name of the movement is, of course, Doctor Frank Buchman; it was he who officially launched the movement in 1938 at East Ham Town Hall.

Buchman was born on June 4th, 1878 in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania. Alan Thornhill, in a brief chapter at the beginning of the book of Dr. Buchman’s speeches (Remaking the World), talks glowingly, almost gushingly, of his chief’s Swiss ancestry, of his folk brought up “with democracy in their blood”— whatever that may mean. Very religious people, too, with a love of life.

Buchman’s conversion came when he was visiting Keswick, Cumberland, during a holiday on doctor’s instructions. He entered a little church and listened to the service and suddenly he was aware of his own faults. ”. . . Something fresh had come into his life, something which was to determine its whole course . . . ” He sent letters of apology to the members of the board of a children’s home against whom he had harboured ill-feeling and was then all set to carry his ideas to practically every part of the globe. This practice of apology is common to all converts to Moral Re-armament—one might call it their initial humbling and an invaluable experience in their subsequent efforts to make others humble too.

Dr. Buchman’s movements are vague during these earlier years, but we do know that his activities were to lead to the formation of the Oxford Group in 1928, when a number of Rhodes scholars and other Oxford students were given this name after a propaganda visit to South Africa. Moral Rearmament was launched ten years later, in face of the threat of the second world war. “The crisis is fundamentally a moral one. The nations must rearm morally.” Such was the new cry, and perhaps here was the beginning of the political side of the movement which was to be more obvious later.

“It is not an organisation; it is an organism,” Dr. Buchman is never tired of telling us. MRA has no formal membership, no such thing as signing the pledge. It holds its meetings and congresses, and publishes lashings of literature, and when a person has received the message loud and clear, he becomes “changed” and supports the movement. And what support this movement has, although The Observer article of March 26th claims that there has been disappointment at a recent falling away of influence in England. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there is a considerable zeal and enthusiasm among Moral Re-armers, many of whom have given every penny they possessed and have surrendered themselves completely to the task of spreading the message.

So just what is there in Moral Re-armament to fire people with such energetic conviction that they are prepared in many cases (not all), to change their way of life? To say that it is a religious movement is to state the obvious, and as with religion generally, there is a vagueness which the high powered techniques and sweeping statements fail to mask, in fact, serve only to accentuate. Gabriel Marcel, for example, talks airily of a “community life based on faith” and that last word gives the reason for the vagueness. It must be so, because its basic assumption of the existence of the supernatural has not one jot of scientific evidence to support it.

This is not to doubt the sincerity of the bulk of “Buchmanites,” of course. As Geoffrey Williamson points out in his illuminating book Inside Buchmanism, just to talk to them is to see how fervent and conscientious they can be. Aware of the terrible problems of modern society, and lacking the essential knowledge of their origin, such people are comparatively easy meat for such movements as Moral Re-armament. Or, to put it a little more kindly, they turn to Moral Re-armament for the answer.

And what are they told? That the world’s evils are created by man’s selfishness and greed. That only when the world’s people “listen to God” and become guided by Him, will we have harmony in the human family. Dr. Buchman has made assertions repeatedly for well over twenty years. For example:

“When God has control, a nation finds its true destiny.” (Massachusetts, U.S.A.. 4.6.36.)
“The world awaits an inspired answer from statesmen as well as the ordinary man . . . guided … by that added help which sees and recognises the Supreme Plan.” (Interlaken, Switzerland, 2.9.38.)
“As men listen to God and obey His orders, nations find a pattern that makes plain God’s will for Government.” (Caux. Switzerland, 4.6.47.)
“Go all the way with God and you will bring the answer to your nation. . . . “(Mackinac Island, U.S.A., 4.6.58.)

Their insistence on absolute standards of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, makes strange reading when it is remembered that they supported the Allied war effort from 1939-1945. Which just goes to show how relative their “absolute” standards can be when the occasion demands. With the outbreak of war, as Geoffrey Williamson puts it. the word ”patriotism” began to appear in the M.R.A. vocabulary, and although the movement came under fire in some quarters on the grounds of army-dodging, the more astute capitalist politicians, particularly in America, were quick to recognise it as a stimulant to the war effort.

”Moral Re-armament is a message of the highest patriotism. It gives every American the chance to play his part,” said Dr. Buchman at Philadelphia, June 4th, 1941. And to prove it, written and spoken propaganda were stepped up. They even produced a National Defence Handbook You Can Defend America, and its transatlantic counterpart Battle Together for Britain. In England alone, they claim to have distributed some five million books and pamphlets during the war.

In the post-war years, an openly political note has sounded in M.R.A. propaganda with a heavy “anti-Communist” bias. They have claimed verbal support from such leading statesmen as Dr. Adenauer and Robert Schuman, and some following seems to have been captured in the new Capitalist States like Burma. Sweeping claims have been made for the success of their ideas in the field of international politics, and it is then that charges which have recently been levelled at them seem to have most force. Just listen, for example, to extracts from Fresh Hope for the World, edited by Gabriel Marcel:

“. . . We have seen how men and also a nation (Japan) have found a fresh realisation of their true destiny” (p. 208)
“Already the main features of a new society are emerging” (p. 209).
“The African Nations are giving . . . tangible evidence of their experience of Moral Re-armament “(p. 209).

And perhaps most pathetic of all in view of recent events:

“Even the most entrenched prejudices yield to this new conception. . . . In S. Africa black men who have led the struggle for the defence of their people s rights . . . and white men of the most extremist outlook . . . in uniting, bring to the world a new conception of racial relations” (p. 210).

True, M.RA has supporters in many countries and is not without influence, but it is about as useless as any other reformist movement and shows the same ignorance of the world of Capitalism.

On the industrial field, M.R.A. has served only to worsen confusion in workers’ minds and blind them still further to their interests. It has intervened quite openly in strikes and helped to deflect efforts at securing better wages and conditions at perhaps the most favourable time—in the immediate post war years. In June, 1948, the Warwickshire mineworkers’ president is said to have claimed that M.R.A had given “real teamwork and better output” in the British Coal Industry, while in 1952, a French Iron and Steel Boss paid tribute to the part M.R.A. ideas had played in securing an agreement with his workers to forego wage increases for four years. And again, said the late John Rifle, former U.S. labour chief, “Tell America that when Frank Buchman. changed John Rifle he saved American industry 500 million dollars.”

What a tragedy indeed that many workers should have been sufficiently gullible to fall for this gigantic fallacy that is Moral Re-armament. Quite openly they are discouraged from thinking for themselves and are told only to “tune in” to some mythical God, Spirit, Intelligence—call it what you will. To be swayed by such pernicious doctrine is to surrender all right to independent thought and become particularly susceptible to any earthly dictator glib enough to convince his followers of his “God-given authority.” Signs of this danger can be detected in Dr. Buchman’s own words. “There is tremendous power too, in a minority guided by God.” (Interlaken, Sept. 6th, 1938). There was even the foolhardy statement before the war, that Hitler, Mussolini, or any other dictator, if God- controlled, “ could control a nation overnight and solve every bewildering problem.”

Within M.RA. itself, the adoration of Dr. Buchman is repugnant and at the same time ominous. His followers seem ready to quote his words parrot fashion and to treat his most commonplace utterances as world-shatteringly important. At least one observer has complained of this. But it is hardly surprising really. The very basis of M.R.A. belief fosters such an attitude.

The growth of Socialist knowledge, the mass understanding and conscious change at which we aim, can only be hindered by such as M.RA. Their hysterical “anti-Communist” outbursts, their denial of the class struggle on the one hand, and their fanatical religion on the other, are a menace to Socialism and even to the limited capitalist democracy that we enjoy today. It may seem comfortable to relinquish responsibility for one’s thoughts and actions and shut out the uncomfortable world of reality. But it is not the way to salvation for the working class. That way, in fact, lies damnation—of the earthly kind.


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