In the magazine section of The New York Times for Easter Sunday, the editors featured a special article in the light of the fact that they accepted Easter as “a time of new life and hope.” Facing “a question that has a deeper meaning for mankind than ever,” and looking for a hopeful Easter answer, they pose to a cross section of American leadership this question: “What Is the World’s Greatest Need?”
Some of these experts are better known to me than others and I am sure that the readers of CHRISTIANITY TODAY would know some better than I do but those that stand out for me are C. P. Snow, British scientist and novelist; Martin Luther King, Jr., the Atlanta pastor; Arnold J. Toynbee, the famous historian; Margaret Chase Smith, Republican senator from Maine; Charles P. Taft, Cincinnati lawyer; and James A. Pike who needs no introduction. Other authorities consulted are Maxwell D. Taylor, Gall G. Hoffman, Clarence B. Randall, and Mike Mansfield.
This is an imposing list; one should listen to such people with respect and I would think with hopeful expectancy. What is the world’s greatest need? Here are their answers, rather crudely and superficially put I must admit: Peace, Sense or Sensitivity, Proper Goals, Moral Ends for Living, Mutual Confidence, Control of Dangerous Tensions, Peace at the cost of Sacrifice, A Return to the Open Mind, Prompt Action, Accelerated Action, Communication, the Communication of God, the Dynamic Power of a lot of free consciences. So now we know from the experts what our greatest need is. Now what? It is interesting to observe that The New York Times, at the close of this feature article, giving answers to the world’s greatest need advertises itself with an eye-catching advertisement titled “Blind Man’s Bluff.” The ad might have given us another answer to our featured question.
As everyone knows, if a person doesn’t “get” a joke it is absolutely certain that he will not laugh at your joke after you have explained it; it is not analyzing that makes it possible for us to understand poetry; one either does or does not have an ear for music; and by analogy I suppose I must face the fact that if you do not understand what is wrong with all those answers there is no way I can make it clear. But I shall try.
It seems to me that in every one of these answers there is a misconception of the nature of the problem mankind faces because there is a misunderstanding of man and because also there is a failure to recognize in man the radical nature of sin, sin indeed which can be understood only as a fundamental rebellion in man against his Creator. Having lost the clue to man’s nature, people in general, even the experts in general have lost the clue to man’s deepest need and therefore have only superficial answers. Like the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day “they heal the hurt of my people lightly.” We do not have to agitate for the old theological terminology—original sin and total depravity—so long as we see the point: what is wrong with man is profoundly and totally wrong so that until he becomes a new kind of creature (let’s just call it “new birth”) then even his best efforts are always being founded on vanity; “except the Lord build, they labor in vain that build.” What is man’s greatest need? So long as we see the problem superficially we shall have superficial answers.
Take for example the answer of C. P. Snow: “The world, of course, needs peace.” As he rightly points out we could hardly imagine what the human race could do in terms of the good life if we could only quit having war. Well, I guess we would all agree on this and almost anybody could have “thought it up.” How then are we going to train ourselves for this peace, for really this is the nub of the problem. Mr. Snow says “by sense, by sensitivity, by an appetite for the future.” If we only had sense enough to see that all these wars cost too much money which could be spent on nicer things, then we would quit doing this nonsensical thing. The only trouble is we know perfectly well that war does not make sense and we keep on waging wars anyway. Then what about sensitivity? If the rich were only more sensitive to the needs of the poor and if we were all more sensitive to other people just because they are human beings like ourselves, then we would not be so cruel and selfish. Snow admits “as for sensitivity, we are not too good at it.…” At the same time, we must start to learn sensitivity. But you see there’s the rub again. Granting that I am not as sensitive as I ought to be, nor as compassionate as I ought to be, the problem is that even with such sensitivity and compassion as I do have I fail to practice what I know and what I feel because of the kind of person I am. “The things I would do those I do not.” So the question remains what is wrong with me that knowing the good I still do the evil. As for “an appetite for the future” how much future does Mr. Snow have in mind? Does this life really have an eternal point of reference, or is our future all bound up with what still remains of our own personal allotment of three score years and ten? Is the fixed point here or hereafter? Do our problems have immediate relevance only or is there immediate relevance actually relevant in eternal values written in the heavens?
The answer of C. P. Snow is used, I insist again, only for our example. The lack of depth in his approach is typical of all the answers which I have listed above and which appear in The New York Times. If this is all that we can come up with, we are in worse shape than we thought we were and perhaps most disturbing of all is the fact that in all these answers, with the exception of the answer of Bishop Pike and somewhat indirectly by Martin Luther King, Jr., there is no suggestion that God is the answer or that Christ is the answer, and this, in a Christian land, by otherwise intelligent, decent and I suppose God-fearing people. The total irrelevance of the religious dimension is frightening.
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