Mankind stands at a crossroad in history. Those words are no longer just the urgent cry of the evangelist. They are also the unforgettable text of the scientist, the politician, the militarist, and the philosopher.
In fact, they are quoted above from a spokesman for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
“In one direction lie the all-consuming flames of thermonuclear warfare; in the other, the full and peaceful utilization of science for the benefit of all the peoples of the world.” These are the alternatives, according to the nuclear scientists.
“In one direction, a totalitarian world ruled by atheistic Communism; in the other, a democratic society premised on human rights.” So the militarists and politicians chart modern man’s central concerns.
“In one direction, a secular or sensate society sunk in the mires of relativism and subjectivism; in the other, rediscovery of changeless truth and ethical values, a rebirth of moral earnestness and the ardent pursuit of justice.” So the philosophers and sociologists define the major issues.
These alternatives are awesome indeed. That the multitudes in the free world would prefer a future in which human rights are assured, and in which science concentrates on peaceful pursuits, goes almost without saying. But these same multitudes are much less eager to repudiate subjective preference and desire in the name of objective truth and morality.
We are blind. Nothing demonstrates our blindness so clearly as our willingness to reduce the world predicament to the foregoing alternatives, and our efforts to resolve the dilemma within the bare dimensions noted above.
Stated in this stark manner, each of these alternatives becomes a way of rejecting a connection between the crisis of our times and the deeper problem of sin and death. The contemporary crisis is so affirmed by modern man mired in spiritual unbelief and moral rebellion that he simultaneously denies that the ultimate crisis of the human race is linked to this generation’s relationship to Jesus of Nazareth. “Now is the crisis of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:31, 32). If the Christian religion is sure of anything, it is that the dethronement of Satan is inseparably related to the exaltation of the Crucified Redeemer.
This means that the Cuban crisis, the Laotian crisis, the Berlin crisis, are all sub-crises. It means, moreover, that the alternatives of “a just and peaceful world” or thermonuclear war or Communist expansion are all sub-alternatives. Since they really depend upon something more fundamental for their validity, they lose their validity when removed from this larger context.
The reality of the eternal and the transcendent character of truth and right are central concerns that no society genuinely interested in justice and peace dare neglect. Not even political democracy nor scientific progress can be sheltered from exploitation by anti-Christian philosophies in a society that champions these cultural forces while it evades the question of the abiding or transitory nature of truth and right. Upon what does Communist theory rest if not upon the notion that truth and morality are changing and developing conceptions, and that the one and only fixed axis of life is economic?
In our time almost everyone hungers and thirsts for economic betterment, and the supreme desirability of more material possessions is reinforced by the creative genius of Madison Avenue. Ours is a propaganda world in which everyman must cope with the overwhelming power of mass media. The Soviet bloc skillfully gains the reputation of being less militaristic than Red China and of advocating peaceful coexistence, while she remains devoted to world revolution, practices deception while planting missiles in Cuba, and establishes the first Communist base in North America—which she still maintains and supplies. The United States thinks the necessity for dealing with Khrushchev rather than Castro over Cuba is a gain for peace and coexistence; Presidential Assistant Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., voices “long-run hope” because the world, instead of developing into a Communist monolith, is developing into “a pluralistic society based on a wide variety of systems and faiths”; and some American economists propose to assimilate the Soviet bloc to Western Europe and the Common Market, hoping thereby to moderate and transform the Communist outlook!
If Communism is congenitally blind—a blindness inherent in the deadly naturalism of Marxist philosophy—then the free world’s blindness lies in the self-deception that it adequately knows the truth and is dedicated to the right, that it is truly free, and that hence it is intrinsically “better” than the rest of the world and on that account merits survival. The circumstantial darkness of the once predominantly Christian West now lies in its ambivalence. “We try to walk with God and the devil, and we fall in the middle,” a government career man remarked privately to a group of intellectuals. “We have lost our way. We are not faced with one problem—serious as the Communist menace is. We have 180 million problems—for in respect to ultimate things the United States is blind.”
The sting of this indictment is as sharp as that which Jesus leveled at the Pharisees when, upon healing the man blind from birth, he told them that the miracle dramatized their own blindness. The point of his indictment was their lack of any conscious sense of destitution. While Jesus could tolerate the blindness of ignorance, he could only pronounce final doom upon a blind self-satisfaction that prevents men from seeking and seeing the truth. The Americans who as tourists mirror the material benefits of free enterprise, or who in serving the military or the diplomatic corps publish the mighty potency of the armed forces against aggressors, or who as Peace Corpsmen travel to the edges of the Communist world as bearers of good will, are far from ugly. They have much to offer that multitudes around the world welcome and covet. But everywhere we go we talk weapons (which are indispensable enough) and forget that persons—redeemed persons—are the ultimate weapon in a fallen society. We lack one thing: in our living, we lack a hunger for abundant life; in our hostility to the Communist lie, we lack a passion for the truth that sets men free.
THE SUPREME RESOURCE
Our world today needs men who can think straight about life’s values, about human relationships, and about divine design.
Moral stability, integrity of character, and meaningful living—which military people need, no less than others—have a basis in spiritual resources.
The supreme resource available to men is Jesus Christ.
By his life and teaching he taught men how to live with one another and with God.
By his death on the cross he reconciled men unto God.
By his resurrection from the grave he made us pilgrims of the heavenly hope.
Life’s deepest questions—who am I? where am I going? what am I doing here? what is the meaning of it all?—find their response in the Christ who invited all men to “Follow Me.”
Those who try to save the nation and the world by methods aimed to compensate for the vanishing awareness of Christian truth and for the vanishing sense of Christian responsibility are engaged in a hopeless task. Trying to save a people on the assumption that the Gospel of redemption is dispensable is the one sure way to insure their doom.
The End Of The Road For 25,000 Americans
Every 2½ minutes someone in the United States tries to commit suicide. Most of them fail. Yet each year 25,000 Americans are successful—a strange but necessary usage of the word!
Although suicide is called the “West Coast weakness,” every West Coast clergyman knows the troubled people who come West because they found life in the East intolerable. The “West Coast weakness” is simply the end of the road for many who have traveled a long way. And when the golden symbols of a new life in the West grow pale, restricted by the forbidding vast Pacific, they then and there abandon all hope—and finally life itself.
The suicide of Marilyn Monroe—young, beautiful, affluent, and a symbol of pleasure—has done much to throw the spotlight on this grim national problem and to arouse the medical profession to give it special attention.
Although the medical profession tends to call it a “health” problem, its incidence is highest among the successful and well-to-do who can afford medical help. The facts here are startling. According to reports, practically all of the 25,000 suicides in the United States are white, and the overwhelming majority, Protestant. It would be easy to draw conclusions from this, but safer to ask questions. Is the Negro’s psychology special protection against suicide? If so, whites might profit from the study. Or, is the Roman Catholic confessional pastorally more effective than the counseling of the Protestant clergyman? And if so, why? Since suicide is a matter of life and death, we ought not to be squeamish about any sources that will throw light on the problem.
It would seem safe to infer from the relatively high incidence of suicides among white Protestants that suicide occurs more frequently among the “haves” than the “have-nots.” The suicide is frequently a person who has gotten out of life what he wants, only then to find that he no longer wants life. He has learned from experience what others have heard but do not believe—that success, fame, wealth are not themselves able to make life desirable.
Life without God and without the transcendent and supra-personal affirmations of the Christian faith—even in Beverly Hills, Nob Hill, or Chevy Chase—becomes the stuff out of which suicide is made. Those who have drunk from the golden goblets and find themselves still tortured by indefinable thirst, seeing no solution, come to regard existence as a disease, and suicide as a cure.
An intellectual assault has long been waged by academic institution and stage, author and playwright, positivist scientist and moral relativist, against the central affirmations of the Christian faith. But alongside this sophisticated attempt to discredit Christianity is the grim, chilling, existential demonstration by thousands of Americans whose suicide argues, in a language hard to be refuted, that unless the God of Christianity is in heaven, life is hell and suicide a successful redemption.
The Vatican And The Kremlin And The Italian Elections
The countenance which Pope John shows to the Kremlin is softer than that of his predecessor, and it is evoking considerable speculation among political and ecclesiastical pundits. This has not been diminished, to say the least, by the recent Italian elections. Premier Amintore Fanfani’s “opening to the left,” which involved an alliance between his Christian Democrats and the Marxist but non-Communist Socialist Party, received a setback. The Christian Democrats polled their smallest share of the vote since World War II, while considerable—and surprising—gains were registered by the Communists and the free enterprise Liberal Party.
Commenting on the observation made by some that the Roman Catholic Church was at least partly responsible, The Wall Street Journal had this to say:
In previous years, Church leaders had equated voting for the Communists with sin, and have also generally disapproved of most parties other than the Christian Democrats. This year, Pope John stressed tolerance and even met with Soviet Premier Khrushchev’s son-in-law. The Communists attempted to use this incident as proof that the Church no longer condemned political support of the far left. The large Italian Communist vote is generally considered a protest vote against current politicians and economic conditions—whoever or whatever they may be—rather than evidence of widespread ideological support of Marxism. Many Italian Communists also consider themselves good Catholics.
“The Communist total made it the largest Red vote in the free world. Worried one diplomat here, ‘It is something for the whole Western world to be concerned about when Communists can gain substantially in a free election.’ ”
That the free world’s largest Red vote should take place in the shadow of the Vatican is an embarrassment to Christendom in general and the Roman church in particular. But some Protestant observers have pointed to a growing ecumenical interest between Rome and Protestantism, and then between the two of them and Soviet Russia. They have pointed to a shocking possibility that Mater et Magistra could be preparation for a Roman move to the Soviet side if it should appear Communism would win the struggle for the world. Fitting this pattern, they say, there is in Pacem in Terris the call for (or at least the acceptance of) the idea of a centralized world power to bring about peace. Ecumenists once urged their movement as a means of combating Rome, then for combating Communism. Now, the interpretation goes, it is for neither of these purposes but simply for the nebulous aim of getting together so that hopefully there will be peace.
A Vatican-Kremlin rapprochement would constitute a revolution which would shake up the planet not a little, but such surmises indicate the seriousness with which recent Vatican moves with regard to Communism have been taken in some quarters.
The evangelical confronts the ethical tension of loving the Communist and hating the system he espouses. The distinction should be made plain enough to preclude love’s resulting in the promotion of a system of hatred.
Color Is Skin Deep, Evil As Deep As The Heart
“Send me a letter, send it by mail; send it in care of Birmingham jail.” This old wail indicated the safest method to Americans embarrassed not by ugly Americans abroad, but by those at home. The President described Birmingham as “an ugly situation.” And it is. As ugly as the arrest and jailing of a seven-year-old girl; as ugly as the use of water pressure strong enough to strip bark from trees, and the use of dogs against human beings. For what? For wanting such simple rights as eating in a cafeteria, attending a school.
“Ugly” is the appropriate word. For it was a truly ugly folly which employed animal fury against men in a situation in which the very rights and dignity of man were at issue. It was an ugly stupidity in an explosive social situation to employ a means that could only inflame an already threatening violence. The widely published picture of a Negro, one arm in the grip of a policeman, the other in the teeth of a dog, will doubtless be answered by future bloody retaliatory violence. For a month stars fell in Alabama, throwing a foreboding light on James Baldwin’s theme: God gave Noah the rainbow sign; no more water, the fire next time.
The issue is bigger than Birmingham, as big as all America; it is deeper than color, as deep as evil in the human heart. In Birmingham’s riots, men saw themselves. They saw how thin is the veneer of their everyday decency, how dark the hatred and how raw the violence in the deeper chasms of the human soul. Christians saw that personal regeneration is not enough to solve our social evils, for not all the guilty were non-Christians. And any man not blinded by twisted prejudice could see that Nazi Germans were not special sinners, for morally nothing distinguishes anti-Semitism from Birmingham’s racism. In the ugly clash of American against American, one could see the common human nature we all share, and the common judgment under which we all stand. He who looked hard at the social ugliness in Birmingham saw not special sinners who fight for state’s rights but trample on human rights; he saw the human nature we all share. He saw a time to weep, to repent, to remember—“inasmuch as ye have done it unto me.”
Our University Faculties: Need For Christian Penetration
We hear often these days that the university campus is a great mission field. This is true. The problem is felt everywhere, even in countries where theological faculties are still maintained within the framework of the university. These faculties do not play a great role for those students under other faculties. What influence remains is waning due to growing student population and the mushrooming of the fields of science. Hence the great missionary task for Christian student organizations. And experience has shown that this task can be performed effectively only where Bible study is regarded as the center of the student work. In some countries the old Student Christian Movement is being superseded by evangelical groups. But as good as the work of the latter is, it will always reach only a fraction of the students.
The great question is: Shall we have in our necessarily secular universities Christian professors? It is an open question whether there is and can be a single Christian philosophy, but there is no question as to whether there can be Christian philosophers, physicists, chemists, and so on. A great need of our universities is for a real philosophy which will not shrink back from metaphysics. Some note a stronger sense for metaphysics in America than in Britain. They attribute the progress being made here by Thomism among non-Catholic philosophers to the new interest in metaphysics; Thomism offers the Greek variety. Signs of this awakening interest are seen among the younger scientists of America and Europe—and even in Russia, where every physicist knows that the concept of matter which he, as a Marxist, has to confess with his lips is a myth, untenable in view of established scientific facts of the structure of the universe. There seems to be a real longing for a new metaphysics, for a Weltanschauung which science itself cannot give in view of the rapidly changing views of the universe and the inability of the human mind to embrace the many branches of modern science. But where are the philosophers we need? And what can be done to train them?
One of the reasons for the decay of philosophy, of metaphysics, is the inability of the present generation to read the classical philosophers. Our secondary schools are too poor in languages. If this goes on, we shall leave classical studies and the knowledge of the great thinkers of the past to the Roman church. One should note the papal document “Veterum Sapientia,” a touching call to save the knowledge of Latin and the biblical languages. Protestant clergy are weak in Latin, and this militates against their understanding of the classical formulas of the Reformation.
It is obvious that though set in civilized milieu, the mission field of the university campus contains staggering challenges worthy of darkest Africa. One of the greatest lightbearing ministries the Church could perform today is to thrust forth able Christian scholars into the various faculties of the universities, rather than being content simply with trying to counteract the impact of the secularistic professor through student groups, laudable though these may be.
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