The voice of the prophet who faithfully and without favor proclaims the Word of the living God is urgently needed today. The authentic prophet (and his kind still exists) is unlikely to meet with popularity. His message will be belittled as outmoded, irrelevant, and puritanical. People will say: “Prophesy good things, not evil. Tell us that all is well, that all is subjective, that all is relative; don’t speak to us about absolutes and about judgment.” But the true prophet is one who cannot keep silence. The Word is as a lire burning within him, and he must speak, whether the people heed or whether they spurn his message. We are thankful, therefore, that the voice of two witnesses has been raised again through the publication of another book by Sir Arnold Lunn, the distinguished Roman Catholic author and Alpinist, and Mr. Garth Lean, who is an Anglican. Like their earlier book, The New Morality, which was published last year, the new volume entitled The Cult of Softness sounds a call of alarm to our Western world.

The point is made that the cult of softness “is a recurring phenomenon in the history of nations, and becomes pronounced in a period of decline, as was the case in the sunset of the Roman Empire,” and the warning is given that “today the Communist nations, who are less infected by the cult of softness, may be destined for a role in the modern world analogous to that of the barbarians who overthrew the Roman Empire.” This, of course, will be prophetic fare of the most unpalatable kind to those who are intent on the soft and selfish way of life. The joint-authors, however, are not prophets of inevitable doom. Their main purpose is to call our civilization back to the old paths before it is too late. In their judgment, the most disquieting feature of our age is to be seen in the open revolt against absolute standards. They produce an amplitude of evidence to prove their case.

The lostness of contemporary “culture” which frenetically attempts to locate meaning in the meaningless, normality in perversion, and the absolute in the relative, and for which the only standard is the repudiation of all standards, finds expression in the theater, where homosexuality and the lavatory are now approved themes; in the incoherent blatherings of avant-garde “poetry”; in the vulgar impostures of modern “art” that would insult the intelligence of a dog; in the novel that canonizes filth as a form of beauty; in the situation-“ethics” that reduces morality to the relativity of inter-personal relations; and in the “theology” that banishes the absolute of the Gospel and the objectivity of God.

Again, in the field of crime and social justice the doctrine is rapidly becoming fashionable that the real victim is the criminal, whose actions are conditioned by heredity and environment and irresistible impulses for which he is not responsible, and who therefore must be pampered and not punished. The doctrine is put forward on compassionate grounds. “But,” our joint-authors ask, “is it compassionate to tell people that they cannot help committing crime? Does this fill a weak man with hope and resolution? Or does it encourage him in the illusion that resistance to temptation is useless? We may also ask whether this attitude is compassionate towards the victim of the crime.” It would be difficult to imagine anything more destructive of the dignity of man, let alone the health of society. Dostoevsky had something to say of the advocates of this kind of doctrine in Crime and Punishment: “Their point of view is well known,” he wrote; “crime is a protest against bad and abnormal social conditions and nothing moral. No other causes are admitted. Nothing!… Human nature isn’t taken into account at all. Human nature is banished. Human nature isn’t supposed to exist.”

In the sphere of theology, some much publicized churchmen are charged by our joint-authors with a seeming lack of intellectual integrity. “It is not honest to God,” they say, “and it is certainly dishonest to man, the man in the pew, for a priest to repudiate, if only by implication, the basic doctrines which he is ordained to preach.” These basic doctrines are defined as the belief in a personal God who hears and answers prayer, the belief in the deity of Jesus of Nazareth, and the belief that he proved his claims by miracles “and by the miracle of the Resurrection in particular.” A minister who rejects any of these basic beliefs is advised that he should join the Unitarians.

In this connection, they insist on the importance in theology of “semantic honesty,” or honesty in the use of theological terms. “It is dishonest to man,” they affirm, “to confuse ‘repudiation’ and ‘reinterpretation.’ The more extreme modernists who reject the Resurrection are not reinterpreting, they are repudiating Christianity.”

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With reference to the ecumenical movement, they urge that the essential and only practicable way forward is for cooperation in the militant proclamation of the faith and morality of Christian orthodoxy. “We are convinced,” they say, “that there is a very real possibility of a great Christian revival if authentic Christians can achieve a courageous and co-ordinated resistance to the confident and militant secularism which has made such inroads on what was once a Christian civilization.” “But,” they add, “we need not only a concerted defence but still more a concerted attack, for defence was never intended to be the main activity of the Church militant.”

The cult of softness has eaten into the very Church itself. Brethren, let us rouse ourselves and march forward to do battle in the name of the Lord of hosts!

This fortnightly review is contributed in sequence by J. D. Douglas, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Harold B. Kuhn, G. C. Berkouwer, and Addison H. Leitch.—ED.

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